Educating the Youngest Among Us: ECE for Ages 0 to 3 Years Old
Nelson Mandela said these wise words 25 years ago, and they still ring true today. The youngest children especially deserve the same respect, care and attention as people at any other age, and their education is equally as important. Luckily, many areas of the world are beginning to value and provide educational opportunities for the youngest among us, namely children from zero to three years old. In this article, we’re going to explore what these children need in terms of care and education, how they fit into the Finnish model of progressive education and what HEI Schools offers to educate and care for them.
What Do They Need? Care and Education for Babies & Toddlers
Young children are the most vulnerable and helpless of individuals, which is why much of their care focuses on providing everyday necessities, such as proper nutrition, sleep, hygiene and feeling safe and secure. Babies need to be fed and dressed, have their diapers changed and experience loving human touch and contact on a daily basis.
Because much of young children’s care is associated with these hands-on basic needs, many people view early years childcare as glorified babysitting. Since babies need so much intensive daily care, it might appear that education at such a young age might seem impractical or even unrealistic.
Another reason for this is the language component. Verbal communication is the most obvious way to educate others, and many adults might think that any sort of verbal communication with babies and toddlers is not effective (it is!), so they do not realize the possibilities they have to educate young children.
However, there are actually many ways to educate and interact with young children in order to help them learn about the world around them. For example, because receiving care is such a large part of their everyday experiences, pedagogy can happen during the care. At HEI Schools, we call this “pedacare.” When changing diapers, a caregiver can count the baby’s fingers and toes or name body parts while touching the corresponding body part, thereby pairing the sensory experience with the verbal communication. When the baby is eating, you can name the types of food or drinks they have and describe the tastes of food as they consume it.
Many educational opportunities also happen during interactions, in caregiving situations and otherwise, which is why it is important for babies to have quality face-to-face contact with adults. Facial expressions and tone of voice speak volumes for children, and although they are not yet able or are just starting to produce language, they benefit from hearing it spoken aloud. Songs, rhymes and repetition are all excellent forms of communicating with young children. Even if they cannot repeat what they hear, listening to language helps them start to build an understanding of it and contributes to their own spoken language skills later on.
Additionally, babies and toddlers benefit from formal educational moments, though such activities need to be created with their developmental limitations in mind. For example, a guided circle time with the smallest children cannot be very long because their attention span is rather short. If teachers organize a musical moment for the group, it should include just a few songs. If there are more hands-on activities, teachers can divide the children into smaller groups or have individual interactions with each child so they get the guidance and attention they need.
In terms of activity methods, young children learn best through projects, exploration and repetition in a safe, familiar environment. While projects cannot be very complicated, working with tactile materials is an effective way for toddlers to learn because they get those sensory experiences that are so important for their development, and they also have the opportunity to observe processes.
Want to to bring these learning moments to your preschool or daycare? Join our hands-on Toolkit webinar to learn how you can!
Exploration is another important way for children to accumulate knowledge and skills. Because much of the world is so new to them, simply examining and exploring the spaces around them can be tremendously educational. They learn a lot by touching things and putting them in their mouths, which is why safety is extremely important in their environment. Objects should always be non-toxic and big enough to prevent any sort of choking. Educators can heighten the experience, first by ensuring that the environment is safe for exploration and also by adding elements that enrich the moment.
Repetition plays an important part of the process as well because it is through repetition that children can practice skills and learn new things. Therefore, routines are an essential component of the early learning environment. It is in such familiar frameworks that children begin to feel a sense of security in their surroundings, and because they feel secure, they also begin to feel confident enough to explore and discover new things.
What does Finland do? The Educational System for the Youngest Children
Low Ratio of Teachers to Children
In Finland, early childhood education and care is highly valued and well-informed by research, which is why it is one of the best educational systems in the world. Formal schooling for children begins at ten months old. While there are options to bring babies to the home of a trained early childhood educator, who usually takes on a small group of children alone, many parents opt to enroll their children in learning centers. By law, the ratio of teachers to students is one to four at a maximum until the age of three, so classes usually consist of eight to twelve children.
There should be at least one pedagogically trained teacher in each group, and they are typically joined by assistants or nurses who are also trained in early childhood education and care, though not to the same extent. While teachers spend at least three years at university, other adults in ECE classrooms are trained for at least one and a half years or up to three years if they have no high school diploma. Therefore, all adults who work with children in learning centers are very well-qualified to provide care and education.
Partnering with Parents
Additionally, teachers lend support to parents in the upbringing of their children. The Finnish government also provides a national healthcare service for young parents called Neuvola, but this organization focuses primarily on the health and wellbeing of young children. Teachers, on the other hand, provide a valued pedagogical perspective to parents. They foster good relationships with families and work together in the best interest of children because supporting the child’s development is a team effort. Parents value these relationships, and they also appreciate the interactions that teachers have with their children. The level of teachers’ care for children and their families speaks volumes about how much young children are valued in Finland.
How does HEI Schools approach this age group? Providing Quality Learning Opportunities for Babies & Toddlers
The HEI Schools curriculum, which is based on the Finnish national curriculum and developed in partnership with University of Helsinki, caters to children as young as six months old. Our high-quality materials include circle time and lessons each day, as well as suggestions on the daily flow and routines that work best for these age groups. We also include ‘pedacare’ tips, in which we suggest ideas about how teachers can utilize daily moments as learning opportunities, as well as guidance about how to interact with children while conducting activities. Our learning matrix also includes specific learning objectives for children ages six to eighteen months, with many activities focused on those crucial opportunities to explore and get familiar with different objects, phenomena and skills.
Teacher Resources and Training
In our HEI Schools Teacher Toolkit and our Inspiration Package for HEI Schools Learning Centers, we provide recommendations for books, songs and rhymes that are suitable for the youngest children. The Inspiration Package also includes ideas for outdoor activities, field trips and family activities. Teachers at local Learning Centers and Clubs also undergo training courses that take all age groups up to the age of six years old into consideration, but we share learning materials that are specific to children six months to three years old as well. The HEI Schools Toolkit and Teacher Diploma also offer materials for educators to better understand the best practices for their care and education.