My career and vocation in life is teaching. Within the world of teaching, my passion is working with early years – the period from birth to around age 8. I have often had colleagues, some of them long-term, highly experienced teachers, say ‘Why?’ and ‘Don’t you want to work with the older age-range?’. My answer? Keep reading.
There is currently a sea of change relating to how we think of and value certain experiences within our lives – specifically the experiences of our youngest children.
Mounting evidence and research points to the significance of a child’s earliest experiences in shaping who that person becomes and how their life will pan out. During early childhood (up to around eight years of age), children undergo rapid growth that is highly influenced by their environment. Many challenges faced by adults, such as mental health issues, obesity, heart disease, criminality, and poor literacy and numeracy, can be traced back to early childhood.
According to the World Health Organisation, every year, more than 200 million children under five years old fail to reach their full cognitive and social potential. Most of these children live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – however, there are a significant number of those children growing up in areas far closer to your own home.
The impact of poor development as a result of early childhood experiences can have lasting effects. Many children are likely to under-achieve in school and subsequently to have low incomes as adults. As adults, they are statistically more likely to have children at a very early age, and provide poor health care, nutrition and stimulation to their children. This leads to a full-circle effect of intergenerational transmission of poverty and poor development.
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence, many governments have still been slow to promote early child development and to support families with appropriate information and skills.
“We have found overwhelming evidence that children’s life chances are most heavily predicated on their development in the first five years of life. It is family background, parental education, good parenting and the opportunities for learning and development in those crucial years that together matter more to children than money, in determining whether their potential is realised in adult life” – Frank Field (2010)
In Scotland, The Early Years Framework (2008) forms the basis of many of the changes that are taking place in the country and for it’s children. It gathers the research and builds a plan of action for focusing on giving all children the best start in life, the importance of early intervention, and ensuring as far as possible positive outcomes for Scotland’s children.
“These early years are absolutely central to the developmental fate of a child, yet until recently they have received virtually no attention. A huge cultural shift must take place. Resources must be invested in the early years of children, concentrating on those most at risk, whose parents/carers are least able to provide what the child needs” – Professor Sir Ian Kennedy (2010)
As a primary teacher, specialising in early years, the opportunity to play a role in giving children the best start in life and help to ensure positive outcomes for children is something I am excited to be part of.