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Education Begins Before School Age
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Doctors hands in the delivery room, not school bells, signal the beginning of the educational process.
Most people are conditioned to associate learning with school, but babies are learning a thousand times more than older students even in the best schools.
"Everything is new and an opportunity for learning to a baby," said Dr. Louise Davis, extension child and family development specialist at Mississippi State University.
"Babies are learning machines," Davis said. "Things that adults rarely notice -- shadows, birds, barking dogs, neon lights -- amaze and interest babies. Each observation is a learning opportunity."
By instilling a lifelong love of learning and questing after knowledge, adults can help children develop into motivated, self-confident and highly productive problem solvers.
"Any adult that is a vital part of a child's life should focus on the quality of the time together and not just the quantity," Davis said. "Quality child care, whether it comes from a parent or outside-the-home facility, is as important in a child's early years as school choices when the child is older."
Davis said children experience "educational windows of opportunity" in their first three years.
"Adults have to recognize when a child is at a teachable moment or is ready to learn a particular skill," she said. "Missed learning opportunities can result in delays in multiple areas, like a chain reaction."
Parents can have quality time with children, even en route to child care facilities or stores.
"Anytime you are with your child is a good time for quality communication. Even the youngest babies need to hear parents talking with them," Davis said.
Parental knowledge and involvement in the child-care facility is an important key to a child's successes in life.
"Look for quality child care that is more than a babysitting business," Davis said. "Low teacher/child ratios are important. That may be as low as one teacher per three newborn babies and one per six toddlers."
Most authorities on early childhood development agree that high quality child care programs should offer:
knowledgeable, loving caregivers who understand and care about children and who work with the family to meet individual needs;
a safe, friendly environment that provides stimulating opportunities for a child's development -- social, intellectual physical and emotional;
a variety of formal and informal activities that are appropriate for the child's age and developmental level.
Davis recommended preschools that follow the accreditation standards set forth by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
If children experience quality attention in their first few years, they are likely to succeed in school and life.