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Participation in good quality Early Childhood Education (ECE) has been identified as an essential step in children’s growth; the reason is, ECE establishes the foundation for later learning and growth. There is a lot of consensus among scholars who study early childhood education and development that children; and especially those below the age of 5 years gain immensely from participating in a good quality ECE (Ramey & Ramey, 2004). As a matter of fact, the period from birth to about 5 years is considered an important stage for developing the basis for cognition, emotion, and behavior. Child growth scholars claim it is during this period that kids develop cognitive, social, emotional, linguistic, and regulatory abilities that determine the future functioning in various areas (Trawick-Smith & Trawick-Smith, 2014). Latest international experiences indicate that ECE programs produce both immediate benefits and long-term benefits to children, communities, and even the government. For that reason, there are many benefits and justifications for investing in ECE programs. By signing up their children to ECE programs parents are helping secure their future and well-being; because the child would improve their cognitive, emotional, and social skills; s/he would also acquire confidence, self-expression, and other essential skills. This paper explores the short and long-term benefits of ECE programs.
The growth and development of a child’s brain start long before they are born and goes on after their birth. Even though the formation of brain cells is technically complete before the child is born – a baby that has just been born has over 100 billion brain cells – brain maturity and vital neural connections and paths are gradually developed after the child is born; the development then continues into early childhood. As such, early childhood is a stage in a child’s life where the environment is very important; it is a stage where the environment can affect how the child’s brain grows, connects, and develops. As a matter of fact, the effect of the environment goes beyond determining the number of neural connections into how those connections are wired. Additionally, the process of removing unwanted neurons and synapses from the dense undeveloped brain, which carries on into teenage years, is at its most active in early childhood years and is determined and driven to a great extent by the child’s experience of the environment around them. In fact, research indicates that if a child’s brain does not get the right stimulation during this important period; it is extremely hard for the brain to change in future (UNICEF, 2001).
There is sufficient evidence on the essentialness of ECE on children’s cognitive, social and emotional growth as well their future school and career progression. That said, learning and education start long before a kid joins formal education; as such skill differences start long before the start of schooling (Carneiro & James, 2003). ECE also acquaints children to organized guidance outside the environment of their family; according to Jensen, children who familiarize themselves with ECE earlier attain higher outcomes in education than those who do it later (Jensen, Anders, & Sven, 2011). In other words, children who enroll in ECE programs generally do better in school; they show better educational outcomes in literacy, numeracy, and drop out of school less. In addition to that, they have higher school completion rates as well as college attendance rates. Furthermore, investing in early education produce a lot of returns and reduces the cost of education overall because children repeat classes less, drop out less; therefore, making education more efficient (Fasih, 2008).
Consistent good quality ECE can considerably enhance a child’s cognitive growth. In fact, children who participate in a good quality ECE that gives them an age-appropriate education from the early years of their life exhibit superior cognitive skills than their peers. These children, for example, show more interest to stories read to them in their early years, identify colors more easily, and even perform simple arithmetic like subtraction and addition in kindergarten. ECE programs that offer age-appropriate curricula, therefore, enable children to build on the cognitive skills they have already to acquire or develop new skills.
Moreover, research indicates that participation in ECE leads to lasting improvement in intelligence; as a matter of fact, it enables children to gain as much as 5 IQ points. For that reason, it has been known to enable kids to improve their test scores from the 30th
percentile to the 50th percentile. Participation in ECE also has a beneficial effect on school progress; children who participate in early childhood education repeat grades less, require special education less and graduate from high school more (Barnett, 1995).
Acquisition of language happens at a faster rate between the ages of 1-5 years. Children talk or attempt to talk around people and in environments that they feel safe and secure. Early enrollment of children into ECE programs, therefore, enables them to familiarize with other people outside family members and another environment outside the home. Frequent interactions like these enable children to acquire more language skills, converse more, acquire more vocabulary, and so forth. Furthermore, activities such as songs, read-alouds, group discussions, and plays enable them to acquire essential language skills they will continue to develop as they grow up into adulthood.
