What is Early Childhood Education?
Importance Early childhood education is a term that refers to the period of time from a child’s birth to when they enter kindergarten, according to Dr. Jessica Alvarado, academic program director for the BA in Early Childhood Development at the National University. According to Alvarado, it is an important time in children’s lives because it is when they first learn how to interact with others, including peers, teachers, and parents, and also begin to develop interests that will stay with them throughout their lives.
Early childhood education is a broad term used to describe any type of educational program that serves children in their preschool years before they are old enough to enter kindergarten. Early childhood education may consist of any number of activities and experiences designed to aid in the cognitive and social development of preschoolers before they enter elementary school.
Preschool programs provide early childhood education and care for children from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds in the years prior to their entry into Grade 1. Settings typically include schools, nursery schools, childcare centers, and private homes. Since the middle of the 20th century, preschool programs have been increasingly widespread given the recognition of the importance of learning during early childhood when brain development is very rapid.
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One of the important functions of preschool programs is to help children acquire learning-related skills, such as the ability to express thoughts, adapt behaviors to situational demands, control impulsivity, show curiosity, remain concentrated, and be socially competent.
As such, school readiness is not only about teaching children basic language and mathematics skills but is also about promoting self-regulation. Although beneficial for all children, these early childhood learning opportunities are especially important for children in disadvantaged groups as they play a critical role in reducing the impact of negative early experiences and in redirecting their development into a more productive trajectory.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to deciding how many days your child should attend preschool. Whether your child attends three, four, or five mornings per week is ultimately a personal decision based on the child’s particular needs and family. That being said, there is one critical factor parents should not overlook in this important decision: consistency.
When a child attends preschool on a consistent basis, typically four consecutive days and often full-time five days per week enrollment, experience has shown that regularity of attendance with the same group of students and teachers encourages the child’s sense of security and self-confidence. The importance of routines and consistency for children cannot be overemphasized.
Why is early childhood education important?
A child’s early years are the foundation for his or her future development, providing a strong base for lifelong learning and learning abilities, including cognitive and social development.
Early childhood is a crucial stage of life in terms of a child’s physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development. Growth of mental and physical abilities progresses at an astounding rate and a very high proportion of learning occurs from birth to age six. It is a time when children particularly need high-quality personal care and learning experiences.
If your child is between the ages of three and six and attends a preschool or kindergarten program, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) suggests you look for these 10 signs to make sure your child is in a good classroom.
- Children spend most of their time playing and working with materials or other children. They do not wander aimlessly and they are not expected to sit quietly for long periods of time.
- Children have access to various activities throughout the day. Look for assorted building blocks and other construction materials, props for pretend play, picture books, paints and other art materials, and table toys such as matching games, pegboards, and puzzles. All the children should not necessarily be doing the same activity at the same time.
- Teachers work with individual children, small groups, and the whole group at different times during the day. They do not spend all their time with the whole group.
- The classroom is decorated with children’s original artwork, their own writing with invented spelling, and stories dictated by children to teachers.
- Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of their everyday experiences. The natural world of plants and animals and meaningful activities like cooking, attendance, or serving snacks provide the basis for learning activities.
- Children work on projects and have long periods of time (at least one hour) to play and explore. Worksheets are used little, if at all.
- Children have an opportunity to play outside every day. Outdoor play is never sacrificed for more instructional time.
- Teachers read books to children individually or in small groups throughout the day, not just at group story time.
- The curriculum is adapted for those who are ahead as well as those who need additional help. Teachers recognize that children’s different backgrounds and experiences mean that they do not learn the same things at the same time in the same way.
- Children and their parents look forward to school. Parents feel secure about sending their children to the program. Children are happy to attend; they do not cry regularly or complain of feeling sick.