Early childhood education is the comprehensive term used for all programs related to the care and instruction of children before kindergarten. These preschool programs vary in terms of educational objectives, mode of delivery, scope of topics and implementation strategies because state standards differ. The programs are designed for specific age groups with content and delivery tailored for ability and age-appropriateness.
Importance of Early Childhood Education
Various studies have established that the early years are most important in a child’s social, emotional and physical development. The most critical developmental changes happen from birth to about five years old, including language learning, social bonding and establishing various neural connections that prepare the child for more complex skills. Brain development begins in the prenatal stages, and child development experts recommend interaction with the child even at these stages. Babies begin to learn about their environment from birth onward, and it is crucial to support these dramatic growth stages in every way possible. Early childhood education is designed to stimulate development while creating a safe environment for very young children.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children, one of the primary professional organizations promoting quality care and learning, recommends early learning programs for all children from birth to eight years old. The public school system accepts children into kindergarten programs starting at five years old although participation is not mandatory in all states for preschool and kindergarten. However, parents and caretakers of young children are strongly encouraged to have their children participate in early education school-readiness programs before they are old enough to enroll in kindergarten.
These programs introduce young children to colors, textures, shapes, numbers and letters through hands-on activities with toys, educational manipulative materials and other learn-by-discovery activities. Early childhood programs focus on providing stimulation, motor skills development and opportunities for social interaction with peers and adults in an environment that is safe, nurturing and welcoming for everyone. Class groups are typically based on age, and children progress through the classroom groupings as they pass established developmental milestones.
Early Childhood Educators
It takes a special kind of commitment and passion for children to be involved in preschool care and education. The minimum requirement is a high school diploma, completion of mandatory training modules and passing the competency tests for each required module. Child caretakers and educators must also comply with continuing education requirements, extensive background checks as required by state laws along with other qualifications set by the childcare facilities and linked to specific jobs. Directors of early childhood care centers will have many years of experience working with young children and would be familiar with the legal aspects of operating a child care facility.
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Career Prospects in Early Childhood Education
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects higher-than-average growth in jobs in this sector between 2016 and 2026. This may be due to expected population growth along with private and public sector initiatives to expand early childhood education opportunities for all children as part of school-readiness programs. The target demographic for these programs are young children from birth to five years old although the same facilities may be open for after-school care for older children. Studies have proven that early childhood education programs benefit young kids by providing opportunities to develop motor skills, language learning, numbers literacy and social skills so that they are better equipped for the traditional education system that starts formally in kindergarten.