Early childhood education is a field within education encompassing the knowledge base related to children from birth through age eight (third grade). Early childhood is a unique time in the development of a child, during which much learning takes place. Approaches to teaching young children cover a wide spectrum ranging from direct instruction to emergent curricula. This entry provides a brief historical background of early childhood education, discusses its roots in child psychology, summarizes outside impacts on the field, and describes its main curricular models.
Early childhood education (ECE) addresses the education of young children from birth through age 8. Kindergarten, the educational approach used in formal school settings, has existed for more than a century and offers education to the 5- and 6-year-old population. The education of 7- and 8-year-olds is usually provided in a formal setting also. However, at the time of the 2000 census, there were 23 million children 5 years of age and younger in the United States whose educational opportunities could be influenced by educational settings. This segment of children represents one third of the entire population of children under the age of 18. For children not yet entering formal schooling, ECE opportunities are offered through various types of center-based programs that provide myriad learning opportunities. Forty-five states funded prekindergarten programs in 2002. State support is in four main areas: state supplement to Head Start only, support only in public schools, public schools that contract with community providers, and all settings in which standards are met. Six states provide no investment in Head Start or prekindergarten.
The development of young children is addressed in historical evidence from the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome (by the work of Plato and Aristotle and Quintillian) to the Middle Ages in Europe (by the work of Martin Luther, John Amos Comenius, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi, and Friedrich Froebel).
In Colonial America it was typically the role of the parents to educate the youngest children in the family, although there is evidence of some New England families using the services of private dame schools to help their children learn basic reading skills. By the early 1800s, infant schools were established in large cities across the country (New York, Philadelphia, and Boston) as a primary means of addressing the needs of disadvantaged youth. Modeled after the schools run by Pestalozzi in Europe, these schools typically used a play-based method of teaching. Even at this time there was controversy as to the roles of rote memorization and discipline in the education of young children.
Involvement In Center-Based Early Childhood Programs
The U.S. Department of Education estimated that, in 2001, 54.6% of children age 3 and 4 were enrolled in center-based early childhood programs. Of the enrolled population, 43% were 3-year-olds and 66.2% were 4-year-olds. Center-based programs can be classified as either formal or informal. Formal programs include the federally funded Head Start and state prekindergarten programs. Informal programs include child care centers, preschool, nursery school, and other early childhood ...