By RESHMA NC SHAH
The emergence of working parents and nuclear families has led to the loss of a support system for the child. The disappearance of the joint family environment has accentuated this void. As more mothers return to work, crèches and preschools have stepped in as caregivers and first teachers for the 2-5 year old child.
The service they provide is appreciated by young parents who are relieved that their child is ‘constructively engaged’. It is crucial, therefore, to understand what really happens in the preschool years. Toddlers stay away from the primary caregivers, their mothers, and move to a new environment. Separation anxiety sets in. They struggle to cope with the demands of the new routine, from getting up early, rushing through breakfast, to grappling with pincer grip and writing the alphabets and numbers. Many sail through this phase if the environment is relaxed. The not so fortunate ones find preschool very stressful and a daily fight ensues to bring the child to school. Consequently, they step into primary school with basic knowledge of the 3 R’s but no basic life skills that will help them cope with the demands of the new school.
Recent studies have shown that children in stressful situations are at risk of missing out on crucial developmental milestones. They cannot process information smoothly and mentally shut off when forced to do repetitive tasks.
Children thrive on spontaneity. But most preschools do just the opposite. An academic-intensive routine that focuses on alphabet and number writing, memorisation of rhymes and names of birds and animals is the norm in many preschools. This is justified on the grounds that parents pressurise them to give class work and homework and that it helps in getting admissions.
There is no doubt about the necessity of learning the 3 R’s in preschool. But should the scope of preschool education be focussed on the 3 R’s at the cost of ignoring the child’s need for love, nurturing and learning in a fun environment? In the rush for admissions, are preschools and parents forgetting their prime duty towards young children?
Admittedly, many branded preschools conduct activities and neighbourhood trips for real education. To them goes the credit for bringing in a fresh perspective towards Early Childhood Education- that learning can happen in a playful, relaxed and activity-based environment. However, it is time now for preschool education to evolve to the next level.
This evolution must come from within. Society must recognise that children between 0 to 5 years need nurturing more than just academic rigour. To nurture is to provide the age-appropriate environment for a child to explore, learn and grow. It involves teaching social skills (etiquette) and life skills (empathy, curiosity, discipline) to a child who has just stepped out of his comfort zone. It requires commitment to provide appropriate visual, auditory and sensory stimulation for cognitive, emotional and psychological development to take place. This commitment must be for children of all economic backgrounds, through public and private enterprises.
When 90% of the brain is developed by 5 years, it is imperative to make sure that the right learning happens during this time. Every society aspires to produce innovative thinkers, thought leaders and pioneers. The foundation for innovative thinking should start early. It is time for preschools to rise up to the need of the hour. Let us prepare our young children for life, not just for admissions.