Early Childhood Education

Overview of Early Childhood Education

Written by Elvis Boniface

Many people have been imaging what is Early Childhood Education (ECE)? This is because many Africa countries have over the years paid little attention to this important aspect or level of Education. This is not the case with the developed countries of the world. As a Nation, if Nigeria’s quest for better education must be achieved, we must pay attention to ECE. The period of childhood is very crucial in the life of an individual. As a player in this sector, I shall attempt to educate my readers about ECE, its history, the opportunities/careers involved, best practices, challenges and how to set a National standard, as Nigerians.

Montessor Classroom

ECE DEFINED AND TRACED

Early Childhood Education is simply the education given to children from birth through age eight and focuses on the school experiences of children in that age range. The early childhood years are more important than any other eight-year period in the life of a human being in terms of the learning that occurs, the attitudes about learning and school that develop and the social skills that are acquire that will enable the individual to succeed in today’s world.

ECE programs today can trace their development back to early philosophers. For example, Martin Luther (1483-1546) believed that all boys should be educated (a radical thought in his days) and insisted that music and physical education should be integral parts of the curriculum. A century later, John Comenius (1592-1670) suggested that all children should attend school, and he recommended an integrated hands-on curriculum. He believed that children should learn how to speak by speaking, how to write by writing, and to reason by reasoning. Later educators such as Dewey, Montessori, and Piaget have echoed Comenius’s call for active learning. Philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827) also made important contributions to ECE. Rousseau thought that educational decisions should be made on the basis of the child’s nature. Pestalozzi wanted to rid the schools of cruel punishment and remote learning. He believed in having children participate in real, meaningful activities and in grouping children of various ages so that the older ones could help the younger ones.

Other people that had great influence in ECE includes John Locke (1632-1704), Friedrich Froebel (1782-1858), Robert Owen (1771-1858), Patty Smith Hill (1868-1946), Lucy Sprague Mitchell(1878-1967), Lev Vygotsky(1896-1934),  Abraham Maslow(1908-1970), Erik Erikson(1902-1994), and Urie Bronfenbrenner(1917-2005).

Over time, new ways of thinking about children have evolved from the research of leading educators such as G. Stanley Hall, J. McVicker Hunt, Benjamin Bloom, and Jerome Bruner. The results of their research and child study have certainly had an impact on thinking in the field of ECE.

Beyond establishing schools for its profit, can Nigeria also produce thinkers and researchers in ECE?

EARLY CHILHOOD PROFESSIONAL

An EC professional is a person who works with, cares for, and teaches children between birth and age eight. He/she will work with parents, grandparent, other family members, and the community to bring high quality education and services to all children.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS OF ECE

Four professional development goals form the foundation of ECE:

  • Content knowledge,
  •  pedagogical knowledge
  • Professional knowledge
  •  Professional dispositions.

Content Knowledge

This covers a wide range of disciplines and topics. It includes child development and the academic disciplines. It is drawn from a number of sources including the child development standard of various countries. There is no universal standard. Even UNICEF has not set one. Every sovereign country does for her Nation. In content knowledge, the knowledge of the child’s development is fundamental for all EC educators regardless of their roles or the ages of the children they teach. It enables the educator to confidently implement DAP (to be discussed later). Another important area of content knowledge is content area. Content area is crucial to children’s learning, it form the basis for children’s learning to read, write, do mathematics and science, and be creative. ECE content area includes;

  • Language and literacy
  • The Arts: music, creative movement, dance, drama and art
  • Mathematics
  • Physical activity and physical education
  • Geography
  • History
  • Economics
  • Social relations/civics

Pedagogical Knowledge and skills

This goal basically includes concepts, theories, research, and approaches to effective teaching that enable an ECE teacher to develop and implement meaningful learning experiences that promote learning for all children. Effective pedagogical approaches include the following;

  • Using developmentally appropriate practice(DAP)
  • Selecting and using bias-free and culturally appropriate learning materials
  • Promoting children’s oral language and communication
  • Supporting child-initiated learning
  • Scaffolding learning
  • Guiding children’s learning and behaviour
  • Promoting responsive relationships
  • Creating and maintaining learning environments both indoors and outdoors
  • Establishing and using learning centers
  • Using play as a foundation for children’s learning
  • Using technology as a teaching and learning tool

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Clarification on some terms used so far- DAP and DCAP

Developmentally Appropriate Approaches (DAP): This means basing teaching on how children grow and develop and DAP is the recommended teaching practice of ECE profession. Child development provides the foundation for conducting DAP practices which are essential curricula and instructional approaches on which all ECE professionals must ground their work with young people.

