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Choosing the Right Early Childhood Education Program

One of the most important decisions we make for our children is what preschool and kindergarten programs they will attend.  This is because educational opportunities in the early grades can affect a child’s overall educational attainment and can impact how children develop self-efficacy, confidence, and social and emotional skills (Kampichler, Dvorackova & Jarkovska, 2018).  Viewed from a holistic standpoint, early childhood educators teach children reading readiness and math skills, but also skills in how to work with others well, to express emotions appropriately, and to engage in conflict resolution with confidence.  With so many early childhood education (ECE) programs to choose from, how can parents find the right program for their child?  Here are some things for parents to think about as they explore programs:

  • Programs should emphasize building positive relationships among students and staff.  School leaders and faculty that emphasize relationships—listening to each other, developing trust, learning together—create a sense of community where it is safe for children to explore, express their thoughts and feelings, and grow (Gartrell, 2020).  Along these lines, teachers are encouraged to provide guidance to children about conflicts and issues, rather than traditional discipline strategies, because in doing so, children learn mediation and self-regulation skills.
  • Educators encourage students to engage in conversations about their play.  Self-expression is an important part of building reading readiness skills!  High quality early childhood educators know how to ask children open-ended questions; these questions help them expand and explain their knowledge, describe the elements of free play in which they are engaged, and enthusiastically explore outcomes of experiments.  Children are innately curious, so when teachers encourage children to explore their curiosities, they are more invested in their learning!
  • Curricula are based on developmentally appropriate, research-based pedagogy.  Educators have learned so much from learning theory research in the last 100 years—Vygotsky, Piaget, Erikson, and Bandura are some of the most influential theorists who have given us incredible insight into how children learn.  Yet, in the last 25 years, schools (and legislators) are expecting students to often do more—and sooner--than what is developmentally appropriate.  Instead, parents should look for schools that emphasize reading readiness—children learn reading readiness skills through storytelling, speaking, listening, exploratory writing, and pretend play—as well as opportunities for students to learn songs, rhymes, and the alphabet (Saracho, 2017).  These activities are very much a part of learning to read and are essential so that children can eventually apply the complex tasks of decoding and writing words!
  • Social and emotional learning is valued as much as reading and math skills.  One of the most important predictors for school success in how students interact with their peers!  When we can help children learn conflict resolution strategies early on, they can become better self-advocates and gain more self-confidence.  Likewise, helping children learn grounding techniques, meditation, and body scanning can help them more effectively express their feelings and self-regulate better.  Parents should look for ways in which teachers and school leaders help students grow in their emotional wellness and social connections.
  • Teachers and school leaders value students’ cultures and traditions.  Helping children explore ways to appreciate the unique perspectives their classmates bring to the classroom is essential in creating a sense of trust, community, and caring that encourages student growth.  We know from Abraham Maslow and his work on human needs that children must have their physiological needs met--as well as their needs for belonging, safety, and trust--before they can learn best.  Valuing cultural identities, traditions, and unique ways of self-expression is important in creating an environment in which children can thrive.

Student-teacher interactions, guidance-based behavior correction, trust, communication—these themes are important, and these themes speak to the kind of relationship children have with their teachers!  Relationships are so important!  And so are “gut instincts.”  Parents should listen to their heart as much as their head in deciding on an early childhood education program!

Dr. April Saint

Dr. Saint is a researcher and consultant in the fields of education and counseling; she is most interested in how education and psychology complement each other, especially in early childhood education, adolescent education, and trauma sensitive classroom practices.  Dr. Saint works with individuals, school leaders, teachers, parents, children and adolescents to support wellness and personal growth.

References:

Gartell, D. (2020).  Instead of discipline, use guidance.  Teaching Young Children, 13(3), 1-11.  https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/tyc/feb2020/using-guidance-not-discipline

Kampichler, M., Dvořáčková, J. & Jarkovská, L. (2019).  Choosing the right kindergarten: Parents’ reasoning about their ECEC choices in the context of the diversification of ECEC programs.  Journal of Pedagogy, 9(2), 9-32.  https://doi.org/10.2478/jped-2018-0009

Saracho, O. N. (2017). Literacy and language: new developments in research, theory, and practice, Early Child Development and Care, 187(3-4), 299-304. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2017.1282235


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