Connect with your child from day one, say experts

10 professionals, 8 of them Emirati, undergo training in early childhood development at Yale University

By Olivia Olarte-ulherr/senior Reporter

Published: Fri 27 Feb 2015, 12:26 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:29 PM

Dr Nancy Close and Dr Walter Gilliam at the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, Abu Dhabi.  — KT photo by Shoaib Anwer

Abu Dhabi - Investment in early childhood development is crucial for success, not only for the child but for the society in general.

“There is clearly no better investment any family or community or country or region can make than by investing in young children. That’s when you reap the biggest benefit,” said Dr Walter Gilliam, director of Edward Zigler Centre in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University Child Study Centre.

That is, in fact, the investment that the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation has done through its Shamsa bint Mohammed Al Nahyan Fellowship in early childhood development (ECD). For the second batch of the two-year fellowship programme, 10 young professionals, eight of them Emiratis, were chosen to train with experts in the field of ECD in collaboration with Yale University.

Dr Gilliam was one of the experts from Yale conducting the training for the fellows in the UAE, all of whom are advocates and practitioners of ECD in the medical and education fields. The programme includes three weeks of enrichment led by international experts, field visits to ECD centres abroad and attendance at the ECD international conference.

Dr Nancy Close, associate director of the Yale Programme in Early Childhood Education said the programme will follow last year’s curriculum which focuses on parent-child interaction, importance of play in child development, importance of planning developmentally-appropriate curricula for children, infants and toddler care, pre-school and KG1 and 2.

“One of the most important ingredients in early childhood development has to do with the relationships that children develop that lays the foundation for everything,” she pointed out.

It is a relationship that can be nurtured as early as day one. Dr Close said the first hour of life is important and that parents ought to “focus as much time and energy in getting to know” their baby, his temperament, nursing and holding him as this sets the foundation in building a positive sense of well-being in the child.

These learnings are some of the important take-aways that the fellows are expected to impart and disseminate in their respective fields that could impact the way ECD is practiced here.

Khawla Saleh is completing her doctorate degree in public health focussing on child safety, and is one of the fellows. She noted how the programme has taught her to connect more with a child.

“(The programme) has helped me widen my view on the needs of children, to become more nurturing and their needs at this age… in a nursing kind of care,” added Amal Al Jaberi, a paediatrician.

A visit to the US and speaking with ECD practitioners there have also taught Amanda Gillam, an early years’ educator from New Zealand, the importance of play-based learning, which is considered a new concept in the UAE.

Sharifa Yateem, a board-certified applied behaviour analyst with special interest in decreasing problem behaviours to ensure optimal education, noted the importance of play-based learning. “It is important for cognitive and social skills, even emotional competencies and problem-solving skills of a child,” she said.

For Saeeda Al Mazrooqi, her fellowship at the foundation will benefit her research on family life in the UAE and the importance of social-emotional development in early childhood.

The foundation received over 100 applicants for the 2014-2016 batch of fellows. Criteria include having three years working in the field of ECD, on the ground experience of working with children, in addition to being bright, passionate, creative, dedicated, determined and possessing leadership skills.

According to a survey commissioned by the foundation, 90 per cent of attendees from its parenting talks said they learned an important concept about child development with every session.

Eighty-two per cent indicated learning new practices with regards to how children’s early interaction with parents impacts their social-emotional and cognitive development, while eighteen percent indicated already having this knowledge prior to the talk. Only five per cent of attendees said they understood and helped their children manage their emotions.

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