Early childhood education (ECE) is based on the idea that learning begins at birth, and that caring for children and educating them should be inseparable. The practice focuses on the years from birth to age eight, and people who have specialized degrees in this field often work in nurseries, daycare facilities, preschools, and kindergartens.
Much of the philosophy of early childhood education is based on the idea that children learn through play. By focusing the types of play children engage in, or by participating and helping in children’s’ play, parents and caregivers can learn to make the most of these activities and prepare children for future education. Developing an identity and sense of self is also central to education, where children are learning about who they are, their relationships to others, and their culture and language.
There are five main components of early childhood education, all of which are interrelated and believed to be the basis of learning and development. The social aspect of development is concerned with children’s relationships to other people and their ability to empathize, cooperate, and share. The physical component focuses on developing gross and fine motor skills, while intellectual development deals with how young children make sense of the world around them. Creative development helps children learn through music, art, and reading, and emotional development is about self-confidence, self-awareness, and understanding feelings.
In much of the world, daycare for children under the age of three is increasingly incorporating an educational component. Caregivers are chosen not only for their ability to nurture babies and small children, but for their background and abilities in teaching. Universities offer degrees or specializations in the field to prepare teachers for this kind of work, and daycare facilities, preschools, and kindergartens often require their employees to have some education in early childhood development or offer their own in-house training. ECE curricula usually contain coursework in child psychology as well as pedagogy and teacher training.
Equal access to early childhood education is becoming a central international social justice and educational issue. Most US states and many countries have made kindergarten compulsory and government funded. In the US, Head Start programs focus on getting adequate nutrition and education to low-income children whose families cannot pay for preschool. Internationally, UNESCO works with governmental education, health, and social affairs departments in developing countries to ensure that poor children have access not only to education, but to health care, nutrition, and security.