My own beliefs about early childhood education are based upon the knowledge that children’s growth is developmental. It seems very clear to me that a high quality early childhood program must provide a safe and nurturing environment which promotes a broad spectrum of support for the child’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. I strongly agree with the tenets of the National Association for the Education of Young children–that high quality, developmentally appropriate programs should be available to all children (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992, p. 7).
Children under the age of eight have enormous potential for growth and achievement, and it is my belief that they have rights to fulfill their possibilities. A separate statement of the NAEYC divides the concept of appropriateness into two aspects–age appropriateness and individual appropriateness (Bredekamp, 1987, p. 2). This statement coincides with my belief that children are unique individuals who may or may not reflect the usual characteristics of other children of their same age. Furthermore, I believe that a developmentally appropriate curriculum for young children is correctly tailored to the specifics of each age group.
Different ages have different needs, interests, and developmental tasks, and the curriculum should reflect those variations. The most effective early childhood curriculum offers creative expression, social and emotional interaction, child-adult communication, child-child communication, physical expression, knowledge acquisition, reasoning practice, risk-taking, and personal autonomy. Early childhood learning happens through play. In this case, play is a serious matter, although it is quite fun to all involved.
Children learn by doing and actively participating. When given the opportunity to explore, children flourish. They experiment, make choices, achieve strength and a sense of belonging as an effective individual within the context of a supportive, safe group. It is my belief that early childhood learning must happen in an integrated manner. Children of this age are too young for rigidly separated subject matter, and the skillful teacher of young children easily integrates the physical, emotional, social, creative, and cognitive areas of early learning.
Role of Child as a Learner Johann Pestalozzi and Froebel, two of the earliest professionals in early childhood education, championed the development of the quality of early childhood theory and practice. Pestalozzi contended that young children learn most effectively by doing, by playing, and by interacting with the environment–the physical world and other children (McCarthy & Houston, 1980, p. 4).
Early, effective learning happens best in a mixed age group, multi-cultural settings, Froebel, like Pestalozzi, believed that play is of paramount importance in the development of the child, and that the emotional quality of the child’s life (relationship with parents and other significant people) profoundly permeates the quality of the child’s life (McCarthy & Houston, 1980, p. 6).
Pestalozzi did not particularly formalize his theories and methods, but he had a very good intuitive grasp of the necessity for language development, nurturing environments, and healthy relationships for children as a springboard for optimum learning.
The child as a learner has cognitive needs, and these vary according to the age of the child. Piaget became famous for his work in the cognitive domain, and his guidelines of pre-operational thought to more sophisticated abstract thinking are useful for teachers who wish to be careful about not expecting too much from children who are operating at a lower cognitive level (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987, p. 54). His work was rather theoretical, and others (principally Kamii and DeVries) have expanded Piaget’s theory to widen its practical usefulness in early childhood classrooms.
The young child learns from the motivation of a need to know, and most early learning takes place in the context of the home and relationship with parents and other family members. Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, one of the earliest workers in the area of developmental psychology and psychopathology, believed that children’s learning happens within the framework of the child’s activities and is greatly influenced by the society and values of the persons near the child.
The entire field of child development then consists of “an endless stream of dialectical conflicts and resolutions, with the resolutions then internalized to form the child’s increasingly sophisticated physical and psychological knowledge” (Thomas, 1992, p. 322). John Dewey’s progressive education movement greatly affected thinking and practice for teachers desiring to arrange an appropriate environment for young learners. Dewey was one of the most influential educational philosophers in the United States in the early 1900’s and his influence is still felt in the 1990’s (McCarthy & Houston, 1980, p.6).
Dewey and other forward-thinking professionals of his time believed that learning should be based upon the children’s interests and that children should be actively involved in their education. Before Dewey’s time, most classroom activity consisted of teachers instructing passive, obedient listeners. Dewey’s work provided a solid philosophical basis for early childhood educators who desire to integrate subject matter into whatever the children are actively involved with at the moment.
Dewey contended that any kind of life experience is valuable for learning. Dewey was humanistic in his orientation, and his work spoke to the importance of human interest, value, and dignity (McCarthy & Houston, 1980, p. 8). Abraham Maslow was one of the first psychologists to emphasize the importance of various needs being met before other, higher needs come into focus. He placed the physical needs at the bottom of his needs hierarchy, followed by the need for love and belonging.
Physically, children at young ages grow and change dramatically from year to year, and the alert, educated teacher will firmly grasp the necessity of a balanced program of large muscle activity, small muscle play, outdoor opportunities for expression of vigorous excess energy, and small motor expressive activity (Bredekamp, 1987, p. 56). Psychologically, children must feel safe before they are able to explore and learn. Children learn through social interaction with adults and other children, and their learning begins with awareness, moving through cycles of exploration, questioning, and application.
