FOCUS AREAS IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN CONTEXT OF EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT 

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CHAPTER 2 AN UNDERSTANDING OF EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT

THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY INTERVENTION AND STIMULATION

Early intervention is imperative; parents and care-givers need to be speaking, communicating and encouraging their children from a very young age. Practitioners need to ensure rich curricular activities and challenging opportunities for children, while valuing enquiry and thoughtfulness (Leseman, 2002: p4; Hendrick & Weissman, 2007: p275; Eliason, 2008: p190).
Leseman (2002: p4) believes early childhood to be a ‘rich, silent, cultural-psychological phenomenon’. He believes that children learn and develop through interactions and encounters that they face, as well as through observational learning and social interactions.
Gonzalez-Mena (2011: xvii) clearly explains the importance of quality early intervention programmes, interactions and care – where children not only gain foundational knowledge needed for school and beyond, but also start to develop a sense of community – by understanding how to interact in co-operative ways with one another. Gonzalez-Mena goes on to state the long-term effects that high quality early childhood intervention has on the economy and society. This investment is extended from generation to generation (2011: xvii).
Naudeau, Martinnez, Premand and Filmer (2011: p10) state that there is substantial evidence that delays in cognitive development during the early years lead to negative consequences in the short and long term. A lack of adequate early intervention affects children‟s school readiness and performance, and can have a long-term impact through reduced employability, productivity and overall wellbeing. These same children are also more likely to have ill-health, to engage in hazardous behaviour, such as substance use, abuse and addiction, risky sexual behaviour and even criminal and violent activities, as they get older. This can have a negative effect on any country.
The learning of concepts forms the structure and foundation of knowledge. It equips children, enabling them to organise and categorise information. During early childhood, children are constantly acquiring fundamental concepts and learning fundamental process skills. Haydon (2006: p6) believes that education, both at home and in the school situation, should be seen as a route to the spiritual, moral, social, cultural, physical and mental development of the child; and it therefore, influences the wellbeing of the individual.
Children begin the process of learning from a very young age, and move from one stage of cognitive development to the next, where they are constantly being stimulated by their environment and the happenings therein (Leseman, 2000: p8; Gordon & Brown., 2008: p456; De Witt, 2009: p159 & p277; Walker, 2011: p115; McDevitt, 2013: p13). Cognitive development, according to Maxim (1992: p91), refers to ‘the changes in mental structures that occur as children explore the world around them’.
Developing and encompassing an understanding of children‟s thought patterns, their understanding and reflections are essential aspects of teaching and educating (Gordon & Brown., 2008: p456). Although each child is born with his/her own capacity and intelligence, the circumstances and situations into which one is born play a vital role in the child‟s development and advancement as human beings (Eliason,, 2008: p45; McDecitt, 2013: p12).

 Understanding how children learn and develop

Parents, care-givers and practitioners need to be equipped and educated on children‟s development in totality. This includes how to stimulate the child, various symptoms that may need to be recognized, basic developmental steps, which need to be reached, as well as programmes and activities, which enhance cognitive development (Aubrey, 1997: p21, Leseman, 2002: p4).
According to Seefeldt and Barbour (1998: p456-459), the value of learning, as well as the ability to become active in any understanding of concepts learned, and confident in facing new challenges, the active involvement of young children takes place by means of the following four key elements:
i) First-hand experiences
Case and Okamoto (1996) (as in Seefeldt et al., 1998: p455) stated, „Because mathematical knowledge is a relationship constructed by the mind, direct teaching alone will not build it. Children have to develop or construct it for themselves through their own experiences and reflections on them‟. The practitioners‟ and parents‟ roles are vitally important in teaching any cognitive concepts. The child needs to experience the concepts being taught, in order to truly understand them. Children cannot learn by rote; but rather, they need to develop an understanding of the concepts being learned (Seefeldt et al., 1998: p455 – 456).
Eliason (2008: p191) state that language is the primary vehicle of understanding – it forms the basis for all other learning and development. „Language is the instrument of thought, personal expression, and social communication’ (Eliason, 2008: p191).
Language cannot be seen in isolation; it is to be seen as the tool, whereby children are able to translate their experiences into understanding, and to create meanings. As experience broadens and also deepens, so language acquires meanings. These meanings result in deeper learning – and in further meaning taking place (Hendrick & Weissman, 2007: p270).
Children begin the learning process slowly; and they only gradually begin to develop and enhance their thinking through day-to-day dealings and by means of language. Children develop understanding through their exposure to everyday life and through daily experiences. Knowledge is gained through interaction, and acquired through the physical world, as well as incidents of reflection within the physical world. This interaction enhances understanding and logical thought (Seefeldt et al., 1998: p456; Denno, Carr & Hart Bell, 2010:p114).
Dewey‟s (as in Metlina, 1991: p2) focal point is that children should not be taught knowledge by memorizing lessons and activities, but rather through experiences, and by being challenged, by gaining skills and knowledge, which they can incorporate into their daily lives. With advances in technology and the rapid direction of change, the curriculum design and ways of implementing the curriculum, need to be analysed critically and effectively.
ii) Interaction with others
The school and its curriculum, as well as the society and cultures of the learners and their families that are a part of the school body, all have an apparent link; and they implicate one another directly (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2004: p167). The social contribution is to make educators aware that education exists in a social context, and that it has an influence on the culture of people. Social interaction begins at birth, and is evident daily in the lives of all people through interaction with one another (Morrison, 2011: p175).
It is important for parents, practitioners and care-givers to realise that the school, as well as the learners‟ culture, both have an equal impact on the learner. The role of the educator,should be to prepare learners for the future by providing them with the knowledge and values they will need, in order to make wise decisions within their context (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2004: p167). According to McDevitt (2013: p15), children learn through taking part in activities; and they gradually develop from ability-level to ability-level, through interaction and participation. It is just as important for children to interact with practitioners and parents, as it is for them to interact with their peers.

