What is Early Childhood Education
Many families with young children may ask the questions, “What is early childhood education?” and, “How will an early childhood education prepare my child for success?” To fully understand the critical importance of early childhood education, we must first understand the differences in learning and development inherent in ‘early years’ aged children, and the importance of a well-rounded and comprehensive education program during this time.
What is Early Childhood Education
Early childhood refers to the period between birth and 8 years of age, wherein a child’s brain is highly sensitive to the environment around them. This time of “remarkable growth” requires a specialized educational approach to ensure that children learn key skills and foundational concepts to prepare them for later life.
Early childhood education is focused on the critical developmental milestones, skills, and concepts that children attain during this period of their lives, from social-emotional skills to the beginnings of numeracy, literacy, and critical thinking. In addition to preparing children for future academic success, the development of high-quality early childhood care and education is considered by the OECD to be a key economic indicator when assessing the health and future positioning of a nation. Furthermore, UNESCO supports high-quality early childhood education as one of its sustainable development goals. This foundational aspect of education directly contributes to better lives for children, which resounds through national improvements to prosperity, social inclusion, and economic development.
The Benefits of Early Childhood Education
A high-quality early childhood education offers children numerous academic and social-emotional benefits that echo through the child’s life for decades to come. When selecting an Early Childhood Education Program for your child, look for programs that focus on creating a supportive, engaging environment in which students can develop essential competencies, explore, create, and express themselves, while learning to take healthy risks, and developing the frameworks for essential social, emotional, and academic skills.
A program that is capable of reaching these positive, development goals will have an essential understanding of early childhood development, the enormous potential in early years learners, as well as the risks and benefits associated with early childhood education.
A child’s cerebral development begins in utero, and their development in the first eight years of life establishes the foundation for future health and well-being. The rapid cerebral growth and development in childhood is partially driven by a child's “acquisition and integration of skills across many developmental domains” and a responsive, engaging, and supportive environment in which the child can live and learn.
Although education at all stages of development is enhanced by a strong school-family partnership, this is especially true of early childhood learning and early years development. The environment is a key component of early childhood education, and creating a “consistent, responsive caregiving relationships and supportive community” can drastically limit the potential for detrimental factors like neglect and chronic stress which can hinder a child in reaching their full potential. It is critical to develop a learning environment where students in the early years are supported, cared for, encouraged, and nurtured as they explore the world around them.
High-Quality Early Childhood Education Programs
When searching for an early childhood education program that is right for your family, it is important to consider the goals of an ECE program on two fronts: how an ECE program is designed to meet a child’s developmental needs, and how the program flows into the upper elementary years and beyond in order to cement and maintain early learning achievements.
The goals of an early childhood education program can be split into four main development themes:
- Intellectual and Academic
Considered to be “the cradle of social cohesion,” an early childhood education program will strive to support a child’s understanding of themselves as individuals who live in relationship to others. In addition to delivering what many parents consider foundational skills like sharing, using respectful language like, “please” and “thank you,” and contributing to shared efforts like cleaning up and following directions, early childhood education programs have the potential to help children see themselves as leaders for a better future. An early childhood education program that focuses on instilling the attitudes and values of equality, peace, and collaboration engenders in children the belief that they can make a positive difference in the lives of others.
In the early years, children develop essential emotional skills like self-confidence, self-regulation of their emotions, self-expression, self-respect, and positive self-belief. These skills are essential for later activities like problem-solving and healthy risk-taking. Small class sizes and lots of teacher interaction time help children learn these skills in an environment in which they are known, cared for, and encouraged to practice these skills. By establishing a strong emotional foundation where children understand their value as friends, learners, and individuals, and where they have confidence in themselves and their ability to express their ideas, emotions, and needs, children are prepared for increasingly complex social-emotional and academic challenges.
An early childhood education program overlaps with a child’s development of gross and fine motor skills, physical coordination (hand-eye coordination, biking, running, etc.), and their understanding of healthy skills like hand-washing, regular exercise, and balanced eating.
An early childhood education program should develop these skills through free and planned play, engaging activities like sensory tables, building, painting, playing instruments, etc., and coordinated games where children practice running, pulling, pushing, hopping, and working together while having fun!
These activities should build on each other through each year of the ECE program, from improving fine motor control to support their writing development, to children gaining more independence in activities like putting on their coats and shoes, moving from velcro strap to laced shoes, packing their lunch bags and backpacks.
Intellectual and Academic Development
While an early childhood education program should have carefully researched goals for literacy and numeracy, the foundations of academic success are only one part of a child’s intellectual development during the early years.
It is essential that a child sees themself as a capable learner, who can grapple with new topics that may seem tricky at first, and resist giving up when a topic or task becomes difficult. Here, a child’s intellectual development extends far beyond the classroom; supported by an early childhood education program, students come to see the whole world as an opportunity for learning.
Early years programs that promote a strong intellectual curiosity and lead children to a life of observing, wondering, questioning, and discovery often include play-based learning or outdoor learning, and a focus on self-directed learning and responsive curriculum. These aspects of an early childhood education program allow the classroom environment to engage with and incorporate a child’s interests into the learning journey.
Extending Educational Benefits Beyond the Early Years
In addition to accomplishing a myriad of goals with these four developmental themes, it is important that an early childhood education program flows seamlessly between each year of the program, and onward into upper elementary.
An internally cohesive ECE program must be carefully linked to the next phase of a child’s educational journey so that the child’s developmental advantages can be maintained and enhanced beyond their ECE experience. While many early childhood education programs serve children and families from ages 3–5, many programs do not continue the ECE framework beyond kindergarten.
An abrupt change in the quality, ethos, or curriculum delivery can result in a loss of the benefits gained in a high-quality ECE program. Therefore, choosing an early childhood education program is a decision that engages both with the core aspects of the program itself, as well as the educational opportunities for a child as they progress through Grades 1–5 and beyond.
This is especially important when assessing Grades 1 and 2 (the ‘end’ of the early years and early childhood learning). A program that continues activities like inquiry-based learning, outdoor learning and play-based learning, with a strong focus on social and emotional development will help build upon the strong foundation established by pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten classes (ages 3–5).
The program of study for Grades 1 and 2 must balance students’ increasing readiness in subjects like reading, writing, math, and science, while allowing them to learn through play, creation, reflection, and sharing their learning with their teachers and peers through multiple means of expression.
Early Childhood Education at ASP
At ASP, our Early Childhood Program focuses on Grades K3–1, and is open to students as young as three years old. Each class in K3, K4, and K5 is run by a lead teacher and an educational assistant, allowing for an adult to child ratio of anywhere between 1:3 and 1:8, depending on enrollment.
For these four grades, students engage in play-based learning activities, whether they are using a creative curriculum (K3 and K4) or beginning a literacy-focused curriculum like the Teachers College of Reading and Writing (Grades K5 and beyond). Children learn to approach numeracy and science through planned play and experiential learning, while also integrating the Georgia Mathematics curriculum which uses games, partner work, and collaboration to teach key numeracy skills.
Finally, all students from Grades K3–5 incorporate outdoor learning to different degrees within the academic year; our students in K3–Grade 1 have numerous opportunities per week to take their learning outdoors, including monthly visits to a nearby forest to truly learn in nature. You can learn more about our Early Childhood Education Program, and schedule your visit to ASP today in order to see for yourself the joyful learning environment that awaits your child.