Early childhood education also gives children a leg up or an advantage both socially and intellectually. The initial impact of ECE on cognitive performance produces effects that last a lifetime. Children with superior cognitive abilities perform better or post better educational results; they also drop out of school less frequently. Consequently, the effects of ECE go beyond school well into adulthood; children who participate in ECE are more likely to be gainful employed and less likely to participate in anti-social activities than their peers who did not participate in ECE (Schweinhart et al, 1985)
Besides its impact on cognitive abilities and, therefore, educational achievement; participation in ECE is known to improve children’s social, emotional, and behavioral growth. These non-intellectual skills and abilities do not necessarily show in educational attainment considering that all present educational attainments do not take these non-cognitive skills into account. Nevertheless, it is widely known that social, emotional, and behavioral skills are crucial to a child’s development. Non-cognitive skills enable a child to collaborate, communicate, and interact more with his/ her peers which leads to better cognitive development and, therefore, better educational attainments. These skills also come in handy later in life in the labor market (Carneiro & James, 2003). Early education is, therefore, very important considering that children learn through playing.
Having a child enrolled in the same kindergarten or the same ECE facility all through his/her initial years enables the child to build relationships with other children and adults in an environment that is different from home; this provides a sense of safety to the child. A child who is at ease with other people is more likely to collaborate with other kids and likely to take part in learning activities like singing, role-playing, and other activities. Additionally, children who participate in ECE are less likely to demonstrate violent or antisocial behavior they have the ability to use language to resolve disagreements. For children, the feeling that their environment, that is, children, adults, and daily activities will be unchanging over time promotes the acquisition of skills and confidence in social contexts.
ECE fosters social inclusion in many ways. One of the smartest decisions a parent can make is to expose their child to exposure. Early childhood education ensures that the child comes into contact with other children, adults, and environments. ECE enables children to interact with people who are unlike them; in so doing, children start to understand that every person is unique and important; ECE, therefore, enables them to become well-formed contributors to their environment.
Interaction with other people apart from the child’s family in a secure atmosphere is crucial to a child’s growth. Parents instinctively know that it is vitally important to encourage their children to interact with other children; as such they encourage their children to make friends. The sooner they do it the better because it helps their children build self-confidence and self-esteem. If parents do not help their children make friends sooner their social growth is adversely affected. Early childhood education enables children to know how to cooperate, share, take turns, and persist inside a safe learning atmosphere, under the supervision of professionals. This is particularly important for children who do not like sharing. Although it can be a hard lesson to learn, it is important that they learn it as early as possible.
Early childhood education enables a child to develop another important social skill called emotional resilience; this skill enables them to create relationships that are healthier with other children and people in general. This skill also enables them to know how to share, listen, wait for their turn, become independent, and put their opinion across calmly. As the child grows s/he will use this skill to make friendships that will inform their sense of identity and personality. In fact, research indicates that children who participate in ECE at the ages of between 2-3 years grow to be more attentive in class and more emotionally stable than their peers who do not. (The University of Adelaide, 2014).
Early participation in ECE increases the child’s passion for education; in the sense that, as the child familiarize with education from a very young age they grow more receptive of learning. Their desire to learn more, to acquire skills, and to be educated grow ever more as they grow into adulthood. Early participation in education, therefore, helps a child to be interested in education or learning; as such children who start education early are more dedicated to their studies than their counterparts who start education much later. In addition to that, they also exhibit more commitment to finishing their education as they have grown accustomed to being patient, accountable, and responsible from a young age.
The earlier a child accesses quality ECE, the higher his/her chances of succeeding later in life. Neuroscientists, economists, and educationists agree that a child is made to interact with other children, s/he learns to talk well, play well, and cooperates well; this, in turn, boosts their self-confidence, emotional stability, and so forth; for that reason, they learn better in their subsequent classes.
With regards to long-term benefits, there are many studies that indicate that kids who participate in early childhood education or more likely to fare better in the labor market than those who do not (Karoly, Rebecca, & Jill, 2006). Similarly, children who participate in ECE early enough are more likely to be more productive, more qualified, more employable earn more, for that reason, they have greater chances of earning more than those who do not (Heckman & Masterov, 2007). Furthermore, research in the US and EU indicates that ECE participation has an effect on wages and educational attainment. In fact, an extra year of ECE attendance improves the average income by about 3% and lowers school dropout rate by about 2% (Dumas & Lefranc, 2010). Clearly, children who participate in ECE perform better in school than those who do not; consequently, they have better chances of being employed in jobs that pay more. Early participation, therefore, enhances a child’s cognitive and social abilities which are in turn rewarded with better income and living standard later in life.
