The early years in a child’s life have been acknowledged for some time by experts as vitally important to growth, learning and overall development, but it is now recognised that it also impacts mental health.
Indeed, Ofsted published some international research in June 2023 that suggests high-quality early years provision can provide extra benefits to those from low-income backgrounds.
In England, the Early Years Curriculum Framework cover children from birth to the end of their reception year at school.
Here, we will explore why the early years are important for a child’s development.
Reasons Why Early Years Are Important
The first seven years of a child’s life impact all areas of their development, including their brain, health, emotions and learning.
1. Brain development
A child’s brain develops more from birth to five years old than at any other time. Brain development requires rich experiences, social interaction and stimulation. A young child’s brain is more responsive to stimulation, creating new synapses quickly and capturing information more effectively.
When children lack stimulation, their brains are smaller and less developed than their peers. It can be impossible to make up for this later in life.
2. Physical Development
Children must develop their gross and fine motor skills in early childhood. From the time they are a baby, they require opportunities to develop their strength, coordination and positional awareness.
These early skills allow a child to be active. Later in life, they lead to a greater chance of retaining health and fitness and developing strong bones, muscles and heart.
Of course, it is also vital for children to develop their gross motor skills to acquire fine motor skills that will enable them to hold a pencil and write.
It is in the early years that children acquire their attitude to learning. Young children are naturally curious and creative, which can be crushed in the wrong environment.
An early years curriculum that builds upon these elements is more likely to result in children who are willing to learn and try new things as they age. They must develop a “can do” attitude if they are to be successful in later life.
4. Mental Health
All teachers and educators are taught about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. His 1943 theory stands today because it remains true that we all need our basic needs to be met to achieve success and happiness.
When children feel secure and safe in their early years, they are more receptive to learning and progress better. It also allows them to explore their emotions and learn to regulate them.
As they get older, children who have explored their emotions and have had excellent, supportive role models are more likely to cope with failure and be less afraid of facing challenges.
Many teachers are reporting with anecdotal evidence that they can see the impact of COVID lockdowns on the children who went through their formative years in isolation. Social interaction with peers and supportive adults is crucial to children’s well-being and development.
How can teachers and educators help children in the early years?
When teachers or educators notice a child in their care is struggling in the early years, it is vital to provide extra support as soon as possible. By identifying their challenges early, it is possible to provide opportunities to improve their development.
Where a setting needs more support, the SENDCO can arrange for a referral to an educational psychologist or seek help from their local early years support team.