For decades researchers in the field of psychology have debated nature versus nurture in the role of brain development. Are we really a product of genetics or does our environment determine who we become? In recent years, research has shown that environment, specifically in early childhood, is a strong predictor of success in adult life. In the first years of life, children develop habits that will last a lifetime. They will begin a life of activity or settle into a sedentary lifestyle. They will learn the language that is spoken around them and model the behaviors they see. While the brain develops most of its neurons from birth to three years old, early childhood is defined as the period of birth through eight years old. Education during this time is important because these are the child’s most formative years. Early childhood education will determine a person’s health, intelligence and personality in later years.
In a child’s early years, he is energetic and longing to play. It is during this time that regular physical activity should start and become a habit. Because physical activity is directly related to good health at every stage of life, play and sports should be a part of early childhood education. Exercise improves motor skills in young children while organized play teaches skills such as honesty, teamwork, fairplay, respect for themselves and others, and adherence to rules. Early involvement in sports increases the chance that a person will be physically active later in life. It is important for children to be part of sports programs outside of school to achieve the maximum impact on public health. Any sports program can teach a child skills that will help his coordination and improve his health.
Just as a person’s health and physical rigor is determined by his early years, so is his ability and motivation to learn. Even before kindergarten age, children should get familiar with materials like scissors and pencils, learn letters and sounds, and recognize numbers. The child should be read to and begin to write his name.
As the child starts school, he will begin setting an important after school schedule consisting of homework time, snack time, and physical activity. Some students will ride the bus to an empty house while others stay after school for sports and still others have after school programs. Studies have shown that youth who spend their outside of school hours without supervision have risk of behavior problems, drug use, and negative outcomes. On the other hand, youth that spend their after school hours in structured programs benefit from positive interactions with peers and adults. They are encouraged to take leadership notes and challenged to learn new skills. Studies have shown that the students that attended preschool or headstart followed by an afterschool program were the the most successful in school.
Perhaps most important is the social skills that can be learned during a child’s early years. Kids are social from the time they are born. They observe how people act around them and learn from the people that they watch. They learn the most from their parents and mimic their behavior. Therefore, parents have the biggest effect on their child and should model appropriate behavior and good relationships. Having strong relationships with people is a important aspect to life.
Friends are one of the greatest things in the world because they help us through problems and comfort us. Kids need practice at being kind, supportive, and trustworthy in order to be a good friend. According to PBS It’s a wonderful feeling not only to have a friend, but to know how to be a friend yourself. Along with parents, coaches are strong influences on children. Being on a sports teams teaches children to collaborate and communicate with other people and that will help them grow relationships. Having strong relationships with people is a important aspect to life.
Research shows that environment is important in the early years of life. Opportunities to provide a proper environment exist both in the home and through organized programs. Such organized programs include preschool or Headstart, afterschool programs such as 4H or Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, and sports programs and camps.
While many children benefit from preschool, others come from less fortunate families who cannot afford preschool. Because of the importance of early childhood education, the government has funded Head Start programs to give underprivileged children the education they need. The Head Start program helps the preschool aged children develop skills to get ready for kindergarten. Some long term outcomes of the Head Start program is collaboration skills, high quality education for the young child, caring and educational environments, well-aligned regulations and resources, improved family and child readiness for school.
Another great resource, federally and locally funded Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs have places for students to do homework and get help that they need in school. They also have age appropriate physical activity for the kids to have fun. Finally, the kids have time to socialize and make new friends in a supervised environment.
In sports programs the kids are able to have meet new friends, learn new skills, compete in a supervised environment and also have fun doing physical activities. Youth team coaches are good role models for the kids such as a positive attitude, encouraging, and to teach them how to be a leader. Coaches play an important role in positive educational experiences. For example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is using sports to encourage girls and young women to attend school in refugee camps. Also UNICEF uses sports to campaign for girls education. While early childhood sports programs are beneficial, it is important that these program focus on individual development.
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