early childhood education definition

What is Early Childhood Education, and is it the Right Career for You?

During a child’s first few years of life, more than one million new, neural connections are formed within the brain every second. These neural connections, according to Harvard researchers, are exactly what build the brain’s architecture and foundation for all later learning, behavior, and health. How do these neurons form, you ask? Largely through a baby’s environment and early experiences.

The field of early childhood education embraces these statistics, along with the fact that, from the day children are born, they are learning. They are absorbing. As a result, the early experiences in a child’s life are critical to their long-term development and health. The most rapid period of brain development is between birth and age eight, making early education a key component to a child’s success.

If you have dreams of becoming a teacher, or working with young children, you may have stumbled upon the “early childhood education” path. You may have questions like, “what is early childhood education,” and, “how does it differ from other teaching careers?” You may also be wondering where to start. In this article, Goodwin College breaks down the basics of early childhood education – what it means, why it matters, and how to get involved.

What is Early Childhood Education?

Early childhood education (ECE) is the period of learning that takes place from birth to eight-years-old, according to the National Association for the Education of Young ChildrenOpens a New Window.. Most commonly in teaching, however, it refers to the education of children between birth and kindergarten age – the preschool or “Pre-K” years. In these early years of infancy and toddlerhood, educational experiences – both formal and informal – are seen as fundamental to a child’s cognitive, physical, and emotional development.

Early childhood education gives little ones the opportunity to learn, discover, and play in a safe, nurturing environment outside of their home. In ECE classrooms, children are encouraged to explore colors, letters, numbers, sounds, nature, art, and other topics, while simultaneously fostering curiosity and developing core motor and social skills.

There are all types of early childhood education programs out there today, along with a variety of ECE teaching methods. Formats of early childhood education can vary by state and by program – some are focused on guided, learn through play, while other programs might follow a specific regime. Some are theme-based, inspired by philosophies such as Reggio Emilia or Montessori. Programs can be dedicated to a certain age, such as preschool, or can span age groups in a daycare-like setting. Some are privately run organizations, while others are operated by a local school system or federally funded program. In the field of early childhood education, there are a variety of settings and roles you can pursue.

What Does it Mean to be an Early Childhood Educator?

Early childhood education is essential to child development, and early childhood teachers are, too. Being an early childhood educator means being adaptive, creative, and compassionate. It means guiding little ones as they explore themselves and the world around them. It means being a protector, a facilitator, a guide and an advocate for each child. Early childhood educators have one of the most impactful professions today.

As an early childhood educator, you will be expected to create stimulating activities and identify new experiences that support a child’s development. You will monitor children’s progress and ensure each child is making headway (sometimes in their own way) in the classroom. You will help children discover their own learning and playing styles, and guide them in doing so safely. You will nurture children in all aspects of development, ensuring their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical growth. You will also help them transition from home life to a more collaborative, interactive, social day-to-day.

By doing all this, you will help build a strong foundation for all future learning in these children.

How Can I Become an Early Childhood Educator?

Early childhood educators play a very important role in the lives of children, and therefore must meet several requirements before pursuing a career in this highly-rewarding field. Above all else, early childhood educators should be:

  • Patient and supportive of all children and learning styles
  • Creative and resourceful
  • Flexible and adaptable
  • Great communicators
  • Compassionate and nurturing
  • Good listeners and observers
  • Passionate about working with children

There are also specific infant, toddler, and preschool teacher requirements you must achieve before landing an ECE career. Education and certification requirements, however, vary depending on the job. Most preschool teachers, for example, are expected to have at least an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education. This is also expected for teachers of Head Start programs. In public schools, early childhood educators are required to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in ECE, Child Study, or a related field.

Usually, employers look for (or require) certified early childhood educators, as certification represents a high level of standard and skill in the field. A college degree program can prepare you to become certified. Goodwin College’s early childhood education classes, for example, are designed to prepare and qualify students for the Early Childhood Teacher Credential (ECTC), which is required in Connecticut.

At the start of this article, you asked us, “What is early childhood education?” To put it simply, early childhood education is the foundation of learning for children from birth to eight-years-old. It is also one of the most essential and sought-after career paths in the United States today.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment in prekindergarten-level education has risen from 96,000 to over one million in the last 30 years. More children need more teachers like you! While the average job growth rate in the U.S., as a whole, is approximately 7 percent – the growth rate for early childhood education careers is a high 25 percent.

Start on your path towards an early childhood education career today. Contact Goodwin College at 800-889-3282 to learn more about our Child Study and Early Childhood Education programs. You may also visit us online to request more information!