Before a child’s first day of kindergarten, they spend five years learning about the world and its people. These early childhood years, which actually extend through age eight, are some of the most critical for mental and social development, yet many parents and communities mistakenly think education starts in the kindergarten classroom. Research shows that preschool and prekindergarten are just as essential, if not more so, than kindergarten programs. Yet despite this, communities continue to cut budgets for these early childhood programs – to the detriment of children, families, and society as a whole.
If you love children and are considering a career as an educator, you may want to learn more about the field of early childhood education. In fact, this is one of the most important education timeframes, as early childhood sets the stage for children to be effective in academics and in life. Here is a closer look at the importance of early childhood education (ECE) and its effect not only on children but also on society.
Why Is Early Childhood Important?
Early childhood education is vital to families with young children and the future of those children academically and in society as a whole. By giving children the right learning environment when they are in their prime years for development, schools, districts, and communities can provide a solid foundation for a lifetime of learning. Here are some key reasons why early childhood is vital to the development of the modern child.
The Science of Early Childhood Development
A child’s brain is not fully developed at birth. In fact, the architecture of the brain continues to form throughout childhood and into early adulthood. In the infant and toddler years, a child develops 1 million new neural connections every second, followed by a massive pruning of neural connections in the same time period. Though this growth does slow down from the toddler to preschool years, there is still a significant amount of brain development taking place. Educators are in a prime position to help these children grow and develop their cognitive, social, and academic skills during this critical time.
Core Principles in Early Childhood Development
Early childhood programs must focus on three core principles to be as effective as possible. First, educators need to understand that the brain has a lot of plasticity during this time, meaning it can more easily reorganize, adapt, and create new pathways in early childhood than at any other time of life.
Second, the most primal need of a child in early childhood is not academic but rather relational. Children need interactions with trusted caregivers that are defined as “serve and return” interactions. For example, when a young child smiles at a teacher or caregiver, and the adult smiles back, this helps shape the developing brain in a positive way. They also need to have positive social interactions with their peers. Teachers can help by encouraging and modeling healthy social habits, friendly speech, respectful communication, and creative problem-solving in social situations. Finally, in these early years, children can develop a sense of empathy and understanding of the feelings and needs of others; this is vital to their social development, yet children only develop it if someone teaches them.
Finally, early childhood educators must understand that stress is damaging. The toxic influence of stress on the development of the brain can have long-term effects on children. While teachers cannot control a child’s home life, they can control the school setting. Early childhood education programs need to create positive and welcoming environments to reduce the amount of stress children face. Doing so will support healthy development. By providing a safe and supportive learning environment at school, teachers can help children with challenging home lives experience many stress-free hours each day at school.
What Specific Outcomes Does Early Childhood Education Have on a Child’s Future?
Is early childhood education important to the development of a young child, or is it just like glorified babysitting? According to the National Education Association, children who are in an early childhood education program that delivers quality, age-appropriate education are:
- Less at risk to repeat a grade
- More adequately prepared for the later grades
- More likely to finish high school
- More likely to have higher earning potential as adults
These are serious benefits that are worth taking into account, especially considering that kids who go to early childhood education programs are less likely to drop out of high school. Dropout prevention programs often focus on teenage students, but this research shows that early childhood programs could create the right atmosphere to keep children in school all the way through graduation.
Early childhood education also affects the family as a whole. When parents can enroll their children in preschool, both parents get the freedom to look for work. Labor force participation by women increases by about 10% when early childhood programs are available, and in low-income families, this impact increases to 15%.
Early childhood programs also provide families and educators the chance to screen for potential health, behavioral, and learning issues early. The sooner support gets put in place for these concerns, the better the outcome for the affected student. Thus, early childhood sets the stage for proper special education support in later school years.
