Early Learning: The Importance of the First Five Years

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On August 20, 2014, Carolina Parent hosted a live Facebook chat with Primrose Schools on the importance of early education and development for children during their first five years. Here’s a transcript of the conversation:

Carolina Parent Magazine: Welcome to the Carolina Parent and Primrose Schools “The First Five Years” LIVE Facebook chat! Today we’ll be talking with Dr. Gloria Julius, Vice President of Education and Professional Development, and Dr. Maria Shaheen, Executive Director of Early Childhood Education, about the first five years of life including typical behaviors, challenges and how to foster educational development! READERS: Ask a question as a comment below this post and don’t forget to refresh your page! Welcome, Drs. Julius and Shaheen! Onto the first question: How are Primrose Schools different from a daycare?
Primrose Schools: We’re so excited to be here today! Thank you everyone for joining us! To answer the first question, how are Primrose Schools different from a daycare? Primrose is much more than a daycare – it’s a values-based early learning environment providing premier early education and care to children to prepare them to lead healthy, safe and productive lives. At Primrose, our exclusive Balanced Learning® curriculum blends teacher-guided and child-initiated learning activities with a special emphasis on character development to build the right foundation for Active Minds, Healthy Bodies and Happy Hearts® in the first five years of a child’s life.

primrose-schools-facebook-chat.jpgCarolina Parent Magazine: 
Delia in Morrisville asks: “When is a child “ready” for school or a school-like setting? How can you tell?”
Primrose Schools: School readiness is about more than just numbers and letters. A school-ready child should also be eager to learn and able to follow directions. Children should begin developing social and life skills, as well as executive function. Research shows that executive functioning skills help children establish positive relationships and make a successful transition to elementary school. Children should be able to think critically, understand basic mathematical concepts, express curiosity and show confidence in language skills, which includes listening, speaking, pre-reading and pre-writing.

When looking for preschool options that will help children develop the right foundation for success in elementary school, it’s best to choose a program that goes beyond helping children master basic academic skills by supporting their development as happy, confident, well-rounded individuals. Learn more about the school readiness of our Primrose students by clicking here.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Richard of Clayton asks: “At what age should a child be able to say the alphabet or identify numbers?”
Primrose Schools: Hi, Richard! Every child is different when it comes to hitting developmental milestones; however, most children start to say the alphabet from the time they start to talk to around 5-years-old. Understanding counting and identifying numbers begins to happen around 3- to 4-years. Keep in mind that rote memorization is different from understanding the concept, so it’s best to make sure your child has a full understanding of what the number means or how letters make words rather than just reciting something from memory. A child may be able to count to 10 rotely, but can he point to, count, and know that there are ten crackers on his plate?

Carolina Parent Magazine: Holly K. in Durham asks: “What makes your teachers better teachers? Do they have a specialized degree, other than a degree in Education, to teach the curriculum?”
Primrose Schools: Hi, Holly! Parents have told us that the quality and expertise of the staff is an important part of the Primrose Experience for both themselves and for their children. We realize that high-quality training is a vital part of what makes our teachers successful in the classroom, and each of our teachers participates in an extensive initial orientation, as well as ongoing professional development. We also have processes in place to mentor teachers, evaluate and partner with them to ensure they have the resources and knowledge to be the best teachers they can be. All of our teachers are required to have advanced training in child development and our pre-K and Kindergarten teachers are required to have a specialized degree in education.

Kavitha Subramaniam: How do Primrose School curriculum will help children with special needs/learning disabilities?
Primrose Schools: Hi Kavitha! Thanks so much for being here with us today! At Primrose Schools, we treat every child as a unique individual. We recommend speaking to the school leadership team at your local Primrose school to develop the best educational plan for your child.

Shawna Parker: 1) Many schools are introducing Primrose and Montessori concepts. Is this method of introduction just as effective? 2) Is it beneficial or necessary for a child to transition from Primrose to a traditional school environment prior Kindergarten?
Primrose Schools: We value the contributions made in early education by Maria Montessori and incorporate some of her theories into our curriculum. We believe the most effective early learning experience for young children is a balanced approach. The Primrose Balanced Learning® philosophy incorporates elements of Montessori’s philosophy, as well as the teaching philosophies of other education experts. We combine child-initiated activities with research-based, teacher-guided instruction, social-emotional guidance and character development. Primrose parents have said that the transition from Primrose to the traditional elementary school setting is smooth whether it happens before preschool or after Kindergarten, and that their children are prepared not only for elementary school, but also for life.

