The Environment in Early Childhood Education

In some of our previous articles, we looked at the two words, ‘Growth’ and ‘Development’ in the light of their association with the changes that occur in the lives of young preschool children. We also attempted to establish the links between maturation and learning in childhood.

But we need to remember that children are a part of the environment in which they operate and which invariably influences them and is influenced by them. In this unit, therefore, we shall examine the word environment from a broad perspective.

Definition of Environment

The Environment in Early Childhood Education

The word ‘Environment’ often describes the surrounding which affects the growth and development of any living thing. It includes all the various influences and conditions that surround and invariably affect positively or negatively an individual. Some scholars such as Hezberg (1959) talk of the environment in a dual sense: internal and external.

What this means is that there is an external surrounding and an internal surrounding. For example, the intellectual component of a child may be seen as an internal surrounding or environment, whereas, his classroom is an external condition.

However, it is not uncommon to hear of the physical environment, social environment, educational environment, and nutritional environment of an individual child. These terms only describe the specific nature of a particular child’s surroundings.

The environment provided by the pregnant or expectant mother to the fetus is crucial. A mother, who eats balanced diet, avoids alcohol, cigarettes, etc. is likely to produce a healthy environment for her unborn baby to learn well.

Read Also: Definition of Growth and Development of Preschool Child

Predictability in environmental events assists the child in developing stability and confidence in his abilities. As the child begins to get consistent feedback from the environment he can be helped to learn to set realistic goals for his visor.

Skills such as predicting, coping, and self-evaluation can be mastered as it provides a “good beginning in life” for children from deprived homes and also enables them to associate with their peers in a stimulating environment.

Perhaps the best contributions have been exemplified by UNICEF’s Facts of life 9 (years) as follows with the supporting information: Babies begin to learn rapidly from the moment they are born. For good mental growth, the child’s greatest need is the love and attention of adults.

Their greatest need is to be touched, cuddled, hugged, talked to, see familiar faces and expressions, to hear familiar voices. Children need new and interesting things to look at, listen to, watch, hold and play with.

This is the beginning of learning. If a child has plenty of love, attention, and babyish play, as well as good nutrition and health care then the child’s mind will also grow well.

Material Provision

Sometimes, we assume that the knowledge a child acquires indoors is superior to that gained outside. This tends to make us shut our children indoors away from the vast potential that could be acquired through their interaction with the outside world.

It is very useful to provide an educational stimulating home environment for the child. This could be by providing educational but safe toys and gadgets children’s education CDs and audio cassettes, as well as television programs for children.

Read Also: The Inter-Relationship between Play and Learning

It is important to note that the environment in which children develop and learn involves the people with whom the child interacts, the objects or material provision the child encounters, and the places and events experienced.

The way children are helped to develop skills in using the provision within their environment, the way they are helped to develop competence and mastery, and the dispositions and attitudes that aid learning, are of crucial importance.

The environment is the mechanism by which the early childhood educator brings the child and different aspects of knowledge together.

Heredity and Environment

Heredity and environment are two very important factors in the growth and development of a child. Heredity is a term that describes those physical characteristics a child inherits from his parents, for example, the sex, color of the eyes, shape of the nose, fingers, skin, hair texture, color, and brain structure.

On the other hand, the environment, as noted earlier on, refers to those influences or forces that begin after fertilization and help in shaping a child’s behavior. The environment, in this regard, includes circumstances of birth, varying influences from society as a whole, and more importantly, a child’s family’s socioeconomic status.

However, despite the distinct role each plays in the child’s growth and development, there is an interaction between the two. An understanding of this interplay between heredity and environment, therefore becomes an essential ingredient in the study and practice of early childhood education.

But what is this interaction between heredity and environment? You may ask. Regardless of the traits and dispositions, a child is born with, the environment the child grows in determines to a great extent the child’s manifestation and enhancement of such traits.

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For instance, complex human attributes such as intelligence, temperament, and personality are the end products of the interactions between heredity and the environment (Plomin, 1990; Shaffer, 1993).

For instance, a child born to intelligent parents may not have appreciable traits of intelligence if he happens to grow up in an environment that is not stimulating.

Conversely, a child born of averagely intelligent parents but who grows up in a stimulating environment will probably perform better than his contemporaries who are not exposed to some measure of environmental stimulation.

In conclusion, an early childhood educator must understand not only the word environment but also the relevance of its interplay with heredity in fostering development.

Environment refers to all conditions and influences, which shape human growth and development. There is a need for proper material provision for the child to benefit from his environment. Child growth and development can be influenced quite significantly by the interplay of heredity and environment.

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