Children who live through emergencies are impacted by trauma and toxic stress. Toxic stress leads to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, physical and mental health and in young children, developmental problems. New evidence demonstrates that children who experience extreme stress in their earliest years are at greater risk of developing a variety of cognitive, behavioral and emotional difficulties later in life. Beatrice Ramm from Caritas Switzerland describes the impact of toxic stress as “creating holes that children can’t fill themselves”, pausing children’s ability or curiosity to learn.
As children carry this stress in their bodies, the challenge of early childhood education is then to support normative patterns of sensorimotor development, partly through the creation of an educational environment that is stimulating and comforting. Caritas has developed a model of early childhood education, the “Essence of Learning” model (EoL), that not only helps strengthen a child’s self-assurance and self-esteem, but also reignites their curiosity and desire to learn, helping them to slowly catch up on months or years of schooling lost, improving their ability to socialize and interact with others, enabling them to focus, learn and remember.
How it works
Since the foundation for the behaviors and academic learning of a child is based upon the invisible activity of the nervous system, a large focus of EoL is based on activating the nervous system by stimulating all of a child’s senses. This is carried out through multiple forms of play. For example, a topic that the child can relate to is selected each week and explored in a variety of ways: through storytelling, mathematics, role-play, reading, etc. In Bangladesh, mangoes were selected as the topic of the week and an entire story unfolded from the planting of the tree through to its growth process. Discussions surrounding this take place allowing children to use their imagination and role-play. Activities laying the groundwork for mathematics and language are carried out simultaneously. EoL helps build community within the classroom setting and allows children to share with and learn from one and another.
The EoL approach teaches teachers and educators how to create toys and learning materials from locally sourced recycled items. Teachers are taught to be creative with existing resources, minimizing the costs of the intervention. The use of local recycled materials also enables children and parents to recreate these same toys in their home environment.
Humanitarian Education Accelerator
Under the HEA, Caritas Switzerland is undergoing a process evaluation to understand how the EoL approach has evolved as it has been adapted and implemented in response to crises in Romania, Chechnya, Kosovo and Bangladesh. This research will help inform the scale up of EoL and document the common elements of the program that have contributed to its success as they continue to adapt the program to educate children in settings around the world.
UNICEF. Early Childhood Development: The Key to a Full and Productive Life 2014
 UNICEF. Early Childhood Development: The Key to a Full and Productive Life 2014