10:25am Friday 20 October 2017

Global experts on early years of childhood to propose future strategies

If you want to dramatically improve the learning capabilities during a child’s youngest years simply get pre-school children more on the move. 

Among a host of world experts into the formative early years of a child’s life who will be attending the inaugural Early Start conference at UOW from 28-30 September will be Professor Fred Paas.

Professor Paas, who is Chair of the Educational and Developmental Psychology Program at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Professorial Fellow at UOW’s Early Start Research Institute, will discuss the promising role of human movement in children’s learning.

“Taking action in response to information, in addition to simply seeing or hearing it, creates a richer memory trace and supplies alternative avenues for recalling the memory later on,” Professor Paas said.

“Because children have a physiological need to burn energy and move around, a blend of physical and cognitive components can help preserve their motivation for learning.”

Professor Paas will provide an overview of recent research into movement and learning, and show how body movements can be used in children’s learning environments to exploit the high plasticity of brain function in the younger years.

In what is shaping to be the most significant conference of its kind ever held in Australia, a total of 11 countries will be represented, with 102 presentations and about 630 delegates in attendance. The conference theme is ‘Improving Children’s Lives: Translating Research for Practice, Policy and Community’.

A Keynote Speaker at the conference will be Professor Catherine Snow from Harvard University. Since 1979 she has been on the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education teaching and conducting research on topics related to language and literacy development, primarily among children placed at educational risk by poverty and/or language minority status.

Among other topics to be explored at the conference include how a brain-training computer game can help children with ADHD, how standing preschools can improve children’s energy levels and mental development, and the impact of father involvement on children’s language, literacy and cognitive development.

In July this year at UOW, Australia’s former Minister for Social Services the Hon Scott Morrison MP officially opened the most sophisticated early childhood teaching, research and community engagement initiative ever undertaken in Australia.

Early Start is a $44 million transformational infrastructure investment together with a continuing commitment from UOW and its partners. The Early Start initiative is focused on creating educational programs, experiences and networks that enrich the way we understand and interact with children, families and communities.

Early Start consists of:

  • an international hub for multidisciplinary research, tackling issues as varied as cognitive development, healthy lifestyles, digital learning and literacy, and social inclusion
  • cutting-edge courses for the next generation of professionals focussed on the earliest years of life with state of the art education facilities and some of the best academic staff in the world, providing the opportunity to create transformational learning experiences for students working with children, families and communities
  • a partnership with 41 early childhood education and care centres across New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory who are helping to inform and pioneer innovation in the early years and translate research into practice
  • the Early Start Discovery Space – Australia’s only dedicated ‘children’s museum’ promoting learning through play and the importance of life-long learning.

The vision for Early Start became a reality in 2012 when UOW received a $31 million grant from the Federal Government to build the Early Start Facility. During its planning stage, UOW also received its largest-ever philanthropic gift of $7 million from a private donor (the Abbott Foundation), specifically for the establishment of the Discovery Space.

UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings, CBE, said the University was thrilled to be behind such an important initiative committed to social transformation for children, families and communities.

“Early Start is a first for Australia and we hope it will become a model for the world. The initiative aims to give children the best possible start in life and is particularly focused on bringing about better outcomes for children from regional, rural, remote and disadvantaged communities.”

He said the inaugural Early Start conference would involve the latest critical research into the earliest years of children’s lives.

Early childhood expert and UOW’s Academic Head of Early Start Professor Marc de Rosnay said there was now overwhelming evidence showing that the earliest years of life are of disproportionate significance for development, and it is during these early years that we can make the most profound positive impact on children’s lives.

“Research shows that the effect of high-quality early education, particularly when coupled with support services and family inclusion, can dramatically turn around the cycle of under-achievement educationally, socially and emotionally,” he said.

The conference will address the challenges that exist in policy and practice for children, families and educators by exploring current approaches to research in the early years of life and proposing strategies for the future that will both inform and improve work in the field.

 University of Wollongong


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