Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

Delivering an exception early childhood education

This week we received the expected, but nonetheless validating, news that our fabulous Early Learning Centre was rated as ‘Exceeding’ in its recent review by the Department of Education. The review is a rigorous analysis of our centre and is measured against the National Quality Standards, the National Law and the Education and Care Services National Regulations 2011.

The fact that our ELC exceeds national standards is not surprising given the outstanding and caring approach invested in every aspect of our students’ holistic development by our exceptional team of educators and administrators.

We should not take this for granted as the provision of a vibrant, safe, warm and developmentally tailored early childhood education is so vital in the growth of young people. There is an unfortunate dysphemism in common parlance which refers to ELCs as childcare. Hearing this frustrates me because it implies child minding and while this is an important component of facilitating employment for parents and thus keeping society functioning, the concept sells short the rich educational offerings that we provide.

While it seems counterintuitive because of this undervaluing of early childhood education, the truth is that this is arguably the most vital stage of learning in our lives and should instead be treated with great respect. 

The physiology of human brain development gives us a clue as to why the period of early childhood is so important. A blog article called ‘Understanding Brain Development’ in Early Childhood on early learning software provider Brightwheel’s website details this process. It explains that when a baby is born its brain is on average around a quarter of the size of an adult brain. At 12 months this has doubled in size. By age three this has reached 80% of the size of the adult brain and by age five, 90%. This is why toddlers seem to have such large heads in relation to their body size.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allows us to observe the electrical activity inside the human brain and to measure the development of neural pathways. This has shown the phenomenon of synaptogenesis. This describes the rapid growth in synapse formation between neurons during early childhood. At this stage in life, our brain develops at a quicker rate than at any other time in our lives.

The corollary of this physiological information is that early childhood education is high stakes. Investing thought and care into the provision of nourishing environments that facilitate this rapid growth is vital.

At the King David School’s Early Learning Centre we understand that it is crucial to tailor our programs and activities in ways that take advantage of this natural stage of learning and growth and position our students to acquire the skills and knowledge that will enable them to thrive.

A key example of this is our SOWATT program. SOWATT stands for Self-regulation, Organisation, Working memory, Attention, Thinking flexibly and Thinking about thinking. This is a model devised by Vice Principal Teaching and Learning, Russell Kaplan, and former Coordinator of Teaching and Learning – Junior School,  Roslyn Muir. It delivers a range of educational strategies which are targeted at developing executive function skills. Rosalyn Muir explains that “executive functions can be described as the cognitive toolkit of success, underpinning the ability to set and work towards goals by coordinating thought and action, particularly in new situations.” 

In conjunction with this cognitive development, is the emergence of identity. The richness of our Jewish life and learning programming in our early years is vital in sowing the seeds for a lifelong love of being Jewish through learning the rituals, songs and stories that demarcate the Jewish calendar. Seeing our students delight in this aspect of their learning and proudly sharing with their parents, grandparents and special friends is so rewarding.

It should be clear that I am enormously proud of the outstanding staff that deliver so much love and care in their thoughtful provision of early childhood education. We know that we have something very special on offer at the King David School ELC and it is lovely that the Department has noticed this too.

Shabbat Shalom,

Marc Light