Beth Poland Shugg: I’ve heard that children who experience an early childhood education have better neurological functioning. I’ve also heard there is a connection between early childhood education and higher graduation rates. What can you tell me about these connections?
Primrose Schools: Hi, Beth! Thanks for your question! Babies are born with more than 100 billion nerve cells in their brains. These neurons must connect and communicate with each other in order to form the circuits we ultimately need to think, learn, and succeed – something neurons do at the remarkable rate during in the first five years of life. Peak development of many fundamentally important brain pathways occurs during the first year of life – from sensory pathways, such as hearing and vision in the earliest months, to language pathways by the middle of the first year, and more complex cognitive skills by the end of the first year. There also is a critical window of opportunity to develop executive function pathways in the brain between the ages of 3 and 5. A high-quality education helps students reach their full potential by actively and purposefully stimulating developing brains during the critical time.

There are countless benefits of a high-quality early education and stats to prove it. Adults who participated in early childhood education programs are 80% more likely to graduate from high school and attend college and a high-quality early childhood education increases future employability by 23%. Additionally, children who are educated in their first five years are 70% less likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

Learn more about the importance of the first five years here.
Beth Poland Shugg: Thanks for this valuable info. I’m convinced for these reasons and many more that preschool is really no longer an option but a necessity for raising educated beings who make positive contributions to their community.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Another question from direct message Twitter: “When should you start reading to your child? When she’s a baby, is it really about bonding, not so much about learning to read?”
Primrose Schools: The sooner, the better! A love of reading begins during infancy when a baby recognizes excitement in her parent’s voice during story time. Even though your infant may not quite understand what you are doing and why it’s helpful, reading aloud reinforces the sounds, rhythm, cadence and patterns of language. These skills will help your child build a strong foundation as a reader, and a learner.

Reading to infants also creates special emotional and physical bonds between parent and child. Reading builds closeness between infant and parent, which in turn builds social and emotional development, setting the stage for learning. Reading books should be associated with comfort and warmth at this age, so be sure to hold and cuddle little ones while reading to them.

primrose-school-experts.jpgCarolina Parent Magazine: We love this question that came in over email from “Anonymous”: “Give me some pointers on handling a screaming, squirming toddler… and please hurry. Just kidding. I know the right type of communication is important in situations like this. Any tips for the right approach, the right words?”
Primrose Schools: Unfortunately, there is no magic answer to this question, but you are right that staying calm and not responding with emotion is the best approach. We also encourage parents to set expectations for what is acceptable toddler behavior and what is not, and to be consistent with consequences. It’s important to show your child the right way to do something, and to talk to them about it, rather than just saying “no.” Keep in mind that toddlers don’t always have the words to express themselves, so you have to be patient and let them talk. You can also suggest words for them by saying something like “I can see you’re feeling sad or angry,” which should help them express their feelings more calmly. Here is a great blog post from our 360 Parenting blog on how to build a “feelings” vocabulary with your child to help with future “tantrums.”

Carolina Parent Magazine: Holly B. from Durham asked, “What age is good for a child to start developing social skills and have interaction with other children?”
Primrose Schools: Thanks for your question, Holly! Children as young as a year old benefit from peer interaction as they really start to hone social skills. It is very common for children around 2-years-old to go through a period where everything is ‘mine.’ This can be frustrating and embarrassing to a parent, but children can learn to share with some encouragement and by watching us role model. At about 3-years-old, they start wanting to play with others. It’s quite interesting to see two preschoolers creating a play scenario that may mimic their own observations and experiences (so be careful, mom and dad—your little one is watching! Your actions and words may come back to haunt you! hehe!)

Carolina Parent Magazine: This question comes from Twitter: “What are the developmental milestones I should be watching for with my baby?”
Primrose Schools: We’re so glad people are tweeting, too! While there are learning outcomes that we typically look for in our infant classroom (e.g. by 12-months, most babies start to use simple gestures, such as shaking her their head for “no,” as well as showing specific preferences for people, toys and food), all babies develop at different rates. It’s important to develop good relationships with your child’s teachers or caregiver as well as her pediatrician so you feel comfortable addressing achievements and concerns.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Elizabeth in Apex asks, “How far up (in grades) do you go?”
Primrose Schools: Hi, Elizabeth! We accept children ages 6-weeks (infant) through pre-Kindergarten (age 4-5). At some schools, we also offer private Kindergarten programs and an after-school program for elementary school children as old as 12-years-old.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Alan from Northwest Raleigh asks, “What makes a Primrose school a better education choice for my child than traditional daycare?”
Primrose Schools: We love this question! Thanks, Alan! We don’t leave the education and care of your child up to chance. Our approach is research-informed and designed to nurture your child’s individual creativity and critical thinking. Our passionate people, caring culture and purposeful, balanced approach make Primrose Schools a premier, early education and care experience for your child. Every day we seek to empower the potential of our students, parents, families, staff and the communities we serve.

