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Early Childhood Education (ECE) involves educational programs for children from birth to the age of eight. In ECE, adults other than parents and primary caregivers care for and teach children in early care centers.
ECE programs can be:
- Center-based (like child care centers or preschools) or
- In nonparental home-based settings
While center-based child care is more expensive and difficult to find, it also tends to be of higher quality than care in nonparental home-based arrangements.
Most children attend early care and education before starting school, so early childhood education provides great support to families with young children.
However, ECE is much more than providing care to your child while you work. High-quality early education programs can promote development and learning. Also, early childhood education improves a child’s readiness for kindergarten.
What Happens During Early Development?
During the early years, the brain is most flexible and develops quickly. Thus, early childhood is a critical stage for learning and reaching developmental milestones.
Early experiences set the grounds for a child’s cognitive, social-emotional, and language development that come with their physical growth.
How does the brain develop?
Research shows that brain networks grow through day-to-day experiences. More than a million neural links develop each second in the first five years of life. In other words, every new situation and interaction create new connections in a child’s brain.
The Importance of Early Relationships
What seems to matter the most in early learning and development is the interaction between a child and a friendly adult person.
A bond between a child and an adult promotes well-being. It supports healthy attachment, boosts resilience, and helps kids grow into healthy adults.
Caring parents, caregivers, and other adults who respond to their needs, help children develop and grow. That is, speaking, reading, singing, playing, and interacting with infants and toddlers is vital for healthy growth and happy childhood.
Early Childhood Educators: Working with Young Students
Young kids differ from older students because they have unique needs. One of the first challenges you may experience as an early childhood educator (ECE) is handling your students’ transition to daycare.
Separation from their parents often causes anxiety in kids. Hence, helping young students through this transition is one of the essential ECE’s tasks.
Furthermore, early childhood educators need to be creative and able to observe the world from the child’s perspective.
Questions to Ask Yourself
How do infants learn? What is the child’s preferred learning style? How to hold a preschooler’s attention? How to deal with toddlers fighting over toys? And maybe most importantly, how to make learning fun?
These are some of the questions that teachers need to answer to make ECE successful.
Learning in ECE Settings
Learning in an early education setting is very hands-on. ECE lessons involve a lot of storytelling, arts and crafts, and educational games. Your class’ daily activities should also involve:
- Sensory play
- Unstructured play
- Nature walks
- Indoor and outdoor gross motor activities
You should also engage young learners in sensory play, rhymes, unstructured play, indoor and outdoor gross motor activities.
Learning through Play
Free play is an essential part of ECE, as kids learn best through play and exploration.
Early childhood education encourages free play and hands-on experiences, hence creating positive learning settings.
Young children feel motivated to learn when they engage in activities such as:
- Playing games with peers
- Reading books
- Singing songs and rhymes
- Playing outside
- Engaging in arts and crafts
- Exploring sensory activities
- Going for nature walks
High-quality early childhood education recognizes and responds to individual needs and interests, providing learning opportunities in line with those interests.
Developmental Benefits of Free Play
Independent play develops imagination, language, and literacy. It helps children express feelings, practice emotional control, and build empathy. Also, free play teaches kids how to work through conflicts and develop relationships.
Moreover, free play improves the child’s cognitive skills because it encourages them to make connections and build upon existing knowledge.
Play promotes problem-solving and helps children understand cause and effect. It teaches them to anticipate and predict outcomes and practice hand-eye coordination.
Also, sensory play allows young children to engage their senses as they play. So, sensory play is an important educational tool at an early age since kids learn about the world by using their seeing, hearing, doing, and touching.
What Does Sensory Play Involve?
Sensory play includes a variety of activities that stir senses and promote creativity and imagination. It relies on children’s natural learning styles, helping them focus better and remember what they learned more successfully.
Exploring the world through sensory play is a great way to boost curiosity and teach toddlers problem-solving.
Sensory activities also help kids master fine motor skills, promote social and emotional development, and pep up self-esteem.
What is more, the sensory play has a calming effect, helping children relax when they feel upset, anxious, or frustrated.
Activities such as clay modeling or finger painting improve brain plasticity and flexibility, essential for completing more complex tasks.
How Early Childhood Care Helps Early Development?
Studies prove the link between ECE and cognitive and social-emotional development during the preschool years.
Early childhood care benefits every aspect of a child’s development. In addition, it is a great way to prepare the child for school.
Early childhood programs offer the child the opportunity to learn through play. Besides, ECE enables the child to reach the developmental milestones in a nurturing environment. High-quality ECE involves a combination of the following positive factors:
- Small classes
- High adult-to-child ratios
- Social skills promotion
- Encouraging independence
- A language-rich environment
- Opportunities for play and exploration in a safe environment
- Cognitive stimulation
- A responsive interaction between early childhood educators and kids
- Instructional scaffolding (teaching method teaching that relies on an adult’s supportive role in children’s learning)
ECE programs provide opportunities for play and rest, health and safety, nutrition, and respect for diversity. It promotes the development of cognitive, language, social, and motor skills through play.
The Benefits of High Adult-to-Child Ratios
High adult-to-child ratios in an early childhood center setting mean that one caregiver has a meaningful relationship with a maximum of three or four children.
Some authors believe that this model is rewarding for both a teacher and a child. On the one hand, it allows teachers to have deep relationships with children in their care. On the other, it enables children to form relationships with adults who care for them.
Early childhood education offers a range of benefits to children and their families. Young children learn best when they play, engage with peers, and form caring relationships with their caregivers.
Early childcare environments in which kids don’t feel pressured to learn can improve cognitive skills, promote social skills development, and build a strong foundation for lifelong learning.