As Head of Early Learning and Development across three Early Learning Centres, I have the privilege of working collaboratively with parents and early intervention therapists to best support children who present with challenges embedded in their diagnostic profiles or in evident gaps in their overall development.
Our work with children in these early years is dependant on our understanding of and our commitment to making use of these formative years, in the hope and knowledge that if we get things right early on, a child has the best chance of success later on.
Research and practice continue to advance our awareness of child development and more recently, a deeper understanding the young, growing brain. We know that a child’s brain grows faster in the first five years than at any other time in life, and how a child grows and develops in these early years will have a huge and lasting impact on the rest of their lives. Neuro-pathways developed before the age of 5 will positively or negatively inform and shape the rest of the child’s life. The millions of complex connections that are formed in the young brain will contribute to the overall health and development of a child – that being their physical and emotional wellbeing, their language and thinking competencies, their understanding of themselves and their place in the world. We are very mindful that each child’s ability to regulate their emotions and master their bodies in time and space will influence their capacity to focus and problem-solve, to get along with others and contribute meaningfully to their world, and thereby, to learn effectively. We deliberately plan and prepare these early years experiences to ensure that the indelible template that each child comes to rely on will provide them with the skills and knowledge they will need to grow to live a wholesome and full life.
We have come to know that when given appropriate adult or peer support, a child’s development can be easily and effectively scaffolded and advanced from one area of competency to the next. What starts to matter is that we work collaboratively, within a clearly identified area of developmental focus. This capacity to zoom into the specific area of need, is reliant on our understanding of what intervention will encourage the progress we are seeking. We work to find just the right balance of pressure, not too hard, not too soft. A zone of proximal development that we like to think about as the Goldilocks Edge. The knowing how much we can expect, as well as to know when it might be too much. Too little means the child’s development might stagnate or plateau; too much might prohibit or hurt further development.
In our work, we are witness to extraordinary developmental achievements when the interventions and supports are well co-ordinated and carefully implemented over a continuum of time. In our centres, children who present with challenges are carefully observed and tracked. We appreciate that some of the children may or may not have a formal diagnosis before they commence with us. We are cautious and considerate of what our observations may indicate, and careful not to jump to conclusions nor provide our own diagnosis to parents. Rather, we carefully assess and when we have enough anecdotal examples of where we believe a child might be better supported, we gently approach parents with our recommendations. It is often during these conversations that we suggest that we engage the expertise of early intervention therapists.
Over the years we have developed highly respectful, professional relationships with allied therapists who work with us to design a plan moving forward. The plan may involve the guidance of more than one expert; and depending on what we have observed we may make recommendations for a more comprehensive assessment to be completed, in the hope that the new measures become a baseline onto which specific areas of development can be targeted, and thereby learning and growth becomes tailored to the individual needs of the child.
Our approach is transparent, collaborative and consultative. We welcome intervention therapists into our centres to work with children and demonstrate their practice and approach to the child’s educators, who sit in on the sessions, so as to grow in their own knowledge and understanding. The areas of intervention are brought back into the classroom, and, where necessary, adjustments are made to the program. Repeated opportunities to practice and master new skills are included in a child’s personal learning plan.
For the children who present with more complex challenges, we invite both parents and early intervention therapists to regular meetings where we reflect on the child’s progress, share our current expectations and hopes, and together set new goals for the child to work towards.
Our years of experience have affirmed our approach as one that truly invests in the child’s development. We create a four-pronged approach that expects the child, his parents/family, his educators and therapists to all participate in the detailed plan; offering the child the chance to practice and practice again until that ah ha moment, when all the planning and practice comes together, and the child has accomplished yet another goal. This feeds the child’s motivation and propels their development even further.