Benefits From Early Childhood Education Within Society
When children are properly educated from an early age, they have a more positive impact on society. In one study published in the Infant Mental Health Journal, researchers found that high-quality, intensive early childhood education programs with the right follow-up significantly decreased the violent crime rate in a community. Another report found that children who were involved in an early childhood education program in one high-crime area were 10% more likely to graduate high school. Those who were not enrolled in the program were 70% more likely to be involved in violent crime.
What Is It Like to Work in Early Childhood Education?
With all these fascinating statistics, it is clear that early childhood education is a vital part of the modern educational system. If you love young children and want to have a role in helping them develop to their fullest, you might want to consider working in early childhood education.
Early childhood educators focus on teaching children basic skills, such as number, letter, and color recognition. Early literacy activities, like reading books aloud or learning letter sounds, are also part of early childhood education. These teachers typically work with children in group settings, though there may be opportunities throughout the day to work one-on-one. Lessons are typically short in duration to accommodate the short attention span of young children.
An early childhood educator will balance educational needs along with the other developmental needs of their students. This means providing opportunities for physical activity, artistic expression, social skills practice, and rest.
This job typically involves a lot of routine in the classroom, with hands-on activities whenever appropriate and possible. Teachers often model learning and social skills, and children learn from that modeling.
Finally, teachers will interact with parents. They will share the challenges and achievements of students, update parents about the day, and help plan strategies to overcome challenges with the help of the parents.
What Are Some of the Biggest Challenges People Working in Early Childhood Education Face?
In 2022, the Childcare Education Institute surveyed early childhood educators and asked what some of their biggest challenges were. Burnout topped the list. Since early 2020, 8.4% of childcare workers have left to pursue other work. In the poll, nearly half of those surveyed indicated they were feeling high levels of stress. While the work is quite rewarding, it is also sometimes intense.
Lack of resources can be another concern. Many early childhood education providers do not receive enough funds from their school districts to pay for the supplies they need to do their jobs well. This can cause them to use their own money to stock their classroom. If the district is also underpaying their early childhood teachers, this becomes challenging.
Finally, some early childhood education providers are viewed as caregivers, not educators. Parents put their children in the program because they need childcare rather than because they see the value of preschool to prepare a child for kindergarten. Thus, sometimes society does not recognize the importance of early childhood education programs in their community. As more research into the need for these programs comes to the fore, this is gradually changing.
Early Childhood Education Degrees
One of the perks of becoming an early childhood education professional is the fact that you may be able to pursue this career with an associate degree rather than a bachelor’s. An Associate of Science in Early Childhood Education provides training to work with children from birth through age eight, and may take as little as two years to complete at a normal pace.
In addition, some early childhood educators choose to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Child Studies. The provides an expanded focus on early childhood education and development, with child studies theory and application in social sciences, humanities, and behavioral sciences. The focus remains on ages eight and younger for this program.
Early Childhood Educators and Licensing
If a teacher wishes to teach in a certified position in a public school setting, they must earn and maintain teacher certification through an approved teacher certification program. The Associate of Science in Early Childhood Education and Bachelor of Science in Child Studies degrees from Post University are not designed to fulfill the educational requirements for any educational credential, such as a state teacher’s license or an early childhood certification. Professional credentials vary by state and include requirements outside of education, which may include exams, background checks, work experience, and more. Learn about teaching certification requirements through the state departments of education: https://www2.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html. Learn about early childhood education credentials through the Council for Professional Recognition: https://www.cdacouncil.org/en/about/learn-about-the-cda/.
Start Your Early Childhood Training With Post University
Working in early childhood programs is one of the most rewarding ways to get involved in education. Young children are eager to learn and please the adults in their lives. By working in this field, you have the chance to play a role in some of the most critical developmental years a child has.
If you are ready to get started, the right degree is important. Post University has both a child studies bachelor’s and an associate degree in ECE that can provide training on important skills for those that have an interest in working with young children. Check out the on-campus or online associate’s degree in early childhood education, or bachelor’s in child studies degree, then reach out to an admissions advisor to learn more about the options available with Post University.
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