As a parent, you want what's best for your child. You want them to be happy and successful in life. And one of the best ways to set them up for success is to invest in their education. That's why early childhood education is so important. It gives children a strong foundation on which to build their future.
The importance of early childhood education
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The importance of early childhood education is well established and reaches well beyond the preschool years.
Early childhood education helps children develop foundational skills that will be beneficial for life.
It gives them the building blocks necessary to become successful, creative thinkers.
Early childhood education also provides exposure to language and literacy development, helping to prepare children for academic success in school.
But it's not just about learning academic skills; it's also about providing a supportive environment that helps children grow intellectually and emotionally.
The importance of play in early childhood development
Play is essential to a child's growth and development. it is actually HOW they learn best.
It helps them build strong foundations in problem solving, communication, self-esteem, socialization, and creativity.
When a child plays, they explore their environment and learn important skills such as sharing, taking turns, negotiation, and cooperation. They also develop their conflict resolution abilities as well as their own personal interests.
Through play, children learn about themselves and the world around them – life lessons that will stay with them for years to come.
So when we talk about early childhood education PLAY should always be a huge part of the conversation.
What ages are considered “early childhood?”
Did you know that, “early childhood” is considered birth to eight years old. That's approximately 2nd or 3rd grade. Way beyond what many parents tend to consider “early childhood.”
This early childhood period of education is crucial for children.
I'd even go so far as to say more crucial than post-secondary education.
Why is this period of early childhood so important?
Early childhood education is so important because it sets the stage for a child's development and future success.
During this time, children are developing their language, social and emotional skills. They're also learning about their environment and how to interact with others.
It's during these early years that children begin to develop problem-solving skills, self-confidence, creativity and a positive self-image.
What they learn during this period of development will provide them with a foundation for the rest of their lives.
Why is early childhood education so important?
Education during these early years will help shape social, emotional, and physical health and develop intrinsic motivation for lifelong learning–not just learning to get a grade.
That's one of the most important aspect of early childhood learning is making sure we are providing opportunities for children to become active participants in their own learning process.
When it comes to early childhood education, the benefits are numerous and far reaching, but they all boil down to one thing: setting your child up for a successful future.
And we aren't just talking about academic or financial success. The educational that your child receives in early childhood (from YOU and from any childcare providers or schools) is the KEY having well adjusted, happy children who are thriving.
How early childhood education can help close the achievement gap.
Early childhood education can provide children in underprivileged communities with the building blocks of knowledge they need to succeed.
By equipping young students with foundational literacy and numeracy skills, early childhood education can help close the achievement gap between children who grow up with varying socio-economic backgrounds.
Through investments in quality teachers and engaging curriculums, educators can improve the educational journeys of students, setting them on better pathways towards long-term success.
Despite inevitable challenges along the way, early childhood education can be an invaluable tool for closing the achievement gap and giving every child a chance to reach their highest potential.
What are the best early childhood education philosophies?
The basis of any early childhood education philosophy should be to follow the child, to encourage their natural curiosity, to provide them with a variety of opportunities to connect with people, places, and things around them, and most of all to allow them to play freely.
As a former public school educator, I'm naturally drawn to learning about the best ways to educate children.
While I don't believe that one size fits all, I do feel that some specific philosophies focus on following the child, emphasizing natural development, prioritizing outdoor time, encouraging independence, and incorporating more sustainable materials into the classroom.
My top choices for early education philosophies are:
- Montessori: This philosophy emphasizes a hands-on approach to learning, with an emphasis on experiential and self-directed learning. Through structured activities that allow children to explore their environment. Montessori education focuses on sensitive periods that drive when and how children learn. Montessori tends to lend itself to developing very conscious and independent children.
- Reggio Emilia: This philosophy emphasizes that children should be actively involved in their learning process, and that the environment should support their natural curiosity and exploration. This type of education allows children to learn by manipulating materials at their own pace, with lots of freedom within boundaries and an emphasis on self-directed learning.
- Waldorf: Waldorf education is based on the idea of allowing children to develop organically through empathy and imagination, with an emphasis on creating a nurturing environment. Waldorf education focuses on connecting children to nature, allowing them to observe and learn from the natural world. It also encourages creative problem-solving by having students engage in activities that are based on rhythm, art, and music.
- Outdoor/Nature/Forest Schools: This type of education aims to connect children with nature, allowing them to learn through outdoor exploration. It emphasizes experiential learning, building relationships with the natural world, and fostering respect for our planet.
Many of these philosophies are not considered mainstream. And unfortunately, many families have been made to feel that traditional academics is best (and starting as young as possible.)
So they have become extremely focused on “school readiness” and feel the pressure to push their children in preschool (and sometimes earlier) to do work that is more often than not developmentally inappropriate.
Tips for parents on choosing an early childhood education program
Choosing an early childhood education program for your child can seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn't have to be.
There are a variety of options available, from homeschooling to private schools.
The key is to find one that best suits your child's individual needs and interests. It's important for parents to carefully consider their options and to ask plenty of questions when visiting schools or speaking with educators.
Take the time to ensure each program offers qualified teachers and competent staff, positive classroom environment, age-appropriate curriculum and activities tailored to your child's growth and development.
How to get involved in your child's early childhood education
As a parent, taking an active role in your child's early childhood education is a great way to support their development and future school success.
There are many ways you can get involved and make a meaningful contribution (and no it doesn't include flashcards!)
Here are 10 ways you can support early childhood learning at home
- Encourage a love of reading by providing books and magazines, or visiting the library together. Read together every day!
- Create an at-home “learning space” that encourages open-ended and purposeful play. A where your child can explore and discover through play. (Remember this is HOW they learn best!)
- Keep up with age-appropriate activities: coloring, puzzles, crafts, sports and outdoor games. Just make sure you do not feel like you have to lead the activities–that defeats the purpose constantly!
- Talk with your child and ask questions to help them develop language skills. Try to focus on HOW and WHY questions.
- Help foster creativity by providing art supplies, musical instruments, and boxes of random objects for exploration. Let them create with only the process in mind (so that means don't stress about a craft is exactly how it looks on Pinterest!).
- Have regular family meals where you can discuss the day's events. Involve them in the cooking, setting of the table, and cleaning up whenever possible.
- Make time for outdoor activities or visits to parks or other natural areas. Most children are only spending a few minutes a day outside playing, which is critical for development, so prioritize this as much as possible.
- Help your child develop a sense of responsibility by giving them responsibility! Things like chores and other tasks to help around the house. are OK and should be expected–children in early childhood love participating in practical life activities. Warning! Do NOT do everything for them (unless you always want to have to do everything for them). They are very capable beings!
- Reduce screen time. I know this is tough with all the availability of screens and lack of support in general for parents. Focus on using screen time intentionally instead of as a distraction or as your go-to. The more screen time children get, the more screen time they want (it can be quite addicting) so making sure you have firm boundaries and pay attention to the quality of the TV or apps they are on is key.
- Don't stress too much about “academics” or “making sure they are learning”! We know the biggest predictor of child's success is having a happy and healthy relationship with their parents. Being emotionally intelligent and building a positive relationship with your children is key.
Early childhood education is a critical time in a child’s development. By providing children with the opportunity to learn and grow through play, we can help them develop the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.