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The Foundational Importance of Early Childhood Education

As K-12 and higher ed continue to raise the bar for creating college and career ready students, we must also take a look at where the system begins  – in early childhood. Early childhood is a vital time for children as they begin to transition into their formal schooling. Children experience significant brain growth from birth to five years old. A child is born with almost as many brain cells as he will have his entire life, but during this time there are very few connections among them. The first five years of a child’s life will have a lasting effect. Environment helps shape the structure of the brain. Early childhood education increases the learning capacity and emphasizes five major areas: language development, cognitive, gross motor, fine motor, and social-emotional.

With today’s Common Core Standards being implemented around the country, children need to be prepared to the best of their ability. Establishing good background knowledge and experiences in those major areas will provide children with the jump start they need to succeed in formal schooling. Too many children start school unprepared and this can be hard to overcome with the rigorous school content. Children need to be given the chance to succeed in school. Those who have a quality early childhood educational experience will be better prepared in all areas. High quality programs not only have improved academic outcomes, but the economic savings to schools and states is undeniable. The preschool years not only provide students with cognitive abilities but also can help identify any learning disabilities long before the formal schooling begins. This, in turn, helps reduce the load of special education classes.

Continually, children who are taught to “think” critically will be more successful academically. Critical thinking should begin at this early age. “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” (Margaret Mead). Early education provides children with a literacy foundation to prepare them for formal reading in later years. This involves a strong language development program for teachers to be skilled in teaching. Early childhood teachers must have quality training, not only in the cognitive area, but also in pedagogy. Planning for a productive day involves knowledge of goals, assessing prior knowledge, student/teacher engagement, choosing the right materials, assessing strengths/weaknesses, active and passive activities, and the right methods in learning new skills. Teachers must be able to use strategies to increase language – both receptive and expressive. Language development is a building block for later learning. Overall, early learning improves later school performance, sharpens thinking skills, and lengthens attention span.

As the push for early childhood education continues around the nation, legislators are realizing the potential impact this has for formal schooling.   It is the hope of early education teachers that this continues to grow and that all children will be given the opportunity to have a quality early childhood education.

-Susan Smith, MEd
Instructional Specialist

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The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning expands and supports high quality teaching and effective, supportive leadership. QTL Processes bring together technology, teamwork, student data and research-based instruction to create more engaging lesson design for greater student achievement.

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