Give the child a best start in life by offering early stimulation and age appropriate play

By Julius Ssensamba

To set the ball rolling, Early Childhood is the period from prenatal to age eight. It captures the full continuum of pregnancy to 8 years and it is the most rapid period of development in human life. Whereas Care is what the child requires to survive and thrive- basic needs for protection, food, health care, interaction and stimulation, affection, security, and learning through play, the development of many synapses is influenced by experiences early in life.

It is also important to note that Development takes place in a predictable manner. All children follow a similar sequence of development but grow at their own rate. (Crawl ? stand ? walk ? run). Child development is sequential, earlier skills provide foundation for later skills, timely support is essential because missed opportunities are never regained.

Many new parents still think that babies should develop at their own pace, and that they shouldn’t be challenged to do things that they’re not yet ready for. Infants should learn to roll around under their own power, without any “helpful” nudges, and they shouldn’t support their weight before they can stand or walk on their own. This mind-set can be traced back to the early 1900s, when professionals were convinced that our genes determine who we are, and that child development occurred independently of the stimulation that a baby is exposed to. They believed it was harmful to hasten development, because development should happen naturally. This made many parents and caregivers forget the fact that early stimulation in the form of baby gym activities and early sensible training play a central role.

Recent studies show that the neurons in the brains of young children quickly increase in both number and specialization as the baby learns new skills and becomes more mobile. Neurons in very young children form up to a thousand new connections per second. It also shows that the development of our brain, sensory perception and motor skills happen in synchrony. Therefore, even the smallest babies must be challenged and stimulated at their level from birth onward. They need to engage their entire body and senses by exploring their world and different materials, both indoors and out and in all types of weather. The experiences must be self-produced; it is not enough for children merely to be carried or pushed in strollers.

Unused/unstimulated brain synapses are permanently lost
Studies show that many people believe that children up to three years old only need cuddles and nappy changes, but research shows that children born into cultures where early stimulation is considered important, develop earlier than those where it is otherwise. Brains of young children are very malleable, and can therefore adapt to what is happening around them. If the new synapses that are formed in the brain are not being used, they disappear as the child grows up and the brain loses some of its plasticity and this has a detrimental effect on many aspects including speech and language. Research further shows that children don’t learn language by watching someone talk on a screen, it has to be real people who expose them to the language.

Early intervention with the very young

To this, since a lot is happening in the brain during the first years of life, it is easier to promote learning and prevent problems when children are very young. Early intervention is about helping children as early as possible to ensure that as many children as possible succeed in their education and into adulthood – precisely because the brain has the greatest ability to change under the influence of the ambient conditions early in life.

“The First Five years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out- Bill Gates”

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Mr Ssensamba is the M&E Advisor for the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Secretariat at Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development

juliussensamba@gmail.com

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