Most parents understand that early childhood education is important but it actually shapes every stage of a child’s life and development. It is never too early for parents to think about their child’s education, and the earlier a child can get started, the more impactful it will be.
Introduction to early childhood education
Your child is learning every single day, from the moment they open their eyes in the morning to when they close them at night. This type of learning doesn’t just begin when your child starts to walk or talk – they are learning from birth.
Every child goes through various learning and development stages during their lifetime, and with each stage come various skills. However, your child isn’t inherently born with all of these skills. They must be learned through experience with the support of parents and trained childhood educators.
That’s why it’s so important for parents to begin considering early childhood education options as soon as they can…even during pregnancy!
Early childhood education programs are designed to support your child’s development from as young as six weeks old until they are old enough to attend kindergarten. So, it’s as simple as just signing up for one of these programs, right? Not quite.
Understanding what early childhood education is is one thing. Deciding which type of childhood education is best for your child is another. Didn’t realize that there are various forms and theories of early childhood education? You wouldn’t be the only parent! After all, we’ve yet to see a pregnancy book that comes with an ‘Introduction to Early Childhood Education’ chapter.
Deciding on what theories of early childhood education are right for your family is a personal choice. But first, you must understand how exactly early learning can impact each of the early childhood development stages.
How does early childhood education shape a child’s development?
Early childhood development shapes the kind of person that your child will become. It will determine their physical and mental abilities, and perhaps even their successes later in life.
As a parent, you will undoubtedly want to give your child the best start in life that you can. The first way of doing that is by understanding exactly how early childhood education impacts child development.
Today, childhood development involves five core areas: physical, behavioral, cognitive, language, and social-emotional.
The development of these areas is vital for your child’s overall health and wellness. If your child has positive childhood experiences with plenty of learning opportunities, they will carry that into their adulthood. If it is negative, this could hinder their development.
While all children are different, there are generally learning opportunities associated with each developmental stage.
6 weeks – 3 months
For the first few months of your baby’s life, they won’t be able to do much without your support. They can’t move around yet, so they need you to lift and carry them. They can’t speak, so you need to be able to interpret their cries. Milestones at this stage can include:
- Making grasping motions
- Exploring their mouth with their fingers
- Lifting their head
- Controlling their arm, leg, and hand movements
- Becoming aware of themself and their body
- Making babbling noises and imitating sounds
- Looking at you when you’re talking
- Following you and objects with their eyes
- Beginning to self-soothe
- Smiling when they see their own reflection
- Making eye contact with people
During this early childhood development stage, your child will benefit from plenty of attention and direct communication. Try singing songs to them, playing with them, and practicing tummy time.
3 months – 6 months
Between the ages of 3 and 6 months, you may begin to notice a bigger difference in your child’s developmental growth, especially in terms of their physical and language development. Milestones at this stage can include:
- Reaching for objects
- Beginning to hold their bottle with little help
- Starting to shake their rattles and toys
- Beginning noticing more of their surroundings
- Beginning to recognize different family members and caregivers
- Using sounds to express themselves and get your attention
- Starting to laugh
- Beginning to understand conversations
- Beginning to smile at others
- Mimicking your and your family’s movements
- Demonstrating interest in activities and playing
Similar to the previous early childhood developmental stage, actively engaging and communicating with your child on a daily basis can help them gain valuable building blocks as they grow and develop.
6 months – 12 months
Between 6 months and 12 months is when you often start to see your child’s personality coming through. During this developmental stage, they can make leaps and bounds in all the five core areas of early childhood development. Milestones at this stage can include:
- Holding objects
- Sitting up
- Rolling in both directions
- Starting to crawl
- Beginning to recognize their own name
- Starting to experience unfamiliar sounds and smells
- Beginning to demonstrate an interest in books
- Exploring shapes and numbers
- Exploring objects in their environment such as leaves or rocks
- Beginning to show comprehension when you ask simple questions
- Using facial expressions to express emotions
- Beginning to start using familiar words, e.g. mama or dada
- Beginning to show awareness of other people
- May be showing signs of fear around strangers
- Starting to play with themselves and others
During these months, activities such as reading books, singing songs, and doing puzzles can all be beneficial in encouraging the development of physical, cognitive, emotional, and language skills.
12 months – 24 months
Between the ages of 12 months and 24 months, you can expect your child’s language, cognitive, and social-emotional skills to progress even further. It is at this stage that they may begin to learn various skills needed for later in life. Milestones at this stage can include:
- Controlling thumb and index finger movements
- Beginning to wave
- Holding utensils and feed themselves
- Standing up and walks independently
- Developing pre-writing skills through arts and crafts
- Developing interests
- Gaining a sense of individuality
- Beginning to care for others
- Noticing people that are from different cultures and backgrounds (e.g. understands they are listening to a different language)
- Understanding and identifying different objects and colors
- Beginning to identify different body parts
- Starting to understand the difference between various shapes and numbers
- Repeating familiar and non-familiar words
- Following directions and respond to cues
- Starting connecting words to form a sentence
- Beginning to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
- Expressing their feelings and thoughts
- Asking adults for help
- Starting to learn how to use the potty
- Showing interest in getting dressed by themselves
Once your child becomes a toddler is when you get a true sense of how well they are developing. Many early childhood education experts believe that it is at this stage that your child benefits most from attending an early learning program.
