A revolution is fast occurring in the field of early childhood education. Its principle pivot is this: we now know that a significant amount of adult-related behavior is associated with a child’s early years. During my visit to the annual NAEYC (National Association of the Education of Young Children) conference in Anaheim, California, my colleagues registered the recent upsurge of interest — from parents, other educators and policymakers — in the field, and for good reason.
An early childhood education is foundational, in the sense that it optimizes the development of habits and the mental capacities of a child for his/her subsequent education. It does this by interpreting what a child knows in order to explain what a child ought to know. An early childhood education, then, interprets a child’s immediate experience to lay the foundation for his subsequent education.
Among the benefits of a proper early childhood education are as follows. Children with a head-start in early childhood education had higher IQ scores and fewer social/behavioral problems upon entering kindergarten or elementary school. Children with an early childhood education were also noticeably able to more quickly learn and understand materials. This is important because attempting to repair reading skills in, say, the fourth grade has traditionally been more expensive — not to mention risky — than guaranteeing good preparatory reading and beginner reading skills in preschool and kindergarten respectively.
Because a quality early childhood education improves academic concentration, refines social skills and stresses effective communication, the long-term benefits of a quality early childhood education include fewer referrals to remedial services, higher grades, a greater ability to focus on the task at hand, as well as better social skills. What educators try to do in such a program is to: First, reinforce in a child a positive commitment to a communal life, or a life with other people. Second, to develop the skills and knowledge that are foundational for future success; third, to use these skills to develop flexibility to living and working that will serve them well in coping in a changing world, when change occurs. Fourth, and finally, such an education would help children value diversity from a young age in order to live in a tolerant society.
These are overarching, long-term goals. In order to fulfill them, early childhood educators have traditionally sought to inculcate in children a love of learning. Such inspiration is a prerequisite for future success in any field and perhaps more important even than aptitude. In addition to being taught reasoned thinking, children are taught to think through things so as to avoid regretting future decisions.
Children are taught the creative powers of self-expression. They are exposed to the powers of good judgment by being encouraged to directly relate to events in their surroundings, and thus understand safety issues, for example, for themselves. Most importantly, children are made to feel good about themselves. This is important if they develop a sense of self-confidence that is a prerequisite for success. Self-confidence often indicates a sense of self-worth, which has important consequences for developing a respect and consideration for others.
An early years program can also benefit children with developmental or physical disabilities. Through observation and varying assessment tools used in school, an early diagnosis in developmental delay can be made. Early intervention is the optimal early cure for developmental delay in a child.
It is clear, then, that early childhood education can have some great benefits for children. A high quality early childhood education represents one of the best investments one can make. Should parents choose to commit to an “at home” education, early childhood studies would encourage them to commit to creativity and being engaged in raising their children. Fundamentally however, whatever the setting of an early education, if we, as educators, have committed ourselves to helping children develop into adults who will be caring about people and the environment, socially responsible, inventive and, most importantly, can cope with changes, then it is apparent that we may better achieve our goals through an early years education.
The writer is a teacher at Tutor Time International Preschool & Kindergarten.