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The education of the young mind is an important step in readying the child for future learning

experiences. The evolution of early childhood education has transformed how adults and
parents view the importance of offering stimulating and exciting opportunities to the very young.
Early childhood education offers toddlers learning experiences that benefit them throughout
their educational career.


According to Pre-K Now, the concept of early childhood education started with a European
mother in the early 1800s that educated children outside of their homes. The idea came to
America during the Industrial Revolution with infant schools set up in churches, factories, and
private homes to care for the young while parents were working. The state of Wisconsin created
constitutional amendments to include committees dedicated to free education of children aged
four to twenty in 1848 and then later, in 1873, started the first four year old kindergarten

As time progressed, other states began to follow Wisconsins lead in the area of early childhood
education with preschools, day care centers, and nursery programs starting across the country.
In 1926, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) was established
dedicated to improving the well-being of all young children and focusing on the quality of
education and developmental services offered to children from birth to the age of eight.

Head Start, founded in 1965 as a program through the United States Department of Health and
Human Services, was originally founded to ready low-income children over the summer months
for upcoming kindergarten. Over the years, Head Start has become a respected preschool aged
program found in many communities working with children of all backgrounds and abilities.


The concept of educating young children within the family has been happening for many, many
years, but the evolution of early childhood education within an outside setting has many different
theories and facets. The studies conducted by Jean Piaget along with the work he did with
children, paved the way for educators to create different styles of teaching to use within
programs. Many of these theories of teaching are used in preschools around the country. They

The Montessori Method: Maria Montessori was the first woman in Italy to receive a
medical degree with areas of study in psychiatry, education and anthropology. Her belief was
that every child was born with potential and that children should be allowed to be free to explore
and play within their environment. In the early 1900s, Montessori visited the United States to
share her unique style of teaching. The main focus is to always be attentive to the child and
follow the child in the direction they chose to go when learning. The Montessori Method is
practiced within many preschools around the country.

Reggio Emilia Approach: Begun in Italy after World War II in the city of Reggio Emilia,
this preschool teaching style is based on childrens symbolic language and the context of
project-oriented curriculum. With the Reggio Emilia approach, community is a large part of the
educational process and with opportunities for educational experiences for teachers to maintain
their abilities and to enhance and dedicate themselves as educators to the development of the
young child. The environment of the educational setting is also considered to be an important
aspect of the childs development and often considered as the third teacher. Along with
Piagets constructivist thought, the Reggio Emilia Approach, the community as well as teachers
believe the child to be interested in learning and experimenting through inner motivation,
promoting educated and productive future adults.

Play-Based Learning: The concept of play-based learning is exactly what it sounds like,
playing to learn. Many educators have helped pave the way to understanding the wonders of
allowing children to learn through their play. Bev Bos, both an educator and writer, has been
sharing her ideas and concepts through books and lectures for over 40 years. Her suggestions
of teaching with a hands off style encourages teachers to let children lead themselves through
problem solving and discovery with minimal intervention, and to learn through play.

Direct Instruction: Siegried Engelmann and Wesley Becker coined this teaching
concept in the 1960s. The goal is for children to be directed through their development
with teachers leading activities directed toward specific learning. Often drilling methods are used
as well as rote learning. Other characteristics of direct instruction are fast-paced learning
activities, active involvement between teachers and children, and positive reinforcement offered
often and mistakes corrected immediately.

Early childhood education is an important step in educating children and offering stimulating
opportunities for exploring and learning.

Early childhood educationthe care and instruction of young children outside of the home
has become a downward extension of schooling. It is now the first rung on the educational
ladder. In many respects, however, this most recent addition to the pedagogical hierarchy is
quite different from its elementary and secondary predecessors.
Grounded in Philosophy

The early childhood curriculum is the most holistic and least differentiated at any level of
education. It is also the most solidly grounded in philosophy, in clearly articulated methodology,
and in theory and research. Those who contributed to the discipline of early childhood education
came from occupations and professions outside the academic domain. What they had in
common was an understanding of children. And that is what makes early childhood education
unique; it starts with the child and not with the subject matter.

Education starts with the child and not with the subject matter.

The philosophical foundations of early childhood education were provided by John Amos
Comenius, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Its curriculum and methodology were
created by the likes of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Maria Montessori, and
Rudolf Steiner. Most recently, it was scientifically grounded by the research and theories of
Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, and Erik Erikson. While there are differences in the approaches of
these progenitors of early childhood education, they are overshadowed by one common
principle: that early childhood curriculum and practice must be adapted to the maturing needs,
abilities, and interests of the child.

This was the principle embodied in the Kindergarten Program, developed by Friedrich
Froebel (1782-1852) and the first early childhood program to be widely adopted in both Europe
and abroad. The kindergarten movement was propelled by the industrial revolution and the
introduction of women into the factory labor force. Later, Maria Montessoris (1870-1952) early
childhood program was also widely adopted both in Europe and abroad. But it was not until after
WWII that early childhood education came to be seen as an important first step on the
educational ladder.

Early childhood curriculum must constantly adapt to the maturing needs of the child.

The History of Early Childhood Education in the United States

In America, the Head Start Program, launched in the 1960s for low-income children, had an
unintended consequence. Although it was very effective, the title gave parents the impression
that education was a race, and that the earlier you start, the earlier and better you finish.
Middle-income parents wanted their preschoolers to have a head start as well. This gave added
emphasis to the importance of early childhood education as the answer to improving the
educational system.
As a consequence, kindergarten, once a half-day affair required by only 40 percent of US
states, has become largely a full-day affair required nationwide. Academics, including math and
reading curricula, testing and grades, are now the norm in many schools. Programs for younger
children have expanded as well. Today, some 80 percent of children under the age of six spend
part or full time in non-parental child care settings. Having your child cared for outside of the
home, once looked down upon as an abrogation of a mothers maternal instinct, is now a
socially accepted practice. Indeed, those parents who choose not to put their children in out-of-
home settings are the ones perceived as insufficiently concerned with their childs welfare.

