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Early childhood education
Early childhood education is a branch of educational theory which relates to the teaching of young children up until the age of about eight, with a particular focus on education, notable in the period before the start of compulsory education .
Much of the first two years of a child's life is spent in the creation of a child's first "sense of self"; most children are able to differentiate between themselves and others by their second year. This is a crucial part of the child's ability to determine how they should function in relation to other people. Early care must emphasize links to family, home culture, and home language by uniquely caring for each child.[according to whom?]
Early childhood education focuses on children's learning through play, based on the research and philosophy of Jean Piaget. This belief is centered on the "power of play". It has been thought that children learn more efficiently and gain more knowledge through play-based activities such as dramatic play, art, and social games. This theory plays stems children's natural curiosity and tendencies to "make believe", mixing in educational lessons.
Researchers and early childhood educators both view the parents as an integral part of the early childhood education process. Often educators refer to parents as the child's "first and best teacher".
The Developmental Interaction Approach is based on the theories of Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, John Dewey, and Lucy Sprague Mitchell. The approach aims to involve children in acquiring competence via learning through discovery.
There are five developmental domains of childhood development:
Modern theory and practice of early childhood education has been heavily influenced by both the socio-cultural learning theory of Lev Vygotsky and the constructivist theory of Jean Piaget. Both Vygotsky and Piaget’s theories influence contemporary educational practices.
The Russian psychologist Vygotsky proposed the socio-cultural learning theory which emphasized the impact of social and cultural experiences on individual thinking and the development of mental processes. Although Vygotsky’s socio-cultural learning theory was developed in the 1930s, his theoretical perspective is still discussed today as a means of improving and reforming educational practices.
Vygotsky argued that since cognition occurs within a social context, our social experiences shape our ways of thinking about and interpreting the world (Jaramillo 1996). Although the socio-cultural theory predated the constructivist movement, Vygotsky is commonly classified as a social constructivist. Social constructivists believe that an individual's cognitive system is a result of interaction in social groups and that learning cannot be separated from social life.
Vygotsky proposed that children learn through their interactions with more knowledgeable peers and adults. His concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) is defined as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers”. In simpler words, it is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what a learner can do with help. According to Vygotsky, “what is in the zone of proximal development today will be the [child’s] actual developmental level tomorrow”. This theory heavily influences contemporary early educational practices by increasing focus on material within the ZPD. Vygotsky proposed that children should be taught materials that employ mental processes within the ZPD.
The zone of proximal development encourages early childhood teachers to implement a technique Vygotsky referred to as “scaffolding.” Scaffolding is the term used when a more knowledgeable partner adjusts the amount and type of support offered to the child in order to fit the child’s learning needs over the course of the interaction. With the help of scaffolds from teachers and/or peers, a child can perform a more complex behavior within their ZPD that he/she would not be able to perform alone.
Unlike traditional teaching practices, Vygotsky advocated a bottom-up approach to teaching in which teachers facilitate, rather than direct, what and how students learn. His approach calls for teachers to incorporate students’ needs and interests while developing their curricula. He believed that every student should actively participate in the learning process. Students should not be passively receiving information from a teacher; rather, they should be involved in a reciprocal interaction with their classmates and educators.
Vygotsky’s socio-cultural learning theory has also proven especially important for the education of the mentally disabled. According to Vygotsky, “special education was the creation of what he called a ‘positive differential approach’; that is, the identification of a disabled child from a point of strength rather than disability”. Proactive initiatives should be taken to provide these children with the resources to fully develop their mental capacities. He believed that when mentally disabled children are not given the appropriate scaffolding, it is impossible for them to develop abstract thinking. Therefore, cognitively impaired students should be provided with specially trained teachers, a differentiated curriculum, and simply more time to learn to accommodate for their disability.
Vygotsky’s socio-cultural learning theory is as relevant today in regards to early childhood education as it was in the 1900s. His concepts of ZPD and scaffolding continue to influence educational practices.