Lauren Isaacs: I have an 11-month-old! What makes the first five years so important in a child’s life in general? What should we be trying to accomplish as parents in those first five years?
Primrose Schools: It’s never too early to start teaching your children, Lauren! The best way to help your child learn and grow is to talk with him, play with her, read books together, etc. The time you spend and the interactions you have with your child will make the greatest difference – you are their first and best teacher! Play games like “Where’d it go?” to develop critical thinking skills. Name objects and ask your child where a certain object is to increase vocabulary development.

Your 11-month-old is probably beginning to show some signs of wanting to be independent. Let her start choosing the clothes she wants to wear (provide two choices so as not to overwhelm her). Sing songs, bounce and move to the rhythm. Have an old-fashioned jam session! Grab some instruments, cue up some music and play, play, play! There’s nothing better for your child’s self-esteem!

Tell stories, read books, talk about the illustrations and characters. Research confirms that nurturing guidance and attention to every aspect of development in the early years help children develop compassion, confidence and a love of learning, in addition to competence and academic skills. These capabilities are easy to take for granted, but can make all the difference in how children respond to school and life beyond the classroom. Laugh and have fun!

Here is a quick video showcasing what happens in our toddler classroom to give you an idea of what your child should be doing at home at this age.
Lauren Isaacs: These are all great tips! I’m a first-time mom and learning as I go. We are having lots of fun together!
Primrose Schools: We’re so glad, Lauren! We’re always available and happy to answer any questions you may have on Facebook and Twitter – any time!

Katina Baker Faulkner: What role (how much or how little) should technology play in the early years of childhood educational development?
Primrose Schools: Hi, Katina! This is a great question, and one we get a lot! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under age 2. And while older children need time each day to play, explore, make decisions and solve problems on their own, they still need meaningful, face-to-face interactions with adults to develop advanced language skills. While we occasionally rely on technology to teach and entertain our children, research shows that children do not experience the same type of language learning from television, computers and mobile devices as they do from talking to us. As with anything, moderation is the key. And always make sure to spend time talking with your child each day. Your little one will reap great benefits not only in learning language, but also in developing social and emotional confidence.
Katina Baker Faulkner: Thank you! Confidence is definitely the foundation to well being and success – I appreciate your response!
Primrose Schools: We agree, Katina! Thanks for participating with us today!

Sue Chen: What is a good age for a child to start in a child care center?
Primrose Schools: Hi, Sue! Thanks for chatting with us today. Every child is different, and it really depends on your goals for your child as a parent. Peak development of many important brain pathways occurs during the first year of life – from sensory pathways, such as hearing and vision in the earliest months, to language pathways by the middle of the first year, and more complex cognitive skills by the end of the first year. This is why we begin implementing our Balanced Learning® curriculum with even our youngest (6-weeks-old) children. You will be amazed at how excited your baby becomes in response to the fun, purposeful activities that we provide – and all the while your baby is connecting neural pathways to learn and grow. If you’re able to find a school that fosters this development in a safe, clean and nurturing environment, your child will certainly benefit. Here is a list of questions we recommend you ask when searching for child care.
Sue Chen: Thank you very much!
Primrose Schools: Our pleasure, Sue! Thank you for chatting with us today!

Carolina Parent Magazine: We have time for one last question from Alex R. in Cary who emailed: “How is creativity encouraged at Primrose Schools?”
Primrose Schools: Thanks for the question, Alex! We purposefully foster creativity through our core curriculum because we believe – and research shows – that these skills directly lead to success in school, in careers and in life. Creativity is nurtured in all subjects and activities that we offer – from the arts and music lessons to math, language and science. For example, sorting is an essential skill we teach in mathematics. In one lesson, teachers ask students to sort various objects and practice counting. Some children may sort by height and others by color, or some may even make up their own attributes. There is no right or wrong way to sort; rather, Primrose teachers sit down with students to talk to them about how they chose to sort, and then challenge them to sort differently on their next try.

Carolina Parent Magazine: Thank you so much to Dr. Gloria Julius, Dr. Maria Shaheen and Primrose Schools for your time answering these great questions from our readers! For more information on Primrose Schools in the Triangle area, please see this website.
Primrose Schools: Thank you so much to everyone for joining us today! We’ve loved chatting with you! A big thanks to Carolina Parent Magazine for hosting us today. If you have any other questions, we’re always available on our own Facebook and Twitter pages – and are happy to chat any time! If you’d like to reach out North Carolina Primrose schools in the Raleigh area, you can find one near you here.

Categories: Early Education, Health and Development, Parenting, Preschool Child Care, Preschool Development, Preschool Early Learning