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Early childhood education programs have flourished over the past few decades as more and more parents come to believe in the benefits of starting children's education as early as possible and find themselves in need of daycare. Federally funded programs like Head Start have been credited with narrowing the achievement gaps that can appear between low-income or minority students and more privileged or majority students. Early childhood education curriculum aims to encourage growth in all six developmental domains, though actual curriculum content can vary between programs
Keywords Behaviorism; Child Development; Day Care; Developmental Domains; Direct Instructional System for Teaching and Remediation (DISTAR); Early Childhood Education; Early Reading First; Head Start; Maturationism; Montessori Method; National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC); Play; Preschool Education; Universal Early Childhood Program
Early Childhood Education: Early Childhood/Preschool Education
Society has slowly shifted its focus from starting children in school at the age of six to beginning children in school as early as possible. This societal shift can be contributed to the changes in the workforce, child advocating, and legislation (Gallagher, 2007).
In today's family, both parents are often employed outside of the home, even when the household includes very young children. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, 55% of women who had given birth in the past year were in the labor force, a slight decrease from 57% in 2008. This preponderance of dual income families has had a direct impact on the increased need for childcare services. While the numbers of married women working outside of the home has increased, the number of single parent families in the workforce has also increased and necessitated the need for early childhood education.
Another contributing factor to the increased demand for early childhood education is the recognition that families feel that education at an early age provides a child with an advantage once they begin school. Also, early intervention services for children with disabilities has influenced parents of children without disabilities to understand that the earlier a child is enrolled in early childhood education the better the educational outcomes will be for the individual child.
Politicians and child advocates cite another factor that has contributed to the growth of early childhood education. It serves as a mechanism to decrease the achievement gaps in K-12 programs which is well documented in the literature (Gallagher, 2007; Kartal, 2007).For instance, Lamy (2013) notes that there is a substantial body of research demonstrating that children from low-income households often arrive at elementary school less prepared to learn and succeed in an academic environment than children from middle- and high-income households, and that preschool can play a crucial role in closing this gap.
Influence of Federal Programs
Federal programs, such as Head Start, have aimed at helping children from low socioeconomic or diverse cultures gain the early skills necessary to be successful in school (Henry, Gordon, & Rickman, 2006). Due to the wide variety and limited availability of quality educational programs, achievement gaps between children from low socioeconomic or diverse cultures and other groups can be traced back to the lack of availability of early childhood or preschool programs. The Institute for Educational Sciences, in a 2011 report , Synthesis of IES Research on Early Intervention and Early Childhood Education, noted that young children in the U.S. face different social conditions than many of the children who took part in preschool programs in the 1960s and 1970s. Among these differences are the facts that today, preschool children are more likely to be poor, to have developmental delays, to have a home language other than English, and to have mothers who are employed outside the home. In addition, the IES report notes that the population of preschool children is more variable than it was in the 1960s and 1970s, when early childhood educational programs such as Head Start were pioneered. increasing the challenge of providing appropriate services for the entire population of preschool children.
According to a 2011 report from the Census Bureau,School Enrollment in the United States: 2011, about 5 million children (age 3 and older) are enrolled in nursery school, representing about about 48% of all 3- and 4-year-olds; this percentage that has been stable for the past five years, but represents a substantial increase over the 10 percent enrolled in nursery school in 1965. Most enrolled students attend a part-day nursery school, and over half (59 percent) attend a public nursery school. Higher family income, higher maternal education, and having a mother in the work force are all factors that increase the probability that a child will be enrolled in nursery school. In addition, about 4.2 million children are enrolled in kindergarten, with 77% of children attending full-day kindergarten, a substantial increase both from the 8% enrolled in full-day kindergarten in 1967, and the 37% attending full-day kindergarten in 1987.
The increasing demand for quality early childhood education services, higher education and other educational training institutions are finding it hard to attract and provide qualified teachers in order to keep up with the demand. Pianta (2007) suggested "universal pre-K programs for 4-year-olds will require at least 200,000 teachers, with estimates of 50,000 additional teachers needed by 2020" (p. 44). Research continues to focus on how to best train new teachers in early childhood education practices (Pianta, 2007), and in the most effective classroom practices for early childhood education.
