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Early childhood education experts highlight the importance of emotional development and play

Stephen Zwolak and Tamar Jacobson joined "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh to talk about early childhood education.
Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio; Provided | Tamar Jacobson
Stephen Zwolak and Tamar Jacobson joined "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh to talk about early childhood education.

The importance of a child’s early years cannot be overstated. 

“According to all the research of brain development, the earliest years are the most important in terms of laying down the social/emotional wellbeing of children,” said Tamar Jacobson, a professor of Early Childhood Education at Rider University in New Jersey. 

Jacobson joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to talk about the significance of influencing children early in life. They were joined by Stephen Zwolak, the CEO of LUME Institute and executive director of the University City Children’s Center, in advance of a free event on Thursday evening focusing on “avoiding summer meltdowns.” 

From the moment children are born, and even before, they begin to develop an emotional memory. 

“There’s so much that goes on with emotional neglect,” Jacobson said. 

She explained that emotional neglect causes low self-worth and the inability to interact with others or live in a civilly responsible way. “As far as I’m concerned, it affects everything,” she said. 

Such effects also contribute to causing behaviors that result in suspensions and other problems. 

“If they don’t have the ability to develop relationships and they don’t develop those early, you’ll see a lot of fragmentation and franticness,” Zwolak said. 

Noting that between 75 and 85 percent of children in St. Louis City and County spend more than 40 hours per week outside the home, Zwolak said that creates huge challenges for early childhood education and a burden that should be shared by policy experts.

 In terms of early childhood education, both guests recommended that school curricula should emphasize play and, perhaps, not be so rigid. 

“What I found when I came to America, that I was surprised about, the learning centers are extremely structured, so the children didn’t really have a lot of opportunity to express themselves in play,” Jacobson said.

 There’s also a drive among many parents to make sure their children know certain facts such as numbers and colors by a certain age. These kinds of demands and the tendency for parents to want their child “to be the best,” result in curricula for first and second grade students creeping into earlier grade levels.

 “If we push curriculum down we are squelching innovativeness,” Zwolak said. “Children need laps, not laptops.” 


Related Event

What: LUME Institute Presents "Avoiding Summer Meltdowns: Next Generation Discipline"

When: Thursday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m.

Where: University City High School Auditorium, 7401 Balson Ave., St. Louis, MO 63130

More information

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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