Early Childhood Education (ECE) is the cornerstone of the foundation of educational development for all children. It is during this time when children have the best opportunity for long-term success in learning and developing. Early childhood education is defined as the education of children from birth through grade three, or age eight. Long gone are the days when starting your child off with education at kindergarten was considered a step ahead.
Today, children are already significantly behind in kindergarten if they do not attend preschool. Tomorrow, as more and more parents and public figures understand the importance of more comprehensive education at even younger ages, your child may begin learning fundamental social, cognitive, and academic skills in preschool. It is quickly becoming one of the most important steps in the academic success of children.
Why is Preschool and Kindergarten Important for Early Childhood Development
Research and studies have proven that Early Childhood Education is beneficial in a number of ways. During these formative years, children will begin to develop fundamental skills that will help them excel throughout their entire lives. It has been shown that children who receive formal education before kindergarten are far less likely to attend a special education class, have higher IQs, more easily learn any subject matter, have less behavioral issues, be more likely to complete high school and attend college, and be less likely to be involved in criminal activity later in life.
The data backing these results has warranted much-needed attention from lawmakers and government funding. While most states do not require children to begin their education careers until the kindergarten, and the age of seven in some states, many states are taking proactive measures to provide state-funded preschool and pre-kindergarten programs. These programs are offered to all children regardless of the socioeconomic standing of their parents. Some states offer such programs on a more restricted basis and some states do not fund preschool or pre-kindergarten programs in any way. As the positive results from these programs continue to be published and recognized, more funding will be made available and more states will work to offer similar programs to their young children.
Theories of Teaching
There are several, some would say competing, theories of teaching/learning for young children. Though they all want the same thing, to teach children, they go about it in different ways and you might need special training to teach in any schools that use these unique teaching techniques.
The Montessori methodology is meant to allow children to learn at their own pace. They also learn through playing where the toys act as a learning tool and help the children to self-correct. The teachers are there to act as a guide. This educational theory also places children from age three to five in the same room to help older kids act as role models.
The Waldorf philosophy has more stringent protocols. Any school that wishes to teach using this methodology must become Waldorf certified. These schools also follow a play-to-learn model only with more structure and routine. And like the Montessori model, the Waldorf will include children of various ages.
- Reggio Emilia
The Reggio Emilia teaching practice uses a project-based approach to help children become interested in the exploration of life and to become better members of society. The lessons are developed by the interest of the students rather than dictated by the teachers. And the educational model focuses on kids working together to solve problems.
- Self-Contained Classrooms
ECE classrooms are typically self-contained teaching classrooms. This means that one teacher or a lead teacher and support teachers educate students on all subjects in the same classroom. The classes are typically a bit smaller than older classrooms so that the teachers have the ability to work with young students on a more individual level. These classrooms might even be located in a K-12 building; however, they will have little interaction, if any, with the older students.
In fact, many school districts have self-contained classrooms through grade three as a way to better serve all children during their most influential developmental years. Subject teaching is typically reserved to grade four and higher in many states that continually have the best public education school systems.
Skills and Attributes
While many people believe they would like to make a substantial positive influence on future generations to make their lives easier and to improve their chance for success, not everyone is cut out to be an ECE teacher. It will be emotionally challenging, and you must be able to connect with both children and their parents.
The following are some of the ideal skills and attributes for ECE teachers:
- Sense of Humor
- Communication Skills
- Understanding of Diversity
Elements of a High Quality Early Childhood Education Program and the Classroom
An early childhood education teacher, your primary tasks are to prepare young people for the greatest chance of success throughout their entire educational careers. You will be responsible for the social, behavioral, and developmental skills of young children as well as their first learning experiences in all the basic subjects; English, Science, Math, etc. These are skills they will carry with them until they graduate high school.
The following are some of the daily tasks and skills required to be a successful early childhood education teacher:
- Develop Schedules
- Enforce Rules
- Maintain a Safe Environment
- Plan and Implement Lessons
- Observe and Communicate
- Supervise Children at All Times
- Establish Routines
- Build Self-Esteem
- Promoting Literacy
- Provide Age-Appropriate Activities
Career Options for Early Childhood Teachers
- Preschool Teacher
A preschool teacher works with young children between the ages of three to five in most instances. They also help to teach basic academic skills and provide tools essential for social, behavioral, and developmental skills.
- Elementary School Teacher
An elementary school teacher works with children from kindergarten to grade four or six. The age range will depend on the school district. These teachers are typically responsible for one grade. Teachers up to grade three will often teach in a self-contained classroom.
- School Principal
A school principal is a person who manages the entire school. They are responsible for the teachers, budgets, disciplinary actions, curriculum, testing, and more. They are the primary administrators who make the major decisions for the children, teachers, school, and parents.
- Professor of Early Childhood Education
A professor of early childhood education is responsible for teaching future ECE teachers. They will teach program participants the various teaching methodologies and work with them to develop the skills required to be successful teachers. They might even become mentors.
- Special Education Teacher
A special education teacher will work with ECE students who require additional assistance outside of the traditional classroom in the areas of social, behavioral and developmental skills. These teachers often teach in a separate classroom for all children with special needs.
- ESL Teacher
An ESL teacher is an English as a second language teacher. These teachers require even greater patience than most teachers as students in these classes do not speak English as their primary language. These teachers must also have a higher level of cultural understanding and sensitivity.
- School Psychologist
A school psychologist works with students in a private setting on the school grounds to help them with their mental health. Students may need to see a school psychologist for a number of reasons, such as family life and behavioral concerns.