The July 2013 report Synthesis of IES Research on Early Intervention and Early Childhood Education, published by the Institute for Educational Sciences (IES), summarizes key results from research funded by the IES, and identifies some principles and techniques that have proven successful in early childhood education, while also identifying areas in which further research is required. The latter areas include minimum quality thresholds for effective classrooms, more knowledge of how to match instruction to the specific capabilities and needs of individual children, and more information about how to help teachers improve the quality of classroom instruction.
Terms Related to Early Childhood Education
In 1996, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defined early childhood as age birth to eight years of age. During the developmental period of birth to approximately two years of age, children are learning skills congruently in the areas of social, emotional, cognitive, language, and physical development. Adults during this time period should recognize that children learn through play and experience, not in fragmented parts.
One of the older early childhood educational terms is day care. Day care has been used synonymously to mean nursery school, kindergarten, or preschool. Other terms that have been used to describe early childhood education include:
• Early education,
• Early childhood learning, or
• Early learning.
Regardless of the term used, early childhood education means providing education for children aged two to five years of age. Generally, this age group represents children who have not yet begun the formal education process. Within these ages, children experience rapid growth and development. Therefore, providing programs to encourage or enhance this developmental time is highly encouraged in the United States.
Preschool/Early Childhood Education
In spite of the push for early childhood programs, educators continue to emphasize that parents are the child's first teacher and the best resource for development and/or education prior to the formal school period. Research has focused on parents and the provision of time/effort given to the child and environment (Cole, Jenkins, Mills, & O'Conner, 1993; Kartal, 2007; Ramey, Campbell, Burchinal, Skinner, Gardner, & Ramey, 2000; Reynolds, Temple, Robertson, & Mann, 2001). The basic agreement in the research literature is that parents are the best teachers in helping a child adjust to situations or new environments. The use of the term early childhood education does not imply that the parent or primary caregiver does not provide the experience. However, in the United States the term frequently means that someone other than the parent or primary caregiver is providing the experiences. For the purposes of this paper, the terms early childhood education and preschool education will be used interchangeably.
In the United States, the focus of early childhood programs is to encourage:
• The development of children in the areas of personal, social and emotional development;
• Communication (i.e., listening and speaking);
• World knowledge;
• Motor development; and
• Cognitive development (Kartal, 2007; Pianta, 2007).
Each of the above developmental areas is frequently referred to as a developmental domain. Each domain correlates or interacts with the others and can limit or facilitate development in the others. A brief description of each area is provided below.
• Motor or Physical Development refers to physical growth and the development of gross (e.g. walking) and fine (e.g., finger movement) motor control of the body.
• Perception and Sensory Development concerns the development of the senses and the ability to process information obtained from the senses.
• Language Development includes both verbal and nonverbal communication skills as well as listening and speaking skills.
• Cognitive Development refers to how an individual thinks and reacts to his or her environment.
• Emotional Development includes how a child controls and expresses his or her feelings in response to the environment.
• Social Development concerns how a child establishes and maintains relationships within a social context.
All stakeholders (i.e., parents, caregivers, teachers) must have knowledge of the broad aspects of typical development in the early childhood period but also be able to identify the variations in development that can negatively impact the child. The knowledge of developmental areas, the theoretical, and/or educational viewpoints of administrators, teachers, or parents can influence the types of preschool programs that are available to all children.
Types of Preschool Programs
In understanding the focus of early childhood education, the need exists for discussion of the types of different educational systems available. The age span of early childhood education contributes to the complexity of designing quality early childhood education services. Intertwined in the issue of the age span is the factor of where and how early childhood education programs provide services and the need for appropriately trained educators (Kinch & Schweinhart, 2004).
In the United States, it is hard to identify what constitutes a quality day care due to the large number of licensed and unlicensed facilities as well as the informal family arrangements in providing care. Currently, the research defines quality childhood educational services as having qualified teachers, low adult to student ratios, and using developmentally...