Developmentally and Culturally Appropriate Practice (DCAP): This includes being sensitive to and responding to children’s cultural and ethnic backgrounds and needs. For instance, Nigeria is a nation of diverse people and this diversity will continue. Children in EC programs represent this diversity. When children enter school and programs, they do not leave their uniqueness, gender, culture, socio-economic status, and race at the door, they bring themselves and their background to EC programs.

Anti-Bias Curriculum: Conducting a DCAP program also means that a teacher include in his curriculum activities and materials that help challenge and change all biases on any kind that seek to diminish and portray as inferior all children based on their gender, race, culture, disability, language, or socioeconomic status. This can be accomplished by implementing an anti-bias’ curriculum. An anti-bias curriculum embraces an educational philosophy as well as specific techniques and contents. It is value based. Differences are good; oppressive ideas and behaviours are not. It sets up a creative tension between respecting differences and not accepting unfair belief and acts. It asks teachers and children to confront troublesome issues rather than covering them up. An anti-bias perspective is integral to all aspects of daily classroom life.

Critical developmental identity tasks of EC include developing an individual and a cultural identity. Individual Identity involves learning about the self – who am I? While cultural identity involves learning about the culture of which the child is a part and how she relates to and functions in that culture.

Professional Knowledge

Being a professional means that an individual know about and engage in ethical practice, engage in continuous life-long learning and professional development. This is achieved through collaboration with colleagues, parents, families, and community partners, engage in reflective practice, and advocate on behalf of children, families, and the profession. These competencies represent the heart and soul of professional practice. A professional therefore should be committed to increasing his knowledge in these areas throughout his career.

Ethical dilemma is a situation an individual encounters in the workplace for which there is more than one possible solution, each carrying a strong moral justification. A dilemma requires a person (EC teacher) to choose between two alternatives; each has some benefits but also some costs.

NAEYC code of Ethical conduct is a valuable guide and resource. It is to inform, not prescribe, answers in tough decisions that teachers and other EC professionals must make as they work with children and families. The strategy inherent in the code is to promote the application of core values, ideals, and principles to guide decision making.

Reflective practice is the active process of thinking before teaching, during teaching, and after teaching in order to make decisions about how to plan, assess, and teach. This to say reflective practice involves three steps: before          during          after.

Before

  • What will I teach?
  • How will I teach?
  • What resources will I need?
  •  What background knowledge do my students have?

During

  • Have I used students’ prior knowledge to gain their interest and give them a focus?
  • Am I presenting the lesson well?
  • Am I constantly evaluating my students?
  • Am I responding to the immediate needs of my students?
  • Am I introducing new concepts and information?
  • Am I motivating and challenging my students to pursue their own learning and investigation of the topic/subject and theme?

After

  • Have I been self-reflective and thoughtful about my teaching?
  • Did I assess the success of my students?
  • How will I report students’ achievement to parents?
  • How will I provide feedback to my students?
  • What will I do differently the next time I teach a similar lesson?

One can be a complete EC professional without multicultural dimension. As he becomes more cultural aware, he can increase his capacity for caring and understanding-and he and his students will learn and grow together.

Advocacy is the act of engaging in strategies designed to improve the circumstances of children and families. Advocates move beyond their day-to-day professional responsibilities and work collaboratively to help others. Some of the issues that are in need of strong advocates as far as ECE is concerned include quality program, abuse and neglect prevention, poverty, good housing, and health.  This is to say to change policies and procedures that negatively affect children, EC professionals must be actively engaged.

The following are some of the ways EC professionals can practice advocacy for children and families.

  • Join an EC professional organization such as save the children
  • Become familiar with organization that advocate for children and families
  • Participate in community activities that support children and families
  • Investigate the issues that face children and families today
  • Talk to others about the issues that face children and families
  • Seek opportunities to share your knowledge of young children
  • Identify leaders in a position to make desired changes
  • Enlist the support of others
  • Be persistent

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Professional dispositions

This are essentially the values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviours toward students, families, colleagues, and communities and affect student learning, motivation, and development as well as the educator’s own professional growth. Dispositions are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, and responsibility. For the EC professional, caring is the most important disposition. Embedded in professional disposition is the philosophy of Education, which is a set of beliefs about how children develop and learn and what and how they should be taught. An individual’s philosophy of education is based in part on his or her philosophy of life. A spot on philosophy of education can be developed using this guidelines:

Read         Reflect          Discuss         Write          Evaluate

Read. The ECE professional read broadly in journals, textbooks, online and other professional literature to get ideas and points of view

Reflect. As a professional reads, adequate notes are made and reflected upon.

