Background of the Study
The early years of a child’s growth is very crucial for the social, emotional and cognitive development of the individual and so, adequate support at this stage helps to promote growth and development. It is a period of rapid growth and development. According to Obiweluozo (2012), it is a foundation period of life and a period that holds the key to the overall maximum development of the child. Stressing the critical nature of this period, Chukwu (2008) state that a child who has been well guided through the stages of childhood development is well equipped for the challenges of adulthood.
A child is an individual within the age of puberty. According to Griale (2015), a child is any individual who is between the ages of 0 and 17 years and above and not up to 18 years. According to Melchiorre (2004), a child is conceptualized as a human between the age of birth and puberty. Howard (2008) maintaines that childhood is the age span ranging from birth to adolescence. For Houghton (2000) a child is a person within birth and puberty, a person who has not attained maturity or the legal maturity. Graile (2015) further states that early childhood refers to a human at the very beginning of development. This is the age some authors refer to as pre-school age. It is the age range between 0 and 5 years. Eddy (2010) noted that;
Early childhood follows the infancy stage and begins with toddlerhood when the child begins speaking or taking steps independently. While toddlerhood ends around age three when the child becomes less dependent on parental assistance for basic needs, early childhood continues approximately through years five to six(p:2)
Early childhood stage refers to the very start of human development and is within the age range of 0 – 5 years, at this stage the child is completely dependent on the adults. Ekanem (2011) described this period of human development as a period covering the first five years of life prior to entering primary school. This is a period of physical growth including the development of brain almost to its full adult size and it is also a critical period of cognitive functioning. At this stage, the child is dependent and so, requires proper care and education. Hence the need for early childcare and education centre.
Early child care is the care and nurturing given to a child at the earliest stages of his/her live. It is a supplementary service given to children in the absence of their parents. According to Eva (2003), early child care can be seen as care provided to children when their parents are out at work. It is a supplementary service because parents delegate their responsibilities of providing care and appropriate experience for their children to those caregivers in their absence. According to Oshungbohum (2005), early child care is an arrangement to ensure that children are physically healthy, mentally alert, emotionally secure, socially competent, and intellectually ready to learn when sent to school. Early child care therefore, involves all forms of assistance and education given to children within the age of 0-5 years plus, outside their homes and families. Morrison (2004) maintained that early child care is a comprehensive care because of the fact that it goes beyond custodial care; like food, shelter, and other physical necessities to include educational activities and other activities that encourage learning and positive development.
Early childcare and education (ECCE) can be offered in many different places, ranging from existing schools, halls, mosques, churches, families to purpose built structures among others (FRN, 2004). In view of this, the Federal Government of Nigeria translated the convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) into Child Right Act (CRA) and further incorporated it into the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act of 2004 (Aluede, 2006). This then placed the early childhood education in mainstream level of education. With the introduction of the UBE, government directed that all public primary schools in the country should run early care education programme with the aim of preparing children for primary education challenges. In line with the purposes of ECCE, the UBE Act (2004) states that the implementation of the UBE Programmes is expected to integrate ECCE in public primary schools. Such schools are non-fee paying and are supported with materials and facilities, thereby making pre-schools affordable and open to more children.
Early childcare and education is given in day care, nursery, and kindergarten schools. According to the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) in her National Policy on Education (NPE) (2004), “early childcare/pre-primary education consists of daycare/crèche which is for children aged 0-2 years, pre-nursery/play group for children aged 3-4 years, and nursery/kindergarten which is for children aged between 4 and 5 years”. According to the Danish Ministry of Education (2015), early childcare/pre-primary education is the initial stage of organized instruction which is designed primarily to introduce very young children to a school-type environment. Ibiam and Ugwu (2009) noted that pre-primary education is the education designed to develop the habits, attitudes and skills needed for primary education. Thus pre-school education disposes the very young children for school activities and conditions. This is because early childhood is an activity packed stage.
