The preschool years are vital in laying the foundation for emotional development and for future social and cognitive learning. Paying attention to mental health needs in these shaping and dynamic years is very important. Mental health, like physical health, is an essential part of a person’s identity. Like physical health, mental health moves back and forth along a scale throughout life, beginning during prenatal development. Sometimes mental health problems stem from environmental stressors and sometimes they stem from biological factors.
For every child, a complex interaction of these two factors exists, combined with the individual process of personality development. “Children affect their environment at the same time that their environments are affecting them. ” Environmental factors are the factors people have the most control over, and therefore more information is available about how to tip environmental factors in a positive direction for healthy emotional development. Convincing evidence exists that high-quality preschool positively affects social-emotional development. Across hundreds of studies of immediate and short-term outcomes, impacts of early education on factors such as self-esteem, motivation, and social behavior are positive, and range from about . 25 to . 40 of a standard deviation, a meaningful impact. ” (Barnett) Other studies demonstrate that quality preschool produces long-term benefits in terms of improved classroom behavior and social adjustment and decreased future crime and delinquency.
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These successful programs all deliver high-quality center-based early childhood education services, but they differ in some ways, too. Some focus on 3 and 4 year-olds only, while others serve children from birth to 5, and some offer parent education or family support services in addition to center based early childhood education. Most children spend many hours each week in the care of someone other than their parents. These caregivers play the same role in promoting social and emotional development as do parents when children are young.
Just as parents who are warm and responsive are more likely to promote strong social and emotional skills in their children, so too are early childhood educators and teachers, which means that the classroom environment must enable teachers the time to focus on individual children. Just as it is important for a consistent attachment to form between a parent and child, so too is such an attachment important for caregiver and child. That means that staff turnover in preschool programs should be kept to a minimum. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child) A child’s ability to learn and to function as a contributing member of society rests heavily on the development of social competency and emotional health that begins at birth and is greatly influenced during the preschool years. Preschool programs that pursue the highest standards of quality will contribute substantially to this development. And while it may be a difficult and costly responsibility to promote and maintain such standards, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
If we value our children and their future, we would be wise to make every effort to provide access to quality preschool programs and endorse such a prescient investment in the social and economic future of our country. Bibliography Barnett, W. S. (2002) Early childhood education. In A. Molnar (Ed. ) School Reform Proposals: The Research Evidence (pp. 1-26). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Young children develop in an environment of relationships. Working paper #1. Retrieved March 15, 2005 from http://www. developingchild. net/papers/paper_1. pdf
National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development. Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips, eds. Washington, DC: National Academy Press: 2000. www. nap. edu U. S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services. Copies available from: National TA Center for Children’s Mental Health, Georgetown University Child Development Center