Additionally, children who participate in ECE are less likely to engage in delinquent or criminal behavior; this saves the government a lot of money in the way of tax dollars spent on the criminal justice system, police, and so forth. The relationship between ECE participation and criminal behavior can be understood as follows: children who attend ECE perform better in school; as such they have better chances of getting well-paying jobs. Additionally, children who participate in ECE are more likely to complete schooling; and high school graduation has been linked to reduced rates of crime. As a matter of fact, the likelihood of imprisonment reduces by 0.76% and 3.4% for White and African Americans respectively (Lochner, 2001).
Another long-term benefit of participation in ECE is that children enroll undergo early childhood education lead healthier and longer lives. In other words, ECE sets children up for better and longer lives. Similarly, participation in ECE reduces the likelihood of teenage pregnancies and child mortality (Karoly, Rebecca, & Jill, 2006).
Furthermore, early childhood education also produces benefits that last way past the child and their immediate family, that is, parents and siblings. Participation in ECE produces benefits that trickle down all the way to the child’s children and even their grandchildren. According to Karoly, participation in ECE improves the child’s chance of getting a good job, therefore, more income. Consequently, the descendants of a child who participates in ECE are less likely to live in poverty and rely on welfare. Ultimately, participation in ECE reduces the economic inequalities between children as tends to level the playing field for every child (Karoly, Rebecca, & Jill, 2006).
In addition to economic benefits, early childhood education has some non-economic benefits to parents especially. ECE enables parents of children enrolled in ECE classes to meet and interact in an environment that they all identify with. As such, ECE enables parents to find social support. According to Musatti, informal networks like these are beneficial because they can act as stress relievers for parents. In any case, social interactions are known to enhance well-being (Musatti & Di Giandomenico, 2016).
Concerning sustainability and protection of the environment; the early years of every person’s life are the most ideal for instilling values and attitudes that establish the foundation of their character or personality. The system of values and attitudes established in the initial years of a person’s life are the strong and long-lasting roots for their whole life. They will forever be consulted for important decisions that confront that individual. Those initial values also determine behavior all through life. When a person encounters challenges; when they are faced with complex circumstances; when a challenge calls for crucial decisions; those principles and values that initially moulded character will determine options, decisions, responses, or behaviors. As such, if society desires that people in the coming generation value nature and protect the planet, it is vitally important, to instill it in children at the age when they are most receptive to new information (UNESCO, 2008). In situations where the ECE curriculum contains lessons about nature, interdependence between people and the environment, and so forth; early childhood education can, in a sense, help humanity live more sustainably.
Children tend to be very fascinated by nature and its aspects like plants, animals, water, flowers, wind, and so on. They are emotionally affected and intellectually captivated by it. No wonder adults who have moved to big cities recall with fondness memorable days of their childhood in the countryside, with flowers, water, birds, insects, cattle, dogs, and so forth. It is a smart move in education to take into account and exploit these early feelings, interests, and curiosities. It is for that reason, that study of nature has for a long time been part of ECE. Presently, with the global concern over environmental destruction, participation in ECE may be one of the best options for reversing environmental destruction. In other words, if used properly, ECE can help humanity protect the environment through instilling in children a respect for nature and so forth (UNESCO, 2008).
Putting resources into ECE is, therefore, one of the best steps that a government can take to get rid of excessive poverty, enhance human capital, and attain prosperity. Experiences that a child encounters early in their life have a major impact on the way their brain develops; in the long-run, this affects their capacity to learn, live healthily, earn income, and so forth. As the world grows more technological the need to be able to learn new things, communicate effectively, collaborate, and so forth has become even more important and those who come short on these skills could be left behind.
Children between the ages of 1-5 years learn so much from the environment around them; as such, putting them in an environment where they can learn under the supervision of a professional can bring them a lot of immediate and long-term benefits. Although a majority of those benefits are academic; the most important benefits that they acquire from ECE include the development of self-confidence, patience, team-spirit, accountability, responsibility, tolerance, and so forth. In addition to that ECE, classrooms create the best environments for children to learn; how to make friends, how to listen, how to value diversity, and so on. Overall, however, ECE lays the foundational skills that children will tap into for the rest of their lives.
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