Early childhood period is activity packed stage of life. According to Maduike, Maduike and Eke (2013), early childhood is characterized by different forms of activities such as playing with toys, running around, jumping up and down, walking, catching, kicking, curious and explorative in nature. This is a period when children learn very easily through play. Preschoolers are full of questions such as; who filled the river with water? Do smells come from inside my nose? Why do people have two eyes?, among many others (Papalia & Feldman, 2011). To provide reasonable answers, to satisfy the children’s curiosity and to give them proper care and guidance, there is need for early childcare/education centers where professionals are expected to take care of the children and give them room for exploration of the environment to discover things on their own.
Primary school is an educational institution where children receive primary or elementary education prior to secondary school. Primary schools place a major emphasis on teaching children the basic skills of reading, writing, language, and Mathematics. The arts, languages other than English, social education programs, health, and physical recreation also play important roles in primary education programs (FRN, 2004; Education and Training Directorate, 2015). There are two categories of primary schools: public and private primary schools. Okafor (2006) observed that;
In contemporary perception, public schools are those schools controlled neither by individuals, nor by private interests or agencies, but by those who represent the society as a whole or its majority group. In a national context, therefore, public schools are those supported and controlled by the government of the state or nation (P:289-290).
Public primary schools can be described as those primary schools established, maintained, and controlled by the state. These are primary schools owned by the government. It may be owned by either the local, state or federal government. It is as a result of the importance attached to pre-primary education that the government instructed that early childcare centres be established in existing public primary schools. It is also as a result of this importance that the government spelt out minimum standards for the establishment and running of early child care education centres (FRN, 2004).
The National minimum standard is a document produced by Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) in August, 2004 with the support of UNICEF for the care and education of children within the ages of 0-5 years. It is an Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) guideline for operating ECC/Pre-primary education in Nigeria. It is a guideline for operators and stakeholders so that the practice and operation of early child care and pre-primary education will become standardized all over the country.
For the effective running and attainment of the goals of the ECC centres, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in the National Minimum Standards for Early Child Care Centres in Nigeria (FRN, 2004) provided guide line for the arrangement of the centers. The arrangement include; care and nurturing for the child, health, food and nutrition, including breastfeeding for up to six months, access to safe water, sanitation and immunization against diseases. It requires a protective atmosphere that encourages early socialization, stimulation and positive interaction with family and community and also proper record keeping. The enumerated care and nurturing guideline for the educational and developmental needs of the child are very important and crucial.
These factors are very crucial for the proper and adequate development of the child. Care and nurturing refers to the mode of interaction between the child and the available adults. According to Bavolek and Rogers (2012), a child’s early experience of being nurtured and developing a bond with a caring adult affects all aspects of his/her behaviour and development. When parents and children have strong and warm feelings for one another, children develop trust that their parents will provide what they need to thrive, including love, acceptance, positive guidance and protection which Erick Erikson referred to as period of basic trust and mistrust (Ngwoke & Eze, 2010). This implies that babies who receive affection and nurturing from their parents have the best chance of healthy development. The authors further noted that a child’s relationship with a consistent and caring adult in the early years is associated later in life with better academic grades, healthier behaviors, more positive peer interactions and an increased ability to cope with stress. Infants develop attachment to the people who are concerned about their health, feeding, comfort, security, among others.
Health is a state of physical and mental balance and wellbeing, a state in which the body systems function properly. Health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO, 1999) is defined as complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity. The FRN (2014) sees health as the total well being of an individual. In this context, it is the extent to which the child aged 0-5 years is assisted to be free from sickness and is able to resist it. To maintain good health, adequate nutrition is needed.
Nutrition is concerned with food nutrients and other substances and their roles in the maintenance of good health. According to the FRN (2014), nutrition is the science of food, its composition, and utilization. WHO (2013) maintained that nutrition is the intake of food, considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs. It can be seen as food and other substances eaten by a living being. Food is anything taken in (ingested) that is useful to the body and will provide energy that builds, nourishes and protects the body (FRN, 2014). It is evident that every living being needs food as an indispensable source of nutrient. This implies that nutrients from food supplies the body with energy, supports growth and maintains the body. Most infants get their nutrients through breast feeding.