8.7 Early Childhood Education

Providing universal preschool has become an important lobbying point for federal, state, and local leaders throughout our country. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama called upon congress to provide high quality preschool for all children. He continued to support universal preschool in his legislative agenda, and in December 2014 the President convened state and local policymakers for the White House Summit on Early Education (White House Press Secretary, 2014).

However, universal preschool covering all four-year olds in the country would require significant funding. Further, how effective preschools are in preparing children for elementary school, and what constitutes high quality early childhood education have been debated. To set criteria for designation as a high quality preschool, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) identifies 10 standards (NAEYC, 2016). These include:

  • Positive relationships among all children and adults are promoted.

  • A curriculum that supports learning and development in social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive areas.

  • Teaching approaches that are developmentally, culturally and linguistically appropriate.

  • Assessment of children’s progress to provide information on learning and development.

  • The health and nutrition of children are promoted, while they are protected from illness and injury.

  • Teachers possess the educational qualifications, knowledge, and commitment to promote children’s learning.

  • Collaborative relationships with families are established and maintained.

  • Relationships with agencies and institutions in the children’s communities are established to support the program’s goals.

  • The indoor and outdoor physical environments are safe and well-maintained.

  • Leadership and management personnel are well qualified, effective, and maintain licensure status with the applicable state agency.

Parents should review preschool programs using the NAEYC criteria as a guide and template for asking questions that will assist them in choosing the best program for their child.

Children making crafts at preschool.^[[Image](https://www.flickr.com/photos/seattlecitycouncil/10877289634) by [Seattle City Council](https://www.flickr.com/photos/seattlecitycouncil/) is in the public domain]

Figure 8.15: Children making crafts at preschool.322

Selecting the right preschool is also difficult because there are so many types of preschools available. Zachry (2013) identified Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, High Scope, Creative Curriculum and Bank Street as types of early childhood education programs that focus on children learning through discovery. Teachers act as facilitators of children’s learning and development and create activities based on the child’s developmental level. Here is a table summarizes characteristics of each type of program.

Table 8.3: Types of Early Childhood Education Programs323
Program Founder Characteristics
Montessori Dr. Maria Montessori Refers to children’s activity as work (not play); children are given long periods of time to work
Montessori Dr. Maria Montessori Focus on individual learning
Montessori Dr. Maria Montessori Features child-sized furniture and defined work areas
Montessori Dr. Maria Montessori Materials are carefully chosen and introduced to children by teacher
Montessori Dr. Maria Montessori Features mixed-aged grouping
Montessori Dr. Maria Montessori Teachers should be certified
Waldorf Rudolf Steiner Focus on whole child
Waldorf Rudolf Steiner Features connections to nature, sensory learning, and imagination
Waldorf Rudolf Steiner Provides large blocks of time for play
Waldorf Rudolf Steiner Delay formal academic instruction
Waldorf Rudolf Steiner Environment protects children from negative influences
Waldorf Rudolf Steiner Relationships are important so groupings last for several years (looping)
Waldorf Rudolf Steiner Teachers should be certified
Reggio Emilia Loris Malaguzzi Teachers and children co-construct the curriculum
Reggio Emilia Loris Malaguzzi Teachers are researchers
Reggio Emilia Loris Malaguzzi Environment is the third teacher and features beauty and order
Reggio Emilia Loris Malaguzzi Children’s learning is documented through the multiple methods (100 languages of children)
Reggio Emilia Loris Malaguzzi Have atelier (art studio) with an atelierista (artist) to instruct children
Reggio Emilia Loris Malaguzzi Believe children are competent and capable
Reggio Emilia Loris Malaguzzi Children stay together for 3 years
Reggio Emilia Loris Malaguzzi Parents partner with teachers
Reggio Emilia Loris Malaguzzi Community is extension of school
High Scope David Weikart Features defined learning areas
High Scope David Weikart Has 8 content areas with 58 key developmental indicators
High Scope David Weikart Consistency of daily routine is important
High Scope David Weikart Uses plan-do-review sequence in which they make a plan, act on it, and then reflect on the results
High Scope David Weikart Teachers are partners and use the Child Observation Record (COR) to help assess children and plan curriculum
High Scope David Weikart Utilizes 6 step process to teach children conflict resolution
Bank Street Lucy Sprague Mitchell Also referred to as the Developmental-Interactionist Approach
Bank Street Lucy Sprague Mitchell Environment is arranged into learning centers
Bank Street Lucy Sprague Mitchell Focus on hands-on experience with long periods of time given
Bank Street Lucy Sprague Mitchell Teacher uses questions to further children’s exploration
Bank Street Lucy Sprague Mitchell Blocks are primary material in the classroom
Bank Street Lucy Sprague Mitchell Field trips are frequently used
Creative Curriculum Diane Trister Dodge Focus on children’s play and self-selected activities
Creative Curriculum Diane Trister Dodge Environment is arranged into learning areas
Creative Curriculum Diane Trister Dodge Large blocks of time are given for self-selected play
Creative Curriculum Diane Trister Dodge Uses projects as basis for curriculum
Creative Curriculum Diane Trister Dodge Is researched based and includes assessment system

Head Start

For children who live in poverty, Head Start has been providing preschool education since 1965 when it was begun by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his war on poverty. It currently serves nearly one million children and annually costs approximately 7.5 billion dollars (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2015). However, concerns about the effectiveness of Head Start have been ongoing since the program began. Armor (2015) reviewed existing research on Head Start and found there were no lasting gains, and the average child in Head Start had not learned more than children who did not receive preschool education.

A recent report dated July 2015 evaluating the effectiveness of Head Start comes from the What Works Clearinghouse. The What Works Clearinghouse identifies research that provides reliable evidence of the effectiveness of programs and practices in education, and is managed by the Institute of Education Services for the United States Department of Education. After reviewing 90 studies on the effectiveness of Head Start, only one study was deemed scientifically acceptable and this study showed disappointing results (Barshay, 2015). This study showed that 3- and 4-year-old children in Head Start received “potentially positive effects” on general reading achievement, but no noticeable effects on math achievement and social-emotional development.

Nonexperimental designs are a significant problem in determining the effectiveness of Head Start programs because a control group is needed to show group differences that would demonstrate educational benefits. Because of ethical reasons, low income children are usually provided with some type of pre-school programming in an alternative setting. Additionally, Head Start programs are different depending on the location, and these differences include the length of the day or qualification of the teachers. Lastly, testing young children is difficult and strongly dependent on their language skills and comfort level with an evaluator (Barshay, 2015).324

  1. Image by Seattle City Council is in the public domain↩︎

  2. Gordon, A. M., & Browne, K. W. (2016). Beginning essentials in early childhood education. (3rd ed.). Cengage: Boston.↩︎

  3. Lifespan Development: A Psychological Perspective by Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0↩︎