1.1 Background to the Study
A baby is in the making as soon as conception takes place. Normally, it takes 9 months for a full grown baby in the womb to be born into the world, barring all accidents and pre-mature delivery. A baby right from conception, is a unique individual with his or her special characteristics, Caplan and Caplan (1995). According to them, the nature of children is such that no two children are completely the same or alike in everything not even identical twins. Thus, there are obvious differences that differentiate one child from another. Nwagbara (2003), the complexities in children result both from nature and nurture. Children go through different stages of development that is, from birth to young adults. This early years from 2 years to 6 years are critical in their development. During this period, children’s physical, mental and psychological development take a leap as they are in a constant state of flux. They are in the process of undergoing great changes and making significant development strides, especially in the area of language acquisition and development.
It is believed that children’s reading matter should be linked to their own spoken language as well as to their interest and experiences for intellectual growth. The focus on the cognitive growth of children is a welcome development (Anyanwu, 1991). This is because the brain of a youngster is “tabula rasa” ready to be occupied. Realizing that, educators go into searching for the appropriate stimuli that can yield the best result for the children. Webber (1970) opines that it must be recognized that something can be done about children’s intelligence as a result of the type of experiences provided for them.
Aiyedun (1984) is of the opinion that story books provide such experiences that can make for the intellectual growth of children. According to him, stories provide and improve reading, writing and thinking skills especially as they stimulate the intellect. Stories foster understanding of human actions. Just one story can form the bases for more detailed exploration of other actions. Selected experiences as reflected in story books give children the opportunity to use words that are familiar to them through their family life. Children are thus encouraged to extend vocabulary appropriately. Not only that they learn the vocabulary of colours, shapes, textures etc early in life as their story books are almost always pictorial. For the intellectual development of children, story books give the practice of the four language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing. They also help children to learn new words as well as alternative meanings of words contextually. This is possible, especially if the language of the stories is not too simple.
According to Anyamelue (2003), it is important to give young children the quality care, nutrition and stimulation they need for healthy growth and development. Moreover, the holistic care of young children has been receiving recognition both in Nigeria and internationally. This was prominent in the CRC and re-echoed more recently at the Dakar World Education Forum, 2000. At the forum, the goal of expanding and improving comprehensive early childcare and education was re-affirmed.
One of the main features of early childhood is the rapid development of the brain. According to Godges (2001) “the last three months of prenatal life and the first two years after birth have been termed the most critical period to brain growth spurt”. This is because, during this period, more than half of the adult brain weight is added. It grows tremendously in the first few years of life, increasing to about 2/3 of adult weight by the end of the first year and to about 7.5% by the age of two years and 90% by the age of five. Thus, a five year old’s brain has developed almost to the level of an adult’s.
However, because of the rapid growth of the brain, the child needs adequate nutrition at this period. This is because, poor nutrition before and after birth and in the first few years of life can seriously hamper brain development. This can lead to neurological and behavioural disorders, which may manifest in learning disabilities.
There is research evidence to show that a baby’s brain is composed of trillions of neutrons waiting to be woven into the “intricate tapestry of the mind”. The experiences of childhood determine which neutrons are used, that wire the circuits of the brain. According to Hodges (2001), Begley observes that “the experiences of childhood determine whether a child grows up to be intelligent or dull, fearful or self assured, articulate or tongue tied”.
As Munonye (2002) puts it, there is also scientific evidence on the importance of adequate stimulation during early childhood period, necessary for the child’s cognitive development. There are definite periods in childhood development when the environment can influence how the brain is “wired” for certain functions like language, music, physical activity and even mathematics. It therefore means that the brain must receive the appropriate stimuli at the crucial time to perform these functions, else it may be impossible for it to “re-wire” itself later in life. Early childhood period therefore is a period that should be handled with utmost care.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Most children these days do not develop cognitively due to lack of early childhood education which is mainly given to children firstly by their parents and secondly by their teachers who are also regarded as surrogate parents in the school. Majority of pupils in primary one in the Nigerian school system, did not pass through the pre-primary schools where children are taught basically through the methods befitting to the children’s learnability and comprehension in the early stage of life. Because of this lapse, most children in the primary schools fail to grasp the content of their lessons due to the fact that they started their early education from the stem instead of from the root.
Also, most of the teachers who are employed to teach at the primary one schools, do not apply the correct teaching methods that are comprehensible to the child, hence most children do not have high academic achievement in the early stages of their primary school education. Due to low cognitive development of the children, there has been poor academic performance virtually at all stages of our educational system. This is because what a child could not achieve during the early education, will be difficult for him/her to achieve at the apex stage of his/her educational life.
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