In the 1970s and ‘80s many educators and educational psychologists began to take an interest in the applications of the work of Piaget. Although Piaget himself was primarily interested in a descriptive psychology of cognitive development, he also laid the groundwork for a constructivist theory of learning. Piaget believed that learning comes from within as the child constructs their own knowledge. He said that, “If logic itself is created rather than being inborn, it follows that the first task of education is to form reasoning.” Piaget altered the perspective of how a child learns – that a teacher does not just transmit knowledge, but observes and guides children in building their own knowledge.
According to Piaget’s theory, when young children encounter information that conflicts with their previously learned expectations, or schemas, they attempt to both accommodate and assimilate the new information. Through accommodation, a child attempts to adapt his/her mental schemas and representations in order to make them consistent with reality. Through assimilation, a child attempts to fit new information into their pre-existing schemas about reality. Through these two processes, young children learn by equilibrating their mental representations of reality with the reality they encounter.
By applying Piaget’s theories to school programs, children’s experiences become more hands-on and concrete as they explore the nature of things through trial and error. He believes that early childhood education includes encouraging exploration, manipulating objects and learning about the world through field trips. Piaget found that children who were allowed to make mistakes often learned from them and discovered new solutions. This theory posits that children build their own way of learning – paving the way for early childhood education.
Piaget’s concept of reflective abstraction has been particularly influential in mathematical education. Through reflective abstraction, children construct more advanced cognitive structures out of the simpler ones they already possess. This allows children to develop mathematical constructs that cannot be learned through equilibration alone. In Piagetian theory, children at first create empirical abstractions of objects based on their concrete experiences with those objects. Children then use reflective abstraction in order to create mental relationships between empirical abstractions. A child might have empirical abstraction of six marbles, but the number six that she uses to label the set of marbles is a reflective abstraction. Such a relationship has no existence in physical reality, and thus must be constructed by the child.
According to Piagetian theory, use of language and symbolic representation is preceded by the development of the corresponding mental representations. Research shows that this is the case with mathematical knowledge, as the level of reflective abstraction achieved by young children was found to limit the degree to which they could represent physical quantities with written numerals. According to the studies’ authors, the goal of education should be “to focus more on the mental relationships children make (i.e. their abstraction) because the meaning children can give to conventional symbols depends on their level of abstraction”  Traditional elementary school mathematics is taught as if math is social knowledge that can be transferred, but Piaget’s theory holds that logico-mathematical knowledge must be constructed by the child himself. Further studies found that children can invent their own procedures for the four arithmetical operations, without teaching any conventional rules.
In another study done by Campbell, second graders individually constructed ways to accomplish a difficult mathematics task, as per Piagetian theory. This demonstrated that children’s mathematical knowledge is always growing and that teachers need to work with children to improve their thought processes. In this way, learning is something that the child owns and the child is encouraged to independently solve more difficult problems in the future.
Piaget’s Constructivist Theory also implies that computers are a great educational tool for young children when used to support the design and construction of projects. Researchers McCarrick and Xiaoming found that computer play is consistent with this theory. However, Plowman and Stephen found that the effectiveness of computers is limited in the preschool environment; their results indicate that computers are only effective when directed by the teacher. This suggests that, according to the Constructivist Theory, the role of preschool teachers is critical in successfully implementing computers as a learning tool in the classroom.
These studies are a few examples of the implications of Piaget’s Constructivist Theory on early childhood education. Both Piaget and Vygotsky’s theory have been significant in influencing early childhood education practices – how educators should teach, how they can affect children’s learning, and how they contribute to the cognitive development of the child. Despite the importance of these two theories, there is still debate on the implementation of these theories in the early childhood schooling system.
In Ypsilanti, Michigan, 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families who were randomly assigned to a group that did not receive preschool education were five times more likely to have become chronic lawbreakers by age 18 than those who did receive it.
The aforementioned study also found that low-income individuals who were enrolled in a quality preschool program earned on average, by age 40, $5500 per year more than those who were not. Furthermore, the study found that low-income people who were in preschool programs as a child are more likely to graduate from high school, own homes, and have longer marriages. Another study, The Abecedarian Project, shows that low-income children in quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education, or get into future trouble with the law.
