Environment in Early Childhood Education
Early childhood education is a subject of significant contemporary discourse and research. Recent studies aim to enhance our understanding of young learners’ cognitive development, socio-emotional needs, and the environmental factors shaping their early lives. Educators today are dedicated to formulating innovative approaches that encompass these aspects and incorporate diverse teaching methodologies within modern classrooms.
The foundations of educational practices for young children date back several centuries, with influential figures like Johann Pestalozzi, John Dewey, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Maria Montessori, and others. These educators recognized childhood as a distinct developmental phase, prompting the emergence of specialized educational strategies. In earlier times, young children’s education was rather formal, with prescribed standards that learners were expected to meet by course completion. Moreover, education for young children often occurred within home environments rather than collective classrooms.
Prior to the contributions of these educators, society had paid little heed to children’s development. Children from lower and working-class backgrounds were subject to harsh discipline and neglect, as they were perceived as unproductive labor. Education was limited to practical knowledge imparted by parents. Meanwhile, upper-class children received education at home, encompassing essential disciplines deemed suitable for their social standing. Czech educator Johann Comenius advocated maternal care from pregnancy’s early stages and highlighted learning methods best suited for children (Platz & Arellano, 2011). Jean Jacques Rousseau emphasized nature’s role in harmonious child development, challenging the prevailing notion of home-based education and promoting education in natural settings. John Dewey championed play-based learning to foster social, physical, and emotional growth.
As understanding of children evolved, so did educators’ roles. Initially, teachers primarily enforced discipline, often resorting to physical punishments. Today, educators serve as guides, facilitating knowledge acquisition while encouraging self-expression, independent thought, and unique problem-solving. Modern childhood education is child-centered, shaped by increased attention to young learners (Morrison, 2012).
Educators such as Rousseau, Comenius, and Dewey underscored the link between classroom knowledge and real-world contexts. They advocated practical application of classroom learning in daily life. This approach remains integral to modern childhood education, with educators now researching context’s significance in childhood development and learning. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory posits that a person’s development cannot be separated from surrounding factors and overlapping contexts, shaping behavior and character (Gershoff, Mistry & Crosby, 2013).
Factors influencing contemporary children include family dynamics, growth environments, community socio-economic status, and cultural backgrounds. Assessment now considers these influences to discern knowledge acquisition, children’s needs, and suitable curricula based on environments (Morrison, 2012). To realize Comenius’s vision of applicable classroom knowledge, modern educators emphasize inclusive teaching, particularly vital in diverse societies where inclusion fosters interactive, effective education for all.
Family is a primary societal influence, given young children’s significant time with parents. Family involvement is an official aspect of early childhood education, ensuring high-quality learning. For instance, in Illinois, family engagement in early childhood education is enshrined in a 10-year plan by the State Board of Education. The plan emphasizes parental involvement levels, creating participation opportunities, school staff support, respecting family and child backgrounds, and recognizing parents as stakeholders in decision-making (Hilado, 2013).
Technological advancements also impact modern childhood education. While children exhibit enhanced skills, reduced parental reading time due to technology’s prominence raises concerns. Technology holds a place in society but should not supersede educational roles unsupervised.
In conclusion, early childhood education has evolved over centuries, but today, educators continue to explore ideas endorsed by earlier educational pioneers. The significance of context and environment in education has been re-evaluated, forming a crucial strategy in modern young children’s education.
Gershoff, E. T., Mistry, R. S., & Crosby, D. A. (2013). Societal contexts of child development: Pathways of influence and implications for practice and policy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hilado, A. V. (2013). Examining understandings of parent involvement in early childhood programs. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 15(2).
Morrison, G. S. (2012). Early childhood education today (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Platz, D., & Arellano, J. (2011). Time-tested early childhood theories and practices. Education, 132(1), 54-63.