The lasting benefits of early learning

THIS September, toddlers across the North Shore will be forced to put down colouring books and plush incarnations of beloved TV characters and take those first uncertain steps toward preschool.

Some will cling to a parents' leg while others clamber to toys and future best friends, but for each child, the process will likely be a crucial stage for their emotional and social development.

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"When children are encouraged to explore, learn, discover and play during the early years, they are forming connections between their brain cells, and strengthening the brain," said Natacha Beim, founder of The Core Education and Fine Arts junior kindergarten program. "Children need to move and be active. The environment should respect that need. . . . They need to dance, twirl, run, and even roar! That is all normal."

Beim made a decision to specialize in early learning after working as an elementary school teacher.

"I decided that teaching could really use a different approach, much more fun and child-centered, while still challenging," she said.

Among the benefits of early learning programs: they help prevent learning difficulties once children reach school age, said Beim, who expounded on the issue in an email to the North Shore News. Children evidencing difficulties with fine motor skills, a lack of comprehension, or troubles with numbers or letters have a better likelihood of getting meaningful help if their problems are detected early.

"The great news is that many of these issues can be treated with therapy," Beim said. "In my opinion, as long as it is not stressful for the child, and as long as no medication is involved and no labels are given, it is always better to consult with a specialist sooner rather then later." Beim cautions that learning disabilities cannot be properly diagnosed until the child is in Grade 3.

The CEFA program advocates easing a child into school.

"We have a gradual entry process where the parent attends with the child for the first while, and gradually shortens the time they spend in the classroom, until the child is comfortable to attend on their own," Beim explains.

The nature of early learning is constantly evolving, according to Beim.

"A teacher who has not changed her curriculum in 30 years is equivalent to a doctor who has not learned anything new in that same time," she said.

In North Vancouver, Grand Boulevard Parent Participation Preschool puts a similar emphasis on learning and socializing through play. The program for three and four-year-old children encourages parental involvement to help youngsters feel physically safe and psychologically secure.

Putting an emphasis on play fosters both physical and cognitive development, according to the tenets of the Early Learning Foundation.

The ELF is the product of early childhood educators and the North Vancouver School District, and is utilized by nine preschools in North Vancouver. Periods of physical play are alternated with quiet activities. The environment is intended to allow preschoolers to develop theories and to test them.

"Children need to have opportunities to make sense of their experiences and at the same time have opportunities to extend and expand their learning," according to the Grand Boulevard preschool website.

Grand Boulevard stresses the importance of school readiness.

"Readiness is determined by a child's physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive development. It encompasses the development of self-control, respect for others, a sense of confidence and competence, which is vital for success in kindergarten," according to Grand Boulevard PPP.

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