Children who lack sufficient nurturing, nutrition, interaction with a parent or caregiver, and stimulus during this crucial period may be left with developmental deficits, as has been reported in Russian and Romanian orphanages. Children must receive attention and affection to develop in a healthy manner. There is a false belief that more hours of formal education for a very young child confers greater benefits than a balance between formal education and family time. A systematic, international review suggests that the benefits of early childhood education come from the experience of participation; more than 2.5 hours a day does not greatly add to child development outcomes, especially when it detracts from other experiences and family contact.
"Why Does Infant Attention Predict Adolescent Intelligence?" by Sigman, Cohen, and Beckwith. This study found that speaking often to children between the ages of 8 and 24 months of age could significantly improve intelligence later in life. It appears in volume 20 (1997) of the journal Infant Behavior and Development.
A report by Rose and Feldman, August 1997 edition of Child Development suggests that visual recognition skills and tactile-visual skills at ages 7 to 12 months are a significant indicator of later IQ scores.
Visual stimulus and response time as early as 3 months is an indicator of verbal and performance IQ at age 4 years: Dougherty and Haith of the University of Denver, "Infant Expectations and Reaction Time as Predictors of Childhood Speed of Processing and IQ", published in volume 33 (1997) of the journal Developmental Psychology.
Otitis media (a condition that affects hearing) significantly impacts the advancement of infants. "The Effect of Otitis Media with Effusion (ie., with fluid accumulation) on Infants' Detection of Sound" by Lynne Werner and Jeffrey Ward from the University of Washington, Infant Behavior and Development, 20 (2), 1997.
Robert Titzer, of Southeastern Louisiana University, reported on a longitudinal case study in which an infant who was exposed to an interactive video involving words was able to visually recognize more than 100 words by 12 months of age and more than 500 words by age 15 months.
In May 2007, Slate Magazine published an article discussing the results of a working paper by Nobel Prize winner James Heckman of the University of Chicago and Dimitriy Masterov of the University of Michigan about the social and economics benefits of nursery school for disadvantaged children, claiming that more investment in such children at an earlier age is needed to supplement the role of the family.
The reasons given include the importance of early years in cognitive development, the trouble many families have in providing adequate early-childhood nurturing, and the advantage such programs give students starting the next step in their education. The study considered a number of early childhood educational pilot programs for at risk children, similar to Head Start, but more intense, such as the Perry Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Over 40 years of the children's lives, participants showed greater literacy, higher grades, greater likelihood to graduate high school, higher post-high school employment rates, higher earnings, less need for welfare, committed less crime, and had lower rates of teen pregnancy. The rate of returns to the children was estimated to be 16 percent (about 3/4 of this is calculated from the decreased social cost due to lower crime and less prison spending).
The authors also propose that the return on investment declines with age. This study is noteworthy because it advocates spending as an economic investment in a society's future, rather than in the interest of justice.
The first World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education took place in Moscow from 27 to 29 September 2010, jointly organized by UNESCO and the city of Moscow. The overarching goals of the are to:
- Reaffirm ECCE as a right of all children and as the basis for development
- Take stock of the progress of Member States towards achieving the EFA Goal 1
- Identify binding constraints toward making the intended equitable expansion of access to quality ECCE services
- Establish, more concretely, benchmarks and targets for the EFA Goal 1 toward 2015 and beyond
- Identify key enablers that should facilitate Member States to reach the established targets
- Promote global exchange of good practices
According to UNESCO a preschool curriculum is one that delivers educational content through daily activities, tuition and furthers a child's physical, cognitive and social development. Generally, preschool curricula are only recognized by governments if they are based on academic research and reviewed by peers.
Preschool for Child Rights have pioneered into preschool curricular areas and is contributing into child rights through their preschool curriculum.
Note that in some countries/states, and especially in the United Kingdom an infant school caters for the earlier years of primary or elementary education, typically catering for children aged between four and seven years of age. These schools separate children into age groups, teaching the youngest in a separate building from the older pupils. Many believe that education at pre-school ages can significantly affect a person's ability to deal successfully with later life. Some studies supporting this point of view are detailed below.
It is very important for parents to stay engaged in their child's learning process, even if they are getting most of their education from a daycare, day home, school etc. The knowledge learned from a parent will be more cherished and remembered by a child then if any other person taught them, especially at an early age. Early childhood education is crucial to child development and should be entered into cautiously with someone you trust will help benefit your child.
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Early childhood education