Twos – Fours
Lastly, you have the years before your child will be ready to attend kindergarten. Between the ages of two and four is when your child learns how to become more independent and also how to behave in various social situations. Milestones at this stage can include:
- Beginning to start writing their own name
- Drawing simple shapes and patterns
- Eating with utensils independently
- Learning how to get dressed by themselves
- Running, jumping, and balancing on one foot
- Dancing along to music
- Beginning to understand the concept of gender and age
- Developing a strong sense of empathy
- Beginning to understand the difference between right and wrong
- Counting up to 20
- Beginning to learn math concepts and terms
- Developing their observational skills
- Forming questions
- Using their five senses to evaluate different situations
- Forming complex sentences
- Asking ‘who’ and ‘why’ questions
- Learning how to stay on topic during conversations
- Telling simple stories
- Demonstrating appropriate eye contact during conversations
- Communicating their needs clearly and fluently
- Beginning to resolve conflicts on their own
- Taking turns when playing with others
- Learning how to treat others with respect
- Can go to the toilet independently
- Recognizing and respecting the feeling of others
The role of early childhood education during the developmental years
From the moment your child is born to the time that they are an energetic toddler running around and living life to the fullest, they are developing in more ways than you can imagine. However, this development often depends on the level of support, guidance, and attention that they receive.
Not every parent can support their child’s educational needs on their own; we all have different time commitments, educational experience and capacity to teach our own children.
Whatever that reason may be, enrolling your baby in an early learning program is one of the best decisions you can make for your family.
An early learning program is a safe learning environment that allows your child to interact with experienced early childhood educators and children their own age. This type of environment will help your child develop life skills that will help them become healthy individuals when they are older.
Understanding early learning practices & philosophies
Each early learning program follows different educational, social and emotional practices and philosophies when helping children to develop. There is no wrong or right way to teach a child new skills but knowing how early learning programs operate can help you make your decision about what program is the best fit for your family.
There are three core early learning practices and philosophies: Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf Education.
- Montessori – This early learning philosophy focuses on using child-led activities such as unstructured play to encourage children to learn by doing. Drawing on the Sociocultural theory, early learning programs that adopt Montessori practice will allow your child to take the initiative on doing tasks while also receiving direction and guidance from a teacher.
- Reggio Emilia – One of the effective practices in early childhood education is the Reggio Emilia approach. This form of learning allows children to guide the curriculum based on their interests. Early childhood educators are able to observe what your child is curious about and then develop ways to help them expand their knowledge and skillsets.
- Waldorf Education – Waldorf Education takes a more holistic approach to early learning practices. In the Waldorf school of thought, a child’s development should be guided by their creativity and imagination.
The Vivvi learning model has taken key components of Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio and integrated them in a high-level curriculum. For example, like Reggio schools, Vivvi supports children’s curiosity about the world around them. Vivvi’s spaces engage young learners with simplicity and interaction. In addition, Vivvi mimics Montessori’s focus on the whole child. Each month, teachers map out child-inspired thematic webs, a practice that emphasizes that each child’s journey is unique.
And like the Waldorf progressive education philosophy, Vivvi uses inquiry questions throughout the day to create powerful early learning opportunities through oral language experiences. Open-ended in nature, Vivvi sees inquiry questioning techniques as a wonderful opportunity for building a foundation of success in language expression and early literacy.
How parents can get involved in the early learning years
The first few years of your child’s life are some of the most important for their development. It truly takes a village to raise a child, so consider how both you and your early learning program of choice can help to contribute to your child’s development.
- Choose an early learning program that’s right for your family. You have more of a say over which early childhood learning program you’d like your child to attend than anyone else. Create a checklist of items that you would like your program to provide. For example, if a flexible drop-off and pick-up policy is a priority for you, look for a program that offers this. Vivvi’s preschool checklist has some helpful pointers when evaluating early learning programs.
- Encourage early learning at home. Your child can get so much out of an early learning program, but it helps to turn your home into a learning environment too. Practice early learning activities at home with your child so that they can continue to strengthen their developmental skills. Stuck on ideas? Ask your child’s early learning program for inspiration.
Our children seek learning opportunities in all situations and need various forms of support throughout their early childhood education years. As a parent, you can help by engaging your child in activities that will help them to hit their developmental milestones while also sending them to an early learning center where they can interact with educators and peers.