By Jane Leer
In the Nicaraguan Country Office of the Inter-American Development Bank we are busy preparing for the fourth workshop of the initiative No todos los pajaritos son amarillos, to be held this Thursday, September 26th.
No todos los pajaritos son amarillos, or “not all the chicks are yellow,” is a series of workshops, called encuentros, designed to promote comprehensive, multi-sector learning and dialogue on early childhood development (ECD) in Nicaragua. Thus far, over 300 Nicaraguan pre-school teachers, community educators, social workers, program officers, academics and policy makers have participated in the encuentros, held once every two months. The initiative provides a unique opportunity for a large and diverse group of participants to learn from leading experts in the fields of ECD psychology, neuroscience, education, and health from around the region. Each encuentro includes a theoretical component (how children develop), and a practical component (how to best promote children’s health, wellbeing and learning). Additionally, No todos los pajaritos son amarillos provides ongoing support in the form of curriculum development and evaluation and monitoring strategies to the Nicaraguan Ministry of the Family, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN), and several Nicaraguan NGOs that work directly with young children.
So, why is the initiative called “not all the chicks are yellow?” The title was inspired by a similarly named study of preschools in Mexico, which argues in favor of holistic ECD programs that promote active learning through exploration, autonomy, individuality, and cultural relevance—or in other words—programs that don’t expect children to color baby birds only the color they are “supposed to be” (yellow). The title No todos los pajaritos son amarillos, therefore, expresses the conceptual framework through which the initiative strives to promote early childhood development, both in terms of how we think about young children and the best way to foster their development, and from a policy standpoint, how we design and evaluate ECD programs.
Fundamental to each encuentro is the fact that children are individuals who actively participate in their own development, from the day they are born (and before). In the words of Maria Victoria Peralta, a Chilean expert in early childhood education who presented at the first encuentro, children are “born to be and to learn.” Even the youngest of children are cognizant individuals, by nature curious and capable of learning. Similarly, child development is an active and fluid process, unique for each individual, in which children constantly grow in and through their interactions with their environment and the people in it. Development is not an isolated event that “happens” to a child once they reach a certain age.
The initiative aims to provide Nicaraguans involved in ECD at all levels, from community health workers to policymakers, with a firm understanding of how these concepts of child development should form the fundamental basis of ECD pedagogy. In this sense, presenters and participants have defined the following pedagogic principles:
- ECD curriculum should be age appropriate, reflecting each age group’s capabilities and necessities.
- The material covered should be relevant, corresponding to children’s specific needs as well as to the characteristics of the local community. National stories, songs, games, and art should be prioritized over commercial products, for example.
- Classroom or program practices should be guided by modern pedagogy principles:
- Prioritizing children’s wellbeing
- Promoting healthy relationships with others
- Encouraging proactive learning and individuality
- Using every opportunity as a chance to learn (bath time and meal time, for example, are learning opportunities)
- ECD initiatives should be family and community oriented. Families are the first and most important “educator” in a child’s life, and as such, early childhood education programs will only be successful if they serve as a support network for families.
Now, more broadly speaking, what does all this mean for ECD policy?
While it is important to determine standards that ensure quality in ECD programs—such as the appropriate child to caregiver ratios and the minimum frequency and duration of home visits and center-based care—there is no “one-size-fits-all” early childhood development program (no todos los pajaritos son amarillos). More specifically, just as ECD programs should be relevant to a child’s needs and to the local context, elements such as curriculum or the communication methods used to promote parenting practices should be based on a deep understanding of local context.
Furthermore, ECD policies are relatively new in much of the world, and if they are to be sustainable, governments need to commit resources to these programs. This requires governments to take ownership of these policies. Just as an ECD curriculum should appropriately make use of local resources, ECD policies will be most effective if they strengthen and articulate existing education, health and family welfare structures in order to expand access to quality services for children and their families.
Finally, just as child development itself is a fluid process influenced by many factors, similarly, evaluations of ECD programs should be continuous and comprehensive. Policy makers, educators, and researchers are still determining the best ways to implement these programs. Thus, different models of ECD programs should be rigorously evaluated and monitored through quantitative and qualitative methods.
Stay tuned for reports of the encuentros planned for September and November and plans for 2014. In the mean time, material presented at the first three encuentros can be downloaded here (Spanish)
Jane Leer works as a consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington, DC where she supports early childhood and youth projects.