Discuss. Success in all careers is achieved through collaboration; necessary discussions should be had with successful teachers and other educators to share in their philosophies and practice.

Write. A proving for scholarship is in writing, though relative. As soon as one has taught about his philosophy, it should be drafted and have other people read it. Sharing written draft helps clarify one’s ideas and redefine thoughts, since the individual’s philosophy have to be comprehensive.

Evaluate. Evaluation should be done using factors as; other people’s understanding, accuracy, relationship to teaching, practicality, consistency and benefits.

Issues influencing the practice of ECE

Many contemporary social issues affect decisions families and EC professionals make about the education and care of young children. Child abuse, childhood diseases, such as asthma and lead poisoning, poverty, low quality care and education, inequality of programs and services, and society’s inability to meet the needs of children are perennial sources of controversy and concern to which EC professionals seek solutions. Another major problem is changing families as a result of social trends. Families of the 21st century are changing in three ways; structure, roles, and responsibilities.

Wellness and healthy living

One major goal of all EC programs is to provide for the safety and well-being of children. A second goal is to help parents and other family members provide for the well-being of themselves and their children. The three leading childhood diseases include; asthma, lead poisoning, and obesity.

Socioeconomic status (SES) and children development

SES consists of three broad but interrelated measures

  • Parents’ education level
  • Parents’ employment status
  • Family income

These three measures, acting individually as an integrated whole influences;

How children are reared

  • Family-child interactions
  • Home environment and the extent to which they do or do not support language development and learning
  • Kind and amount of discipline used, and
  • Kind and extent of future plans involving children’s education and employment

Brain research

Brain research affirms what good EC educators have always known. Good parental care, warm and loving attachments and positive age-appropriate stimulation from birth onward make a tremendous difference in children’s cognitive development for a lifetime. EC professionals hold the following beliefs about young children, based on brain research;

  • The most rapid period of intellectual growth occurs before age five
  • Children are not born with fixed intelligence
  • Children reared in homes that are not intellectually stimulating might lag intellectually behind their counterparts reared in more advantaged environment
  • Good parental care, warm and loving attachments, positive age-appropriate stimulation from birth onward make a difference in children’s overall development for a lifetime
  • Positive interactions with caring adults stimulate children’s brain in terms of establishing new synaptic connections and strengthening existing ones
  • Early experiences during critical/sensitive periods and windows of opportunity are so powerful that they can completely change the way children develop.

Violence

Violence seems to pervade our society. From television to video games to domestic violence, children are exposed to high doses of undesirable behaviour. Some activities to prevent/reduce children violence:

  • Show children photographs and have them identify various emotions, discuss appropriate responses of these emotions
  • Have children role play how to respond appropriately to various emotions

Bullying

Bullying includes  teasing, slapping, hitting, pushing, unwanted touching, taking personal belongings, name calling, and making sexual comments and insults about looks, behaviour, and culture. Programs to prevent and curb bullying are another examples of how educators are combating the effects of violence on children.

Careers in ECE

Plethora of job exists for the ECE professional with advance and minimum education and training include but not limited to:

  • Early childhood teacher in public and private schools
  • Child care teacher and teaching assistant
  • Child care center director/coordinator
  • Church nursery attendant
  • Nanny
  • Family child care home provider
  • Special education teacher
  • Researcher/writer
  • Child guidance specialist
  • Child development specialist
  • Instructor/curriculum specialist/developer
  • Occupational child care instructor
  • Social worker
  • Child advocate/lobbyist
  • Child life specialist in a hospital
  • Paediatric therapist
  • Author and illustrator of children books
  • Children’s policy specialist
  • Speech and hearing pathologist
  • Adoption specialist
  • Early childhood consultant
  • Child psychologist
  • Family mediator
  • Producer of children’s television shows and commercials
  • Playground helper
  • Psycometrist
  • Dietitian
  • Entertainer/musician/song writer for children
  • Pedodontist (children)
  • Children’s party caterer
  • Children Liberian
  • Counselor
  • Respite caregiver
  • Children’s storyteller, Art instructor, or puppeteer, etc

About the author

Elvis Boniface

Ordained Evangelist of the Education Ministry. Learning is my lifestyle, credo and religion. On a mission to disrupt and redirect Africa's Education conversation using Technology and Media. We can do it. Open to discuss any Education initiative and idea. #peace

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