When we were building Columba Cottage Early Learning Centre there were questions about why a school would spend so much time, effort and money on something that was often considered not a school’s “core business”.

Well, take a bow, those visionaries who supported this idea and brought it to fruition. Educationally and socially your vision has created an environment that has been proven to be a key factor in ensuring that St Columba graduates are successful – at school and in later life!

We know that most pre-kindergarten programs do a good job of improving specific skills like phonics and counting, as well as broader social and emotional behaviours by the time students enter kindergarten. Research shows that providing a high quality education for children before they turn five yields significant long-term benefits.

Children enrolled in early learning centres:

  • get higher test scores in school
  • have a lower chance of repeating a year
  • ultimately earn more
  • are more likely to graduate from high school
  • are more likely to own homes.
  • are less likely to need special education
  • are less likely to get into future trouble with the law

Forty-six years ago, a working-class town in Michigan began a program that changed lives. “Mind-blowing,” one scholar called it at Harvard last week. The Perry Preschool was a program for 3- and 4-year-olds that used a problem-solving approach to learning, a focus on social development, and the engagement of parents in their child’s education. More than four decades later, the effects of the hands-on curriculum administered by well-trained teachers are hard to ignore. When measured in a comprehensive, longitudinal study against their adult counterparts who didn’t attend the preschool, the Perry students are much better off. Now in their 40s, the former pre-schoolers have more family stability, earn more money, are less likely to receive welfare, and are less involved in crime. The Harvard Gazette

Quality Counts

There is universal agreement that early years learning sets a strong foundation for future success, but not all early learning is equal. It is the quality that really counts. Experts cite the key elements in “high-quality” pre-schooling as:

  • student-directed learning and lots of open-ended play
  • learning about diversity is integrated and developmentally appropriate and part of all aspects of the daily schedule
  • the climate and tone of the classroom reflects a sense of community, where all members are respected for their individuality
  • classrooms have resources and materials in all areas to make the environment culturally rich (e.g., books about sharing, caring, teaching respect, and differences/similarities among people)
  • children learn a sense of self, a sense of belonging, and positive attitudes toward learning itself
  • children are encouraged to become active learners, drawing on direct physical and social experiences to construct their understanding of the world around them
  • new skills are based on the interaction of the children’s biological maturation and the environment—opportunity is encouraged in learning new skills

Researchers have warned that the positive outcomes of early learning are short-lived when those elements are not present. For the children most likely to experience developmental vulnerability, two years of high-quality preschool can be transformative. But it has positive impacts for all children.

Early childhood education is about honing and molding the holistic child, which will eventually form the basis of their lifelong journey.

Essential benefits of early childhood education:

  1. Socialisation: Socialisation with people other than the child’s family in a safe environment is an essential foundational element. The earlier we do this, the better, as it helps children overcome shyness and gain self-confidence. If we leave this too long, we actually hinder their social development.
  2. Concept of Cooperation: Learning how to share, cooperate, take turns and persevere within a safe learning environment, guided by professionals who have the children’s best interests at heart.
  3. Encouraging Holistic Development: Early childhood educators are trained in identifying areas where support is needed for each child and building programs and activities around these.
  4. Enthusiasm for Lifelong Learning: Love of education – for reading, learning, discovery, nature – takes root in preschool.
  5. Conveying the Value of Education Through Experience: While parents will always be the most important influence on a child’s early life, introducing them to a preschool environment provides them with a new perspective on the importance of education that will remain with them throughout their schooling journey.
  6. Respect: There is no better place to learn this virtue than in a hectic preschool environment, where everything is shared and civility and manners are both taught and learned organically.
  7. Teamwork: Demonstrating and instilling the importance of teamwork that can teach respect for the opinions of others, listening, cooperation and equality.
  8. Resilience: By creating a consistent, secure and fair social environment, with clear expectations and predictable consequences, children can develop skills in managing themselves and their emotions. They may experience bumps, bruises or losing a game from time-to-time, but this is the foundation for building coping strategies for greater challenges in life.
  9. Concentration: During preschool years, children explore at every opportunity to discover new experiences, new friends and new environments.
  10. Patience: Children need opportunities to be involved in an abundance of social experiences, where they can explore and practice the social skill of patience.
  11. Confidence and Self-Esteem: Positive interactions with other children and teachers will promote a positive, healthy and secure view of themselves that will allow them to approach situations and problems confidently throughout their lives.