Children arrive in the world ready to learn – even as small babies, they are curious about what is going on around them, watching, listening and taking in the different cues and stimulation in their environment. The brain develops rapidly during the first 5 years of a child’s life and the right stimulation plays a huge role in feeding both their capacity and love for learning.
So what does a good early learning environment look like? While researching the SmartStart curriculum, we identified five really important activities that we are encouraging and supporting in the SmartStart programme:
Talk is not just important for a child’s speech and language development, but is also critical to their cognitive and emotional growth. When adults listen to children with respect, don’t hurry or interrupt them, answer their questions, explain what they are doing, and ask questions to extend their conversations; they are opening up a world of possibility for that child.
Play is what children do naturally. It is what brings joy, freedom and fulfilment to them and for that reason, should be viewed as valuable in its own right. But play is also a safe landscape for children to acquire and refine new skills, build their confidence, and demonstrate their competencies. Through play, they practice problem solving and develop social cognition and creativity.
The key role of storytelling is in the promotion of language and literacy. Storytelling includes reading books, recounting events and telling traditional tales. These experiences introduce children to new vocabulary, syntax and grammar. They help young children to learn about the structure and elements of good stories – narratives, characters, sequencing and context. Stories also expose children to new places and events that they may not have access to.
As children grow, physical activity supports their development of strong bones and muscles, and increases lung capacity. However, it is also critical to the development of cognitive function and accelerates neuro-cognitive processing. The more a child is exposed to a variety of physical activities, the more opportunity they will have to develop the fine- and gross- motor skills necessary for the development of coordination for learning activation.
Teaching interventions make a difference to how children learn. Interventions need to offer stable relationships with caring, responsive adults and must support communication. They must focus on play-based activities that allow children to lead their learning; while providing opportunities for physical activity. In addition, learning is enhanced when teachers and caregivers intervene at key points to challenge children and offer something new into their play.
Combining these simple but effective components into a safe and loving environment, will provide children with the necessary foundations to learn and develop – and assist them to reach the potential they were born with.
Read more about this here in our literature review, conducted in 2014.