Early childhood educational programs play a vital role in the development of children. They form the basis upon which children grow to understand the functioning of different structures in society. Early education for children is meant to shape the role of children in the society1. According to the early childhood care and education unit of the UNESCO, early childhood refers to the first eight years of a child.
This is the period when the brain of the child is active in capturing what is in the environment. Therefore, early learning or education is introduced to the child at this moment. In the United States, early childhood education is emphasized. There are different models of early childhood education in which the role of children in the society is defined2. These include pre-school programs, school readiness, play based and custodial programs3.
Early childhood education development at a glance
United States has undergone a long history from the pre-colonial times to the post-colonial era and civil rights to the great depression and the second reconstruction of America. The era of civil rights had a lot of setbacks on child learning. Poverty in the segregated areas of the south hindered the establishment of early school programs for children4. Child labour was also common with children being seen as aides to their poor parents.
However segregation continued into the industrial revolution times. Many changes took place in the American economy resulting in the need to invest in education. Industries needed skilled manpower which could only be gotten from schools.
Therefore, investment in education gained momentum with the need to give children a better background in education; hence, the focus on establishment of pre-schools and other early childhood education programs. A lot of value was pegged on the early childhood education as the economy advanced5.
Benefits of early childhood education programs
The changing economy and demands they come with are influencing these programs thus causing a change in the role of children. The increase in the number of Americans that have realized the importance of early childhood education for children can be captured in the following statement:
Since the mid 1960’s, enrolment rates of 3 and 4 year olds in early education programs have increased dramatically. In 1965, 3 and 4-year-olds attending a public preschool program numbered approximately 127, 00. By 2009, the enrolment in public preschool had risen to 2.7 million6.
Many early childhood education programs have been initiated to support early childhood education in the US. These initiatives exist at different levels of government – federal, state as well as the local levels. Different states have taken the initiative of ensuring that the early childhood programs run smoothly through financing programs under their jurisdiction7.
Programs of early childhood education are aimed at enhancing the academic skills of children. This includes improving the early literacy abilities of children and the language skills. As the children continue growing up, they are expected to master skills in maths and science. These are the skills that are central to developing the world. Also, the socio-emotional skills of children begin being attended to and shaped from this stage. This is a maiden chance for children to enter and engage in group activities8.
Early childhood education programs, if well managed, produce significant outcomes in the learning and development of children. The benefits of early childhood education often spread across all aspect of societal development including the economic and social realms. Children are often seen as the builders of the society. A good foundation for them is a basis of building a prosperous society. This foundation starts with early education for them.
The government if fully involved in early childhood education development in the country. The state finances many early childhood learning programs. It also participates actively in the formulation of policies and practices which shape the learning environment for children in the country. These policies aim at improving the opportunities of children access to early education. The US president has formulated a council known as the Early Learning Council which helps in enhancing early education of children9.
The government believes that the education programs for children in the country can be very productive. However, this can only be the case if these programs employ the appropriate education content. Different department are working in unison for this purpose. These include the United States Department for Education and the United States Department of Health and human services. These two departments aim at ensuring that children attain a strong foundation in education and other socio-emotional fields of development10.
Integrating early childhood education with economic forces
The ideal picture of early childhood education is reflected in the following statement:
Developmentally appropriate practice became the agreed on theory guiding early education. State departments of education, the federal government and the agencies sponsoring childcare programs embraced the philosophy that programs for children should be based on knowledge of child growth and development. They should be developmentally appropriate11.
Early education was meant to prepare children for advancing in career. Therefore, early educational programs were well regulated and with proper curricula for introducing children to education which is the centrepiece of child growth. The learning children were standardized and clearly outlined the role of children as far as early education was concerned. Children were to acquire skills of learning which would build and prepare them for more advanced learning and development at the later stages of development12.
Early childhood education is an activity which calls into action, different stakeholders including the government, parents and many other private entities. The aim is to see that children are prepared to take up different roles in the community once they grow up. There are very many challenges because of the expanse of the early childhood education in children.
These challenges cannot be easily neglected. These challenges end up interfering with the already setup and working standards of early childhood education models thus necessitating many changes in what defines the role of children13.
Early childhood education curriculum focused on teaching the children principles of behaviours. Children were taught of habits; for instance, dressing, hand washing and easting. Children were taught to be dependant. These behaviours are well postulated in the theories of child development by John Watson.
Children are being taught how to be more creative at very early stages due to the changing nature of the economy. This is according to the theories of developed by Yale Psycho-clinic. Children are taught about self-expression through a number of learning activities like play, music, stories, dance and painting among others. Most states in the US have been shifting from the traditional models of early childhood learning to the modern standards that consider the modern aspects of the economy (Seefeldt, Carol, pp. 12-13).