Young children now spend the majority of their waking hours in a child-care setting.

With the rapid expansion and acceptance of early childhood programs, the basic principle of
early childhood education, supported by an overwhelming amount of contemporary research
and classroom experience, is dismissed as irrelevant. Instead, we have had a politically and
commercially driven effort to make early childhood education the new first grade. A play-based
curriculum is best suited to meet the emerging needs, abilities, and interests of young children.

We have come too far from where early education began: with the child.

A play-based curriculum best meets the needs of young children.

This article appears as Chapter 1 in The Wisdom of Play.

is currently Professor Emeritus of Child Development at Tufts University. He is a consultant to

many organizations and lectures both at home and abroad. Elkind has over 500 publications,
including articles and several well-known books: The Hurried Child, All Grown Up and No Place
to Go, Miseducation,The Power of Play and most recently, Giants in the Nursery.

Acquirneta McNair commented on October 19, 2015

I agree that the Early Childhood curriculum is the most holistic and the least differentiated at any
level of educated. I come from an occupation outside the academic domain. In my profession, I
was a Social Worker and Pastoral Care Counselor who has an understanding of children. Early
childhood starts with the children. Their direct need as it pertains to early childhood education
governs the order of the curriculum. The philosophical foundation of early childhood in theory
was sciencially researched by Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson primary. In
conclusion of the research the methodology must support the need, abilities, and interest of the
child. After WWII Early Head Start became pertinent and the consequence of a half of day
program grew into a full day program across the nation. This promotes the enrichment
investment educators are committing to as it pertains to the nurturing efforts toward proficient

Versia Harris commented on September 03, 2015

It did me a world of good to read again the works of early educators. My favorite is Maria
Montessori, (1870-1952) a "brilliant woman" with a great contribution to poor and sick children.

Nichole Peterson commented on September 02, 2015

I love that the author brings out the history of child care which gives me a starting point for it all.
To know that his research continued based upon knowing the facts of these great founders is
quite interesting. True knowledge for me has always been putting myself in the other person's
place. Looking at something from another perspective: to be a "child" again.

Raquel Concepcion commented on August 30, 2015

I really appreciated Dr. Elkind's reflection and I agree with everything that he wrote. It is very
important to understand the children by observation and interaction because the early childhood
curriculum and practice must be adapted to the maturing needs, abilities, and interests of the
child. It is also important that we model and lead by example. I love working with children and
feel we as leaders, counselors, and teachers can make positive impacts on their lives.

Pamela Hopper commented on August 27, 2015

This was a great source information about EDC. I think that the Head Start was a great idea. I
think that it should not have such a scale set as to where some are on the border line to be able
to have this source of child care. I love working with children, you really have to have patience
and a great love for this type of job.

Jessica McQuillen commented on March 22, 2015

I really appreciated Dr. Elkind's reflection on how unique the Early Childhood Curriculum is to
other curricula. The idea that it is based on the "child" and not the "subject matter", really
resonated with me because as I watch children, how they play and interact with one another, I
learn so much about what they are thinking, what motivates them and how I might encourage
their growth, based on their individual interests. I would hate to lose sight of the idea that the
child is capable of leading his or her own learning with more stringent top-down approaches to
learning, where the teacher is the expert. I still seem to see this kind of teaching, even in the
face of all that we know about emergent learning and Developmentally appropriate practice. I
agree with comments made that we have a responsibility to lead by example. I try to do that in
my teaching and I appreciate watching other Early Childhood Educators in action who exude a
deep respect for children as individuals. As I watch their interactions I learn how I want to be
and what I can change to make myself better!

Olivia Huffman commented on March 19, 2015

This is a great source of information. It breaks down some of the resources available and gives
insight on their success. It is interesting that Head Start was created during the "war on poverty"
but what if we had not established it, where would we be? Early childhood education allows us
to close the achievement gap but also to build up the children for success.

Deborah K Welcher commented on March 17, 2015

I think "Head Start" was a positive title. However, because it was targeted toward low income
children, middle income parents were offended that this special program was out of their reach.
When Head Start was opened in the early 60's most schools started at 1st Grade. In Georgia,
the firs Pre-K classes opened in 1993(Lottery Funded) and kindergarten was placed in public
school in the late 60's, but only for students who scored very low on the pre-assessments.
There were not enough spaces for all children to attend, so the students who scored lowest
received the limited spaces out of academic need.

Stella Atuatasi commented on February 11, 2015

I agree with everything that Dr. Elkind wrote. I think the future does start with the children. It is
very important to understand the children by observation and interaction and not make
assumptions based on appearance and family background/income. It is also important that we
model and lead by example. I love working with children and feel we as leaders, counselors,
and teachers can make positive impacts on their lives.
Linda Duerr commented on April 05, 2011

It did my heart good to read Dr. Elkind's reminder to all of us as to where we should stand in
reference to appropriate settings and environments for very young children. We should be right
beside the child. I would like to see this statement about appropriate curriculum expanded and
discussed further to cover the much needed topic of grass roots curriculum approaches. We
seem to have lost confidence in ourselves as the individuals described here. We seem to feel
that we all need a research based packaged curriculum that does not necessarily even
associate with the required assessment systems we must follow in order to access programs
and funding.