What is so Important About Early Childhood Education?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The advantages of early childhood education are often disputed. Studies with Head Start programs throughout the United States have shown some evidence that there are advantages to providing some formal education to children who are still very young. It is argued that these statistics, however, are often misused to show more advantages than actually exist. Head Start programs have shown that students entering kindergarten and first grade with some formal education already had higher IQ scores and fewer social and behavioral problems. These kids were also more likely to learn new material quickly.

Early childhood education can have great benefits.
Early childhood education can have great benefits.

What most opponents are quick to point out is that these children may have an advantage for only the first two or three years of school. By third or fourth grade, most students who have not had early formal education have caught up academically and socially to those who have. So while a child who has attended preschool or other early education programs may get a head start, he or she doesn’t always cross the finish line first. Other issues remain problematic, like the overwhelming poverty that usually qualifies children for Head Start.

Early childhood environments should be low-pressure and friendly.
Early childhood environments should be low-pressure and friendly.

Early childhood education is a general term that describes a diverse range of programs, from daycare to preschool to others. There is evidence to suggest that early daycare may actually be a detriment rather than a benefit to young children. Longer stays at home with a single caregiver are argued to be more intellectually stimulating. The child who stays at home is also more likely to benefit from breastfeeding for longer, which many say is of great advantage to the child.

Children who receive early childhood education are less likely to be referred to special education.
Children who receive early childhood education are less likely to be referred to special education.

Most experts agree that early childhood education works best in low pressure, social, and friendly environments. It is also more effective when preschool is only a small part of a four- or five-year-old’s day. Schooling that bleeds into long hours at daycare may not carry the same benefit for children, because it means more time away from parents. Not all programs are equally beneficial, and their value can vary depending upon funding, the teacher-to-child ratio, and teacher experience.

Some of the long-term benefits of early childhood education in quality preschools include greater parental involvement, fewer referrals to special education or remedial services, higher grades, better social skills, and a greater ability to focus. Some studies also show that children attending preschool are more likely to graduate and pursue higher education, and be well integrated socially as an adult. These children may also be less likely to commit illegal acts, and tend to earn more money.

Most of these benefits are cited from research into Head Start schools conducted in the 1980s. This research also found that preschools may greatly benefit children with developmental or physical disabilities. Children from middle and upper class families are least likely to benefit, though they are most likely to attend preschool. Children who speak another language at home also benefit a great deal from early schooling, as they are the most prepared to learn English when they are very young.

Deciding if a child should attend preschool is a parental decision that some say should not be legislated. Children cared for by an inventive and intelligent caregiver are likely to exhibit many of the same traits as those attending preschool. They are also typically given more attention in small family settings. Parents who commit to an “at home” education do need to commit to being creative and engaged in raising their children, however.

There is strong evidence to suggest that early childhood education can have some great benefits for children, but the quality of that education must be assessed to see what kind of benefits it actually provides. If it is less effective for children who spend most of their time in daycare settings, perhaps the best model is finding strategies for allowing a parent to stay home with his or her child for at least the first two to three years, before sending the child to school. Also important is considering a child's personality because individual differences in children mean that not all children will derive equal benefit from early education.

The field of early childhood education can be very challenging, and therefore a high level of patience and understanding is required to manage the responsibilities of this career.
The field of early childhood education can be very challenging, and therefore a high level of patience and understanding is required to manage the responsibilities of this career.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I suggest that it is important for all children to attend the pre formal education because it enables children to interact with each other in the same process children learn how to interact with their peers.


Both of my grandchildren attend pre-K at age 3 and VPK before Kindergarten. They were totally prepared when they entered first grade. They found it hard to comprehend the immature behavior of those who had not had the experience as they did.

This did not work against them though. They chose to help the others, which in turn built their confidence level even more. So I feel choosing early programs when possible will develop more leaders. just a thought. By the way, both of them are A+ students and still love school and learning.


I recently wrote an evaluation paper on the benefits of preschool. The fact is not every parent is able to stay home and care for their child.

A quality preschool program can be very beneficial to the child. The child will learn social skills, that can only be learned with other children around. They learn to adapt to a school setting where they will be transitioning from activity to activity.

Preschool should not be mandatory, do not put down a program unless you are able to dedicate your time to your child's education.


@ Glasshouse- I have taken a similar approach to early childhood education. I work from home and am a full time student. My fiancée is able to be home when I cannot, and she is a student working towards a degree in early childhood education. Developmentally she is beyond her age group, and I attribute that to the nurturing atmosphere she has at home.

It does take work though. If a parent is going to forgo preschool or limit preschool, they must constantly engage the child. Parental involvement also has to continue through the child’s school years. The article stated opponents claim that early childhood education only gives a child an advantage for the first few years of school. If you constantly work with your kids, they can maintain their advantage throughout their education. A parent has to be as dedicated to teaching as they expect their child to be at learning.

I spend most of my free time reading, going to the library, going to the park, exploring museums, and cleaning up after arts and crafts. I simply cannot leave her idle in front of the Television. I also take her to the Gymboree gym for structured learning experiences and time to socialize with kids her age. Like your child, my child is developing quite well.


I believe that teaching a child early and exposing him or her to different social situations is advantageous, but I do not believe that early childhood education should be mandatory. Kids learn so much during their first few years. It is important for a young child to be engaged and have structure, but parents should be a part of that process.

I am lucky that my situation allows me to stay home with my daughter. She does not have to go to daycare, and I get to be there to teach her everything.

Her terrible twos really were not that terrible, and she is surprisingly well mannered for a toddler. She is also very social and generally happy.

Deciding not to put her in daycare and eventually preschool has not been an easy choice. We have had to sacrifice plenty of time and money, but in the end, it is all worthwhile. When she is ready to enter kindergarten I believe that she will be at an advantage.


Thank you so much.

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