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Integrating Physical and Social Development
December 9, 2002

"Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich." –Sarah Bernhardt


In the June 2001 issue of the Netherlands-based Bernard van Leer Foundation publication, Early Childhood Matters, Caroline Arnold, the Asian Regional Child Development Advisor for Save the Children, argues for a holistic approach to child development:

"To be effective, the unusually holistic nature of ECD (early childhood development) programmes has to be protected from tendencies to play down the very aspects which have the most significance for a long-term shift in social norms for ensuring children's rights. Clearly children's health and nutrition are central concerns but so are the psycho-social aspects and these must not be neglected. This is because it is the psycho-social aspects of children's development that have the most significance for long-term social change and for the sustained realisation of children's rights. That means that ECD is inevitably dealing with the sort of people we want our children to become and the sort of society we work towards -- something that is central to all of our work in education as a whole. In practical terms, the great strength of quality ECD programmes is their emphasis on developing children's understanding of the world, and supporting the confidence, communication skills and flexibility they need to interact effectively with that world. These are the capacities that have the greatest significance in enabling children, as they grow up, to deal with real life challenges; be better able to obtain their rights; and be active, contributing members of society -- all of which are essential if we expect children to grow up able to contribute to major change in society....

"...we have recently begun to understand the importance of the two-way, interactive relationship between nutritional status and health on the one hand, and psycho-social well-being on the other. The synergism between different aspects of children's development means that holistic approaches are vital -- even where programmes are not concerned with the 'whole child' but, instead, have specific educational or physical goals. Of great importance here in ECD terms is the fact that the younger the child, the more difficult it is to differentiate between the relative importance of physiological and psychological factors.

"Difficulties can arise in agencies where there are strong sectoral divisions rather than a more holistic rights-based approach. Experience in almost every agency confirms that educationalists always include a concern for children's health and nutrition when planning interventions for young children. On the other hand, health personnel do not always reciprocate, favouring a medical worldview rather than a human development/social justice framework. An over-emphasis on physical status can also happen because, by its very nature, progress in the area of children's psycho-social development is more complex to assess, whereas weight or completion of immunization schedules are easy to measure....

"One of the great challenges of the ECD community is to enable families, teachers and peers to equip children for a rapidly changing world while retaining a sense of values and cultural identity. But, they also have to simultaneously help children grow up healthy and able to deal with the challenges of their lives."

The complete text of Ms Arnold's article can be found at the van Leer web site, www.bernardvanleer.org. Even if you don't intend to download this text, you should go to this site as it is such a dramatic one. 

Health issues are integrated into every issue of Child Care Information Exchange. For a listing of past health-related articles from Exchange, go to the Article Archives section at www.ChildCareExchange.com, and type in "health" in the search tool.


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