How Important is Early Childhood Education?
Many of us can recall the name of our third-grade teacher or the preschool we attended as a toddler. When these details are easily remembered, it speaks not only to the people and places that have a positive impact on our lives but also of Early Childhood Education (ECE) as a whole.
Primarily taking place between birth and third grade, early childhood education, also known as ECE, is an essential component of human development. Research has shown that it leads to increased grade retention, increased high school graduation rates, and a significant reduction in special education placement. Factors such as the number of instructors in the classroom, the quality, and scope of instruction, as well as the quality of the instructors themselves all significantly affect how a child learns during this period, even if learning is done primarily by playing. Learning these things at a young age not only impacts the child individually, but also influences how they will interact within society as they mature and contribute.
“The first five years are so important for brain development, with the first three years being the most critical,” explains Dr. Allison Rief, Lead Faculty for Ashford University’s Department of Education and Liberal Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences. “These years are the foundation for the cognitive, social-emotional, language, and motor development that will be used for a lifetime.”
How Early Childhood Education Benefits Children, and You
The National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs agrees, finding that high-quality ECE can yield a significant return on investment, and the earlier the investment is made, the higher the return. That’s not only driving the demand for updated curriculums and in-school resources, but also the need to place qualified, degree-holding educators in the classroom.
“The ECE profession combines your love for working with young children with the dream of directly contributing to the betterment of society as a whole,” adds Dr. Michelle Simecek, Assistant Professor for Ashford’s Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education.
What’s good for the college student is good for the child, she explains, as every aspect of an ECE degree program will translate directly to real-world interactions in preschools, daycares, and other ECE facilities. These common ECE benefits include:
- Working with diverse cultures and bilingual children
- Education and care of young children with disabilities
- Social and emotional development of children
- Classroom behavior management; assessment, and observation of children
- Emerging literacy strategies
- Understanding physical and cognitive developmental stages of children
Further, Dr. Simecek adds, an ECE program such as Ashford University will teach students how to collaborate with professionals from other educational disciplines and expose them to some educational policy and some business skills through courses such as ECE 312: Administration of Early Childhood Education Programs. This allows them to consider different career routes as they approach graduation.
“Some plan to work within the public school setting while others want to work in a childcare center,” she says. “Some start discussing owning their own childcare business or becoming a social worker or school psychologist.
“That’s education in general; we all go in because we love children, and you don’t know the different routes available until you start your studies.”
What is it Like to Work in Early Childhood Education?
While a love of children is an obvious prerequisite for pursuing an ECE-related career, today’s professionals and the facilities in which they work must abide by a certain set of standards that ensure the quality of the educator and the early learning program that’s being taught.
“The social and emotional needs of children have grown,” Dr. Simecek says. “I’ve seen it the 20-plus years of my career. The needs are more demanding; the dynamics of families are changing.
“It’s no longer getting children ready for kindergarten; it’s about hitting all aspects of a child’s life.”
Most childcare centers, she adds, will be aligned with the guidelines set forth by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The nonprofit agency, founded in 1926, provides accreditation for ECE programs that meet its qualifications, with programs judged against a set of 10 NAEYC standards:
- Assessment of Child Progress
- Staff Competencies, Preparation, and Support
- Community Relationships
- Physical Environment
- Leadership and Management
ECE students can always count on Ashford University updating its programs with the latest NAEYC guidelines, Dr. Simecek explains, giving them an opportunity to see evolving policy in action while combining the theoretical with practical, hands-on approaches to learning.
“In an ECE program, assignments are typically connected to things that can be done every day in the classroom,” adds Dr. Rief. “They can be put to use immediately.”
Childhood Education is an In-Demand Career
While technologies such as automation threaten to make certain career paths obsolete, Drs. Rief and Simecek agree that ECE is not in danger of being replaced. Policies will change, and research will inform new methods of instruction. Still, nothing can take the place of a qualified, caring educator during the most important developmental years of a child’s life.
“When we think about young children, we know that some come to us without a strong support network in the home,” Dr. Simecek says. “We work to provide resources to the children and their families at a time when they are developing quickly. We become our students’ advocates, especially when they may not have anyone at home advocating for their needs.”
“[ECE] allows us to impact the trajectory of a person’s life.”
If you’re looking to turn your passion for children into a career as an educator, contact an Ashford University advisor about your bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education today.
Written by Ashford University Staff