Vygotsky viewed each child’s learning in terms of that child’s own ontogenetic development. Each experience of the child comes about as a result of the child’s prior experiences of problem-solving and problem resolution (Thomas, 1992, p. 323). Mitchell, a student of John Dewey, also emphasized the necessity of learning within the context of the group. She believed that education for a democratic society begins at a very young age and she placed great importance on young children learning to cooperate and operate within a group (McCarthy & Houston, 1980, p. 9).
Carl Jung did a great deal of research and writing in the areas of variation of personality types, and his concepts lead us to believe that some individuals do their best work completely alone, even at a very young age. Carl Rogers also wrote about the importance of the individual contemplative experience. Like Maslow, Rogers as a humanistic psychologist believed in the importance of the human, individual aspect of learning. He saw learning as a change in self-organization. These learnings may be threatening and happen best in a psychologically safe, supportive environment (Rogers, 1969, p.
159). Although Rogers’ work primarily applied to the therapeutic counseling situation, it has great application to anyone dedicated to assisting others learn more about themselves. Role of the Teacher in the Learning Process Carl Rogers also had definite views on the nature of learning and the role of the teacher. He said that people learn by doing and by activities which involve the whole person (Rogers, 1969, p. 162). He contended that the most useful learning is the learning of the process of learning so that practical problems of living in a changing society may find successful solutions.
According to Rogers and others who have followed similar philosophies, teachers are guides and facilitators. They set a creative, stimulating, supportive environment which enhances the child’s natural curiosity about life around him. The astute early childhood educator provides a variety of activities, objects, events, materials and people which will assist the children in channelling their innate drive to learn. The best teachers are current in the understandings of fads and characters that appeal to young children–television shows, favorite foods, clothing, and stories that are modern.
Young children tune out adults who simply do not understand current culture. In this way, responsible teachers bring multicultural awareness into the classroom as well as information and materials relevant to their own ethnic background. Mixed classrooms provide an excellent opportunity to teach trust, respect, pride, appreciation of differences, and orderly group problem-solving (McCracken, 1993, p. 55). The teacher sets the tone for self acceptance and the acceptance of others.
The effective early childhood teacher is an active learner, regardless of her own age, and this type of professional engages children in active participation with materials that are genuinely interesting to the children. This type of adult extends the child’s learning with skillful questioning and acceptance of error through experimentation. The well-versed teacher understands the various levels of cognitive learning, Piaget’s theories, and Blooms Taxonomy so that children are guided and encouraged, but never forced into an intellectual level that is not appropriate.
Responsible early childhood teachers respect the individual styles of the students at all times, as well as the various cultures from which they originate. The emotional tone in the best early childhood environments is one of warmth, high self-esteem, and safety. Creative expression is welcomed, even if the forms prove to be highly unusual. Mitchell advocated creative expression of the whole child, through conversation, art, music, dance, and story-telling (McCarthy & Houston, 1980, p. 9). Cooperative learning and family involvement provide rich resources for respect among individuals and groups of a variety of different cultures.
Skillful teachers in multicultural settings will recognize those values which must be basic (respect for the human body and rules for group interaction) and encourage the expression of the varieties and nuances specific to the individual ethnic group (McCracken, 1993, p. 65). Role of Peers in Learning The National Association for the Education of Young Children strongly advocates the guidance of social-emotional development in the classroom. Teachers have the responsibility for positive modeling, encouraging expected behavior, redirecting inappropriate actions, and setting clear limits.
With this type of skilled teaching, children learn the social skills of cooperation, helping, negotiation, and verbal communication. In order for these important social skills to happen, teachers must depart from the traditional modes of instructing, placing children at individual desks, and spending a great deal of time as referee or punisher (Bredekamp, 1987, p. 55). CLASSROOM PRACTICES It is evident from the previous writing that effective teaching requires the logical, ethical translation of teaching philosophy into classroom implementation.
Most importantly, all activities for young children must be developmentally appropriate to the age (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992). This is true across the board in every subject matter and in every aspect of the child’s being–physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and spiritual. SUMMARY/CONCLUSION In order to be an effective early childhood teacher, I must know my own philosophy, limitations, prejudices, and strengths. In general, I prefer five-year olds, and honestly, I am more comfortable with students of this age who are from my own cultural background.
I lean philosophically towards the concepts of Pestalozzi and Froebel as well as the humanistic psychologists who followed in this country. Most of all I strive to provide age-appropriate materials and experiences for the children. References Bredekamp, S. (1987). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, D. C. : NAEYC. Bredekamp, S. , & Rosegrant, T. (Editors) (1992). Reaching potentials: Appropriate curriculum and assessment for young children, Volume 1. Washington, D. C.
: NAEYC. DeVries, R. , & Kohlberg, L. (1987). Constructivism early education: Overview and comparison with other programs: Washington, D. C. : NAEYC. McCarthy, M. , & Houston, J. (1980). Fundamentals of early childhood education. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Winthrop Publishers. McCracken, J. B. (1993). Valuing diversity: The primary years. Washington, D. C. NAEYC. Rogers, C. (1969). Freedom to learn. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill. Thomas, R. M. (1992). Comparing theories of child development, Third Edition. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.