Newborns know far more than scientists previously imagined. They arrive learning and exploring,2 are eff ective communicators and even understand that people are special and imitate their facial expressions.3 Babies soon develop their own identity, autonomy and social abilities, and follow their own curiosities and learning interests. They look longer at novel or unexpected events than at more predictable ones. They examine and discover their environment and make connections between their experiences. They master physical skills, connect with others and contribute to their world.
Children live in the present and have a wide range of capacities and abilities that adapt to the culture and context of their daily lives. The circumstance under which they learn and grow makes a big difference. Early experiences carry forward into adult life. But as British researcher Helen Penn notes, “Children’s daily experiences are vivid and deeply felt and bad or mediocre experiences, while possibly not harmful in the long run, may lead to considerable unhappiness.”4
Young children live in families that are more diverse than ever before, and under circumstances that are significantly more complex, and for many, more stressful. Supporting families to cope with these transitions makes sense from a human capital argument. Healthy, competent children require less expensive interventions today, and become adults who are able to contribute not only to their own families, but to the social and economic well-being of society.
Investing in children begins with the here and now of childhood. The UNICEF (2003) report, The State of the World’s Children, stresses that children need to be seen and heard in their communities around a wide range of social and environmental issues of concern to them. Responsible citizenship is not something conferred at age 18. Even very young children have the capacity for active participation and the acquisition of civic literacy skills. Children should be recognized as young citizens who are celebrated, and as active, competent people who have a stake in Canadian society and in whom Canadian society has a stake.13 Countries that support early human development recognize the unique contribution that families make. Consequently, they support parents to balance work and child raising. They share the cost of raising children and recognize that children need spaces and places to be, to do, to learn and to interact with others.
Next: 2. What early childhood education offers children and families
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