America’s earliest programmatic efforts for young children began with the Infant Schools, efforts that were privately funded and targeted to children of the indigent. The Infant Schools sought to remove children from the unhappy association of want and vice, and place [them] under better influences14.
Early childhood education and care in the United States is inclusive of different program schedules. These are part-day programs, full-school-day program and full-workday programs. These programs are embedded in social welfare, education and the commercial auspices. Early childhood education has investors from both the private and the public sectors.
Early childhood training programs concentrates on two areas that include care and training. Scholars in the field of child development have been of the opinion that it is necessary to integrate the programs of early childhood education programs15.
The growing American economy has led to many changes in policies that have affected the childhood education development programs. Labour market policies in the US have changed necessitating greater participation of women in the national workforce. Most of these women are mothers. Coupling with this, is the increasing number of single mothers. This means that the early childhood centres have to be prepared for an influx of children.
Mothers who are supposed to be guiders and caretakers of children have become occupied with work. This leaves them with very little time to be with their children. Early childhood education centres are now playing a dualistic role. Teachers at these centres are also forced to adapt to the dual role of parenting the children and also equipping them with the skill that they are supposed to get from these schools16.
The work roles of families have significantly changed in relation to family composition and the role of families in the early upbringing of children. Parents have a desire to see their children grow quickly and assume responsibilities. This brings about the growing desire for primary school readiness. Children are made to pass through the program quickly because significant attention is paid to the later grades of learning. These grades shape the involvement of children in the economy17.
Early childhood education programs are highly valued and supported by both the government and nongovernmental entities in the US. These programs are meant to give children a strong base in education and other child development aspects. However, many factors impact on these programs. Among these factors are economic forces that results in the adjustment and readjustment of models resulting to a shift in their roles.
Fass, Paula S. Childhood in America. New York, NY [u.a.: New York Univ. Press, 2000. Print.
Kamerman, Sheila B. and Shirley Gatenio-Gabel. “Early Childhood Education and Care in the United States: An Overview of the Current Policy Picture”. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy. Vol. 1, No.1 (2007): 23-34.
Kinch, Amy Fowler and Lawrence J. Schweinhart. Achieving High-Quality Child Care: How Ten Programs Deliver Excellence Parents Can Afford. n.d. Web.
MacHugh, Cathy L. Mill family: the labor system in the southern cotton textile industry, 1880-1915. New York u.a: Oxford Univ. Pr, 1988.
Meisels, Samuel J, and Jack P. Shonkoff. Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention. Cambridge [England] [u.a.: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print. Pp 6.
Pianta, Robert C. Handbook of Early Childhood Education. New York: Guilford Press, 2012.
Seefeldt, Carol. How to Work with Standards in the Early Childhood Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press, 2005.
U.S. Department of Education. Early Childhood Education: Archived Information. 2012. Web.
1 Sheila B. Kamerman and Shirley Gatenio-Gabel. Early Childhood Education and Care in the United States: An Overview of the Current Policy Picture. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy. Vol. 1, No.1 (2007), 23-5
2 Paula, S. Fass. Childhood in America. (New York, NY [u.a.: New York Univ. Press, 2000. Print). 1
3 Robert C. Pianta Handbook of Early Childhood Education. (New York: Guilford Press, 2012), 3
4 Cathy, MacHugh L. Mill family: the labor system in the southern cotton textile industry, 1880-1915 (New York u.a: Oxford Univ. Pr, 1988). 1
5 Samuel J, Meisels and Shonkoff P, Jack Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention (Cambridge [England] [u.a.: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print). 6
7 Robert C. Pianta Handbook of Early Childhood Education. (New York: Guilford Press, 2012), 4
8 Ibid, 4-5
9 U.S. Department of Education. Early Childhood Education: Archived Information. 2012
10 Ibid, para 2-3
11 Carol Seefeldt. How to Work with Standards in the Early Childhood Classroom. (New York: Teachers College Press, 2005), 12.
12 Carol Seefeldt. How to Work with Standards in the Early Childhood Classroom. (New York: Teachers College Press, 2005), 12-13
14 Sharon L. Kagan and Jeanne L. Reid. Advancing ECE2 Policy: Early Childhood Education (ECE) and its Quest for Excellence, Coherence, and Equity (ECE). 2008, para 7
15 Ibid, para 5-6
16 Amy Fowler Kinch and Lawrence J. Schweinhart. Achieving High-Quality Child Care: How Ten Programs Deliver Excellence Parents Can Afford. n.d., para 1-10