Early childhood education (ECE) can best be described as formal or informal education of young children up to the age of 8 years old. Infant, toddler and preschool education falls under the early learning category.
Many educators consider a child’s first 5 years the best time for learning. Because children learn faster during these formative years, the training they receive at this time helps to shape their academic future. The following facts give greater insight into a child’s early development:
- Babies begin to learn from the time of birth. They learn best in a loving, caring and responsive environment.
- The experiences a child has during his first three years of life help shape his brain for learning later in life.
- Through play and exploration at home, kids learn physical, mental, social and emotional skills that prepare them for school.
- Young children learn good or bad behavior by copying those around them.
- No two children are exactly alike in growth and development; each develops at his or her own pace, and has his or her own character, personality, interests and method of learning.
Options for Early Childhood Education
Parents who take advantage of early learning for their children will see positive results. The infant, toddler and preschool years offer the greatest potential for teaching your children new skills. The more input your little ones have at this stage of life, the greater progress they will make in their intellectual and emotional development. Early education lays a good foundation for success in school later on.
As a parent, you have various options for giving your kids the early learning training they need. Depending on where you live, you can find early learning preschools, crèches, daycares and nurseries offering this type of education.
In some countries such as the U.S., UK and Australia, parents can receive government assistance to pay for their children’s early learning program by enrolling them in an institution approved by the government. Financial assistance is also available for early childhood special education to meet the needs of children with learning disabilities.
Parents can also choose to teach their little ones at home. The home environment offers great potential for personalized, early learning training, especially when provided by loving and caring parents. By doing some research on early learning programs and techniques, parents can learn how to provide their kids with positive and productive early learning experiences.
What to Look for in an Early Learning Center
Before putting your child in an early learning facility, take time to visit the center, talk to the teachers and look over the curriculum to get a better idea of what it has to offer. Your child’s learning experiences will only be as good as the teachers providing them. Look for a center with experienced caregivers who have a love for children and the vision to meet their learning needs.
In some countries, teachers are required to have at least an early learning certificate to teach. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs for early learning studies to include a Bachelor’s of Education, Masters in Early Childhood Education, BA in Early Childhood Studies, MA in Early Childhood Education and others. Parents and teachers can even obtain a certificate or degree by studying early childhood education online.
In addition to trained teachers, early learning centers need a stimulating environment, resources and organized curriculum to keep students engaged in their learning program. Children learn best when working through a structured curriculum that gives them the opportunity to develop their skills. Program activities should be interesting, age appropriate and relevant to your kids’ needs. Here are some signs to look for in a good early learning program:
- Children are engaged in activities or play with others, as opposed to wandering aimlessly about the facility.
- The facility provides the resources to keep their students busy and happy, such as building blocks, picture books, arts and crafts materials, puzzles, playdough, games, etc.
- Teachers spend personal time with the children or conduct activities in small groups to help them learn at their own pace.
- Teachers are loving and caring individuals and make students feel secure and safe in their learning environment.
- The children’s curriculum covers such basic concepts as the alphabet and numbers, plants and animals, arts and crafts, transportation, solar system and practical skills.
- Students are expected to practice social skills such as sharing, consideration and kindness in their interactions with others.
- The classroom is a safe, spacious, clean and stimulating environment for children to work and play.
- Outside play and exploration is encouraged for at least an hour each day.
The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Education
Physical play is an important aspect of early learning. Play provides the opportunity for kids to practice important values like kindness and consideration to get along with others.
Play, in the context of early learning, can be divided into three categories: functional play, constructive play and pretend play. Functional play helps toddlers and preschoolers develop physically while honing gross motors skills. Outdoor running and jumping games, romping on playground equipment, water play and sports fall into this category. Through functional play, kids burn off excess energy while having fun with their peers.
Constructive play involves creating and building. Arts and crafts, building blocks, puzzles and puppets are perfect examples of toys for constructive play. Four and five year olds are quite partial to this type of play as it brings out their creativity and imagination. Through constructive play, kids develop fine motor skills by using their hands and fingers to build, draw, cut, glue, etc.
In pretend play, children are encouraged to use their imagination to explore new scenarios. Kids learn to express their emotions and thoughts through play. They may engage with others or play on their own. Pretend play is quite popular with the preschool and kindergarten age and helps them practice social and language skills in the process.
Studying Early Childhood Education
Parents and teachers who study early childhood education are in a better position to teach young children early learning skills. Busy parents can take advantage of online early learning programs to get the training they need.
Through distance education, teachers can obtain a certificate or degree in early learning education to advance their career. Parents can benefit from this training to teach their children at home to enhance their skills before starting school.
Although early learning curricula vary from school to school, the following gives a general idea of what you can learn through this training:
- Child development stages from birth to kindergarten age
- Important milestones for infants, toddlers and preschoolers
- The different areas of childhood development, i.e. physical, mental, social, emotional, and how to help children grow in these areas
- Regulations guiding the education and care of children in the country where you live
- An understanding of how young children think and function so you can help guide their thoughts and actions accordingly
- The importance of “play” in early childhood development
- An understanding of the concepts of “attachment” and mutual exchange in early learning education
- The importance of allowing children to take risks as part of their early learning training
- Positive behavior guidance and training, especially helpful for teaching toddlers
The Benefits of Early Childhood Education
Early childhood education provides benefits for both parents and children. Early learning can help improve a child’s language, speech, thinking and problem solving skills to help them advance in their academic progress in the future at school. Socially, children learn to get along with others, take turns and share – skills that will help decrease behavior problems.
By placing their children in early learning facilities, parents can continue their careers to help raise their family’s financial standard. Overall, as a parent, early childhood education training can enhance your parenting skills and improve the academic standing of your children.