Understanding Early Childhood Education

By Maxine Wagner

The care of and formal training of a young child by other individuals other than family members or in settings located outside of their home is referred to as early childhood education. It is usually defined or described as that period in their lives that occurs before the normal schooling age. In most countries, it is defined as the time when the child has reached the age of 5. However, the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children defines "early childhood as prior to 8 years of age.

During the early years of a child's life, there needs are considerably different compared to older, school-aged children. This is due primarily to the fact that the early childhood years witness the most significant amount of development and growth and when the brain is rapidly developing as well. It is that period in their lives when moral foundations, self-esteem, talking, visions of the world, and walking, are established.

Additionally, these early years are also critical to intelligence, personality, and social behavior development. Brain development research studies have revealed the importance of critical mental, physical and social capabilities. If these specific fundamental abilities are not established well from the start of their development, and should there be any neurological damage, the learning potential of the child could be affected adversely. It follows then that early childhood has its own specific issues and practices to deal with.

For the purposes of this content, we are establishing that the age of early childhood is extended to the age of 8. This provides us with an opportunity to reinforce our views of the continuum of childhood development. It also assists us in the interaction that occurs between the preschool and school years. Therefore, the concept of early childhood education calls for including early childhood years and the first two to three primary education grades. These are oftentimes referred to as the key "survival" grades.

Early childhood education is also based on what is oftentimes called the five interrelated developmental domains of the child. They are referred to by using the acronym known as the SPICE of life as follows:

  • Social - refers to the ability to cooperate and share, create long-term relationships, form attachments, or play with others
  • Physical - the development of fine or small and gross or large motor skills
  • Intellectual - the process wherein the child learns how to make sense of the world surrounding them
  • Creative - refers to special abilities resulting in the creation of specific talents such as art, music, reading, singing, and writing
  • Emotional - coping with and understanding feelings while at the same time developing self-awareness and self-confidence

In closing, early childhood education also plays a critical role in specific psychosocial aspects including cognitive, emotional, and social development. The four stages of cognitive development include the sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operations, and formal operations stages. These four stages span from infancy through age 12 and beyond.

For the latest videos and training information on child development as well as books and curricula on Autism please visit childdevelopmentmedia.com.

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