/ 11 November 2011

Early Childhood Development needs in the spotlight

The social and emotional development of young children came into focus at last weekend’s early childhood development (ECD) conference hosted by the Gauteng department of education.

Improving educators’ and parents’ knowledge of this crucially formative stage of a child’s life was the aim of keynote speaker Miriam Westheimer, director of Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (Hippy) International. Reminding participants that 80% of brain development occurs before the age of five, she focused on the importance of parents’ participation in a child’s first nine years.

“The integration of programmes and services [such as Hippy] is the only way to achieve our goals,” she said.

Titled “ECD Education for All”, the conference offered a platform to “disseminate scientific knowledge on policies and services that influence ECD”, said Vanessa Mentor, director of the ECD Institute, situated within the Gauteng education department.

Knowledge was also shared on policies and services that influence development and recommendations on the services needed to ensure optimum ECD programmes, she said.

Westheimer said there was a growing understanding of the importance of home-visiting programmes in educating parents about how to assist their children.

Programmes cut instances of abuse by half
Such programmes “decrease the incidence of low birth weights by nearly half, cut instances of child abuse and neglect almost in half and help children build critical pre-literacy skills and improve achievement test scores”, she said.

“Factors that correlate with learner achievement [include] birth weight, hunger and nutrition, parent availability and reading to young children,” Westheimer said.

Mentor said about 480 representatives of pre-schools, universities, non-governmental organisations, businesses and relevant government departments attended the conference, which was sponsored by Amalgamated Beverage Industries, Lloyd & Gray Lithographers, the Aveng (Africa) Limited Group and Tsebo Outsourcing Group,
among others.

ECD practitioners needed to “strive for the healthy development and education of young children, view early childhood care and education as a central foundation of inclusive policy and focus on the belief that all children are capable of success and growth”, Mentor said.