Childcare is so often seen as a necessary evil for working parents, but I’ve come to learn that it is so much more than that – it’s a place of remarkable learning.
When my son was in day care I can admit that his learning was probably the last thing on my mind behind the upfront cost of child care, juggling work and staying on top of all my responsibilities at home. Even just getting the front lawn mown was, still is, at times a bit beyond me.
Thankfully, the wonderful educators and teachers at my local day care were focused on providing both of my children with quality early learning experiences. Not formal sit down school, but play based learning following their interests and tailored to their stage of development.
I’m so confident that this is going to make such a difference when my eldest starts school– he will be settled and ready to learn.
Alys and her son William, who starts school next year after five years of childcare. Image supplied.
This is a familiar situation for single mum Simone and her two boys – Kayden, four and a half, and Tyler, eight from Eagleby in Queensland.
Kayden started preschool in Eagleby South in February this year and attends for two days one week and three days the next.
Simone has seen the positive effect of early learning in boosting Kayden’s development:
“Kayden is very sporty and loves to run around outdoors. He got a PV-50 motorbike for Christmas and recently started doing Karate and other Martial Arts. But I couldn’t get him to sit down and look at a picture book. He would just flip through a few pages and running off to find something else to do.
“Since starting [kindergarten] in February Kayden’s concentration and attention span have increased phenomenally. Now when it’s time to read at night, he'll go and find something he wants to read, and ask us to read it. He sometimes even has a book under his pillow.
“He’s much more interested in wanting to learn his numbers and ABC, he looks for the letters in his name anywhere – in books and on TV. Right now he’s fixated on the number 4, his age.”
Most parents recognise the social benefits that access to early education provides children, but as Kayden’s experience suggests it is also critical time for early literacy development.
Prepare to drop your jaw: We now know that by age five, a child’s vocabulary will predict their educational success and outcomes at age 30.
Australian children who participate in quality early learning score up to 40% ahead of their peers in year 3 NAPLAN results.
Children who attend more than one year of early learning score ahead of their peers on maths, literacy and science by the time they reached age 15- even a decade after preschool.
Thankfully most children in Australia have access to preschool or kindergarten in the year before school- but this is only for one year.
All children benefit from early learning from age three – and that’s why many developed countries around the world like the UK, New Zealand and France provide an entitlement to access from this age. In Australia only 66% of children attend preschool or child care at age 3, but many vulnerable children miss out.
All children benefit from early learning from age three. Image via iStock.
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds particularly benefit from attending early learning centres at even younger ages, because they aren’t exposed to the same learning experiences as other children in the home. By age four, the difference in the number of words children from disadvantaged backgrounds hear is a staggering 19 million.
Early learning is the key to turning this around.
Whether it is parents reading with their toddler at home, or a child playing counting games with their early childhood teacher; early learning has extraordinary benefits.
Take the case of Eliza, who started school a couple of years ago without a hitch - but her mum Joanne says that if it weren't for the staff at her Lady Gowrie centre, she would have started school with reading and speaking difficulties that would have taken some time to work out. An eye clinic run by the centre picked up that Eliza needed glasses, and a visiting speech pathologist noticed her difficulty pronouncing a range of consonants.
"I think without all the support we had for Eliza - so she could speak and read, starting school would have been so much tougher for her. But thinking about the teachers - how much easier it is must be for them, if all these issues, and the social and behavioural learning are taken care of before the kids arrive at primary school. It takes pressure off every grown up in the chain. The school teachers can teach more effectively because they don't have to work out why a child is not able to keep up."
In the long run we all benefit from children attending early learning because it gives them the best possible chance to succeed at school - and this means that fewer children will disengage, drop out and become low-skilled workers or unemployed or homeless. And we'll see fewer children end up in the welfare and justice systems as adults.
Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman says, "Our economic future depends on providing the tools for upward mobility and building a highly educated, skilled workforce. Early childhood education is the most efficient way to accomplish these goals."
Involvement in quality early learning is therefore one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of disadvantage that many families struggle with through successive generations.
It even adds to our GDP – PriceWaterHouseCoopers found that having all children participate in quality early learning would add $10.3 billion to our economy by 2050, and making sure all vulnerable children in Australia participated would add $13.3 billion.
A new campaign launched today campaign seeks to help everyone understand and value the benefits of early learning to all children - www.everyonebenefits.org.au. Please support it.