early childhood development

Successful Partnerships Support Child Development

By Patricia Toquica, Americas Region Communications Manager

In the cold mountains of Ecuador, a group of young preschoolers eagerly await another visitor to their Child Center for Good Living (Centro Infantil del Buen Vivir) in the remote town of Santa Rosa in Tungurahua province.

The children have grown used to guests, as government officials regularly cite this center as a successful model for early child development programs. The center was specially designed with children’s welfare in mind and built and managed as a joint effort by the government, the local community and ChildFund.

young children eating at preschool

Children in this remote village enjoy a meal at the Child Center for Good Living.

The Child Centers for Good Living are part of Ecuador’s National Plan of Good Living (Plan Nacional del Buen Vivir), a policy to recognize child development as an integral child right. By 2015, Ecuador aims to enroll 75 percent of its children in child development programs.

In Santa Rosa, the previous child development center was in bad condition, in terms of infrastructure and services. The community signed an agreement with the provincial branch of the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (Ministerio de Inclusión Social y Económica-MIES) and ChildFund Ecuador to together build and administer a new center under the highest standards of quality and efficiency.

“We built this center up from the very first stone to the very last nail,” says Blanca Chiza, coordinator of Cactu—ChildFund’s local partner organization. The local community association contributed the land and the labor; the government and ChildFund provided financial and technical assistance, equipment and trained staff to run the center.

teacher at child center

Viviana teaches at the center.

Currently, 26 children (newborns to age 5) now learn, rest, eat and play in a well-equipped center. “The community is thankful, as the facilities we had before were in terrible condition,” says Viviana Vargas, center coordinator. “The mothers of our town can now work, having the peace of mind that their children are well taken care of.”

vegetable garden

A small garden provides a learning opportunity for children and fresh vegetables for the center.

The center has rest areas where toddlers can take their naps; bathrooms with basins and toilets made to their size; rooms for music, playing, and exploring, as well as a fully equipped cafeteria.

“The key to our success is the model where we teachers work together with parents, communities, government and ChildFund,” says Viviana. “At the ECD center, we meet our neighbors; we help and support each other.”

Easing Transitions: Zambia’s Stepping Stones Program

By Christine Ennulat

The high school dropout is a familiar phenomenon. But an elementary school dropout? In developing countries, it’s a common problem.

“Your first-grade classroom may have 135 kids in it,” says Mary Moran, ChildFund senior specialist in Early Childhood Development. “Your second-grade classroom has 60, and by the time you get to fifth grade, you may be in a class of 10 or 12.”

ChildFund’s Stepping Stones program, in Zambia’s Mumbwa region since 2009, eases the transition between early childhood and primary school environments, helping more children stay in school.

Children at ECD Center

Children gather to start their school day at an Early Childhood Development Center in Zambia.

For a child who is moving to primary school, whether from home or one of ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers, the change is often a shock. A typical primary school is a teacher-centered, highly structured setting with little individual attention and few to no materials with which to work or play.

The primary school teacher usually has little training in child development or in education methods for young children. Parents may have had no school experience at all, which means no understanding of the school process or how to support their children in it.

Stepping Stones connects teachers, parents and children. Teachers from ECD classes and first-grade classes collaborate on a plan for understanding each other’s practices and expectations. Groups of children and teachers may visit classrooms, or parents may take their children individually. Teachers from both settings spend time in each other’s classrooms. They’re also trained in how to engage with parents and families.

Parents @ ECD Center

Parents participate in a learning activity with their children.

Likewise, parents receive coaching on how to engage and interact with teachers, as well as to recognize when their children are under stress or having other difficulty. All adults work in concert on behalf of the children.

The Stepping Stones program supports children as they learn lifelong skills: resiliency, adaptation to change and how to recognize the differing expectations of people and environments. To help them, teachers are trained in social-emotional learning strategies, from understanding different learning styles to new ways to structure classrooms and schedules that help children prepare for change and provide them with a sense of control.

“We now know how to ask questions of children,” said one teacher who has participated in Stepping Stones. “I thought my role was to make sure the children know the information.” As they learned their new role as guides rather than givers of information, teachers also noted that children were more apt to both ask for help and share their enthusiasm for learning. The level of parents’ engagement was another pleasant surprise.

When the time came for a graduation ceremony to honor the transition, some of the preschool teachers literally handed the children over to the primary teachers as parents looked on. “In one case, a child told us that graduation was really important because he had his first taste of cake,” Moran laughs. “Another told us that what was so important to her was that her community gave them a book to write in, and it was the first time she had ever had a book.”

Child walking to school

A student walks to his primary school classroom.

On the first day of primary school, only one of the 143 children cried. But both the teachers and the parent were prepared to support the child. It took only a handful of days for him to find his footing.

New Insights on the Critical Role of Early Childhood Development

by Mary Moran, ChildFund Senior Program Specialist, Early Childhood Development

Young girl countingEarlier this week, I was at World Bank headquarters for the launch of the new Lancet series on early childhood development as a global concern. These studies follow up on new evidence about the impact of early childhood development programs and the risks young children face in their development. They also highlight what things give children some form of protection even when they live in environments of extreme poverty, face high rates of malnutrition or lack stimulation.

Recent evidence demonstrates significant risk for young children’s development when

  • their mothers are depressed
  • they live in families where someone has HIV or they are infected themselves
  • they have had multiple bouts of malaria
  • they are exposed to violence of any type — within their families, in their communities, or their country is in conflict
  • they have inadequate developmental stimulation
  • their growth prenatally has not been adequate
  • they live in institutions.

However, children are protected when

  • they have good interaction with their caregivers (parents)
  • their mothers have more education
  • they are breastfed
  • their physical and social environments offer them good stimulation.

children making craftsChildFund’s Early Childhood Development programs address these risks and protective features through:

  • parenting education and support programs
  • caregiver-child interaction groups and home-based services targeted toward building strong relationships
  • integrated programs for young children living in HIV-affected environments
  • enhanced nutrition and health programs that promote breastfeeding while supporting good interaction and feeding relationships
  • play groups and preschools
  • successful community deinstitutionalization programs and supporting government-sponsored foster care and adoption systems
  • identification of children at developmental risk through screening with our innovative child development scale
  • malaria and HIV prevention
  • promoting family mental health
  • adult education
  • promoting girls education and reducing gender discrimination
  • aid to marginalized groups to be included in all programs and community life.

For additional reading, you’ll find the article series, on the website of the Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development (ChildFund is an active member of this group).

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