Quality in Early Childhood Education
What does a high quality early childhood program look like? A high quality early childhood program provides a safe and nurturing environment while promoting the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development of young children.
Early childhood is generally defined as birth through age eight. While growth and development can be seen in some ways as a continuum from birth onward, we know that there are some significant changes at certain ages and stages. The shift from early childhood to middle childhood is one of those significant changes. For this reason, an early childhood classroom should look, sound, and feel different from an elementary classroom.
Current research does not support the recent push to introduce structured reading programs to younger and younger children. Although some children may do well in such programs, a more balanced approach that takes into account individual children's developmental stage, learning styles, and educational needs benefits all young children, not just some. Teachers who embrace an emergent literacy philosophy understand that there is not a certain point when literacy begins; it is a continuous process of learning. Literacy develops best in real-life situations as opposed to contrived settings, both in and out of school. For example, if you are planning a cooking activity, have the children develop a shopping list. You can take down their dictated items, or they can create the list themselves, depending on their writing skills. Have the class create a recipe book that they can illustrate; copy it and distribute it to families. Another way to make sure literacy activities are authentic rather than contrived is to use signs and labeling for real-life situations. Rather than simply labeling a plant with the word "plant," have a reversible sign that says "The plant has been watered" or "The plant needs water." An excellent resource is Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children, by Susan B. Neuman, Carol Copple, and Sue Bredekamp. See Section Five for more information.
As stated earlier, an early childhood classroom should look, sound, and feel different from an elementary classroom. One of the ways it should look different is room arrangement: the way an early childhood classroom is arranged can either positively or negatively affect children's learning and behavior. In fact, even the way the day is scheduled can either positively or negatively affect children's learning and behavior. An early childhood classroom should feel like a safe, nurturing place for children to be. One of the things that contributes to this feel is the use of positive guidance. When an early childhood teacher relies on positive guidance techniques, children develop positive self-esteem, and they develop autonomy and independence. In addition, positive guidance techniques enhance brain development. (See Section Seven for helpful handouts and/or checklists.)
In an international early childhood classroom, it is not unusual to have children whose first language is one other than English. For these children, English is a foreign language, and there are ways that teachers can support successful foreign language learning. For example, children need manipulative materials and teachers should give concrete demonstrations -- especially in science and mathematics. In other words, using developmentally appropriate practices and a hands-on, child-centered curriculum will enhance second language development. Teachers should not correct errors of vocabulary, comprehension, accent, or structure. The wise teacher understands that children learn a second (or third) language the same way they learned their first language! None of us learned our first language from an adult who used flash cards or ditto sheets. We learned our first language from caring, supportive adults who were delighted at our attempts to communicate, even when we made mistakes!
Developing a warm, supportive relationship with parents is always important in early childhood programs, and international programs are no exception. Teachers must realize that parents are the child's first teachers. They must also understand that - like all parents - they don't like to hear negative information about their children! Therefore, always start a conference, report, or routine communication with something positive. (See Section Seven for helpful handouts and/or checklists.)
Although the presence of children with identified special needs may not be as prevalent in international schools, it is still important that teachers have some basic information about working with young children who may have special needs. Multisensory experiences are crucial: children should be able to see, hear, and touch the topic of exploration. Physical exploration is essential; limit control to essential constraints. Teachers should be aware of early signs of learning disabilities: i.e., clumsiness, perceptual problems, etc. (See Section Seven for helpful handouts and/or checklists.)
A fairly new addition to the early childhood classroom is computer technology. It is crucial that computers are used developmentally; children should be encouraged to play around with the keys and learn through trial and error and playful self-discovery. Teachers should provide concrete learning center activities related to software programs. For more information about using computers with young children, go to http://www.childrenndcomputers.com
The establishment of a multicultural, bias-free environment and the use of anti-bias curriculum are especially important in international early childhood programs. International schoolteachers already know this, and they are leaders in the field. It is important to remember that culture embodies many constructs, including ethnicity, family structure, religion, family and cultural traditions. Perceptive early childhood teachers learn about, accept, and respect the various cultures represented in the classroom. In addition, they should use multicultural literature as much as possible. For more information, we recommend Start Seeing Diversity: The Basic Guide to an Anti-Bias Classroom by Ellen Wolpert, and Roots and Wings by Stacey York. (See Section Five for more information.)
Use the following checklist to assess your early childhood program.
When I look at my early childhood classroom, I see
� Frequent, positive, warm interactions among adults and children
� Planned learning activities appropriate to children's age and development
� Teachers and support staff who are trained and educated specifically in
child development and early childhood education
� Enough adults to respond to individual children
� Many varied age-appropriate materials and activities within the children's reach
� A healthy and safe environment for children
� Nutritious meals and/or snacks
� Regular communication with parents who are welcome visitors at all times
� Administration support based on an understanding that young children have
unique needs and that an early childhood program must reflect those needs
� Ongoing, systematic evaluation of all program components and personnel
� Teachers and support staff who stay up to date on current research about
� Teachers and support staff who use up to date information about brain
development to provide a challenging, nurturing, supportive environment
for young children