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The use of language

Language is vital in the learning process. It provides a basis and framework for children to grow and develop. Children are constantly communicating; throughout their day they are talking and responding (Seefeldt et al., 1998: p458; Fellowes & Oakley, 2010: p 4; Levey & Polirstok, 2011: p10). Language development is initiated from birth until adulthood, and is an aspect of development that is constantly growing and developing. Great importance needs to be placed on the development of language acquisition, as toddlers and young children need to be exposed to a language-rich environment, in order for them to develop the necessary literacy skills (Morrison, 2011: p186).
It is of fundamental importance to incorporate educational concepts into the general conversation throughout the day.
According to Seefeld et al. (1998: p458), „The processes of speaking and listening are the first steps in the representation of mathematical ideas through language’. These authors are of the contention that the use of language helps the child organise his/her thinking and experiences. Children can put into words what has happened; and if they have a question or misunderstanding, this problem can be solved through language and communication.
These assist in their understanding of the abstract world, in the development of problem-solving strategies, and with the understanding of mathematical, literacy and life-skill concepts (Gordon & Brown., 2008: p471).
The relationship that exists between language and cognition is important as language is our means for understanding the child‟s thinking patterns and thoughts. ‘Cognition and language generally become more interdependent when development progresses’ (Gordon & Brown., 2008: p457).
iv) Reflection
Reflection is a key component in the understanding of all cognitive concepts, as it provides a means for the child to reflect on his/her experiences, and to develop an understanding of abstract concepts (Seefeld et al., 1998: p459). Clements quotes a famous statement by Dewey (http://www.edunators.com/index.php/becoming-the-edunator/step-5-reflecting-for-learning/the importance-of-reflection-in-education, 26/7/2013), ‘We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience’. The ability to look at interaction time and decipher what was taught and learned is a key aspect in monitoring and evaluation and assessing effectiveness. According to Clements (http://www.edunators.com/index.ph p/becoming-the-edunator/step-5-reflecting-for-learning/the-importance-of-reflection-in-education, 26/7/2013), reflecting on one‟s work is an imperative aspect of the learning process, as it enables children (and teachers) to determine what has been learned, as well as how learning takes place.
Providing opportunities for the child to experience mathematics, languages and life-skills would be ineffectual without the ability to reflect and develop an understanding at a later stage. ‘To reason, solve problems, to see mathematical connections, children think about their actions in the world. They need to reflect on the things that they have experienced and to draw abstract patterns, and see regularities from these experiences’ (Seefeld et al., 1998: p459). Practitioners and parents should recall occurrences and instances in a child‟s life, so as to remind him/her of any learning that has taken place.
Children‟s language development is one of the most important aspects of learning that takes place in the early years of a child‟s life. As the child develops, the ability to express himself/herself by means of words, as well as to show understanding, are ways whereby communication is made possible. Early intervention should comprise activities, such as verbal interactions with people of all ages, story-telling, reading books, singing, playing games, and early stimulation (Eliason, 2008: p191).

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTORY ORIENTATION 
1.1 BACKGROUND
1.2 PROBLEM ANALYSIS
1.3 RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHOD
1.4 DEMARCATION OF THE STUDY
1.5 THE RESEARCH LAYOUT
1.6 DEFINITIONS AND EXPLANATION OF IMPORTANT CONCEPTS
1.7 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 2 AN UNDERSTANDING OF EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT 
2.1 THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY INTERVENTION AND STIMULATION
2.2 CONCLUDING REMARKS
CHAPTER 3 FOCUS AREAS IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN CONTEXT OF EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT 
3.1 MATHEMATICS
3.2 LITERACY
3.3 LIFE-SKILLS
3.4 CONCLUDING REMARKS
CHAPTER 4 EARLY EDUCATION IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN CONTEXT
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 EDUCATION IN SOUTH AFRICA
4.3 THE PRACTITIONER’S ROLE IN EDUCATION
4.4 THE PARENTS ROLE IN EDUCATION
CHAPTER 5 THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK 
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 THE CONCEPTUAL METHOD
5.3 THEORIES AND MODELS
5.4 THEORIES, METHODS AND MODELS USED IN THIS STUDY
5.5 HYPOTHESES
5.6 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 6 METHODOLOGY AND RESEARCH DESIGN
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 THE RESEARCH PROBLEM
6.3 THE AIM OF THE RESEARCH
6.4 THE RESEARCH DESIGN
6.5 THE DATA ANALYSIS
6.6 THE LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
6.7 CONCLUSIONS
CHAPTER 7 DATA ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS
7.1 INTRODUCTION
7.2 HYPOTHESES
7.3 ANALYSIS OF THE DATA
7.4 RELIABILITY OF THE SCORES DERIVED FROM THE INSTRUMENT
7.5 FREQUENCY DISTRIBUTION
7.5.1 PHYSICAL-MOTOR DEVELOPMENT
7.6 DESCRIPTIVE AND INFERENTIAL STATISTICS BASED ON MEAN SCORES
7.7 PRACTITIONER GROWTH
7.8 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 8 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
8.1 INTRODUCTION
8.2 SUMMARY OF THE RESULTS
8.3 CONCLUSIONS
8.4 RECOMMENDATIONS
8.5 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER STUDIES
8.6 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
8.7 CLOSING REMARKS
REFERENCE LIST
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