Early childhood education comes with a critical opportunity for improving the developmental trajectories young children need to go through. The learning process also comes with Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) that have scientifically proved to be improving these developmental outcomes. A considerable amount of evidence from research studies and those working with child development and early education confirm that children below the age of four gain a lot in being in a high quality setting in early learning. In fact, age zero to five is viewed as a crucial period for the development of behaving, thinking, and emotional well-being. Child development experts Sun, Rao and Pearson confirm that it is in this period that children get an opportunity of developing cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social, and regulatory skills that predict their functioning later in life (Sun, Rao, & Pearson, 2015). Additionally, there are mandates from the federal law requiring early childhood practitioners to be committed to implementing EBPs. The paper will be discussing curriculum in the field of early childhood education and will be revolving around the thesis statement that a high quality early childhood curriculum provides a safe and nurturing environment while also promoting overall development of young children.
An early childhood education curriculum (ECEC) essentially refers to the methods and contents that help in children's development and learning during early childhood. It answers issues such as what should be taught and how it should be taught. It is a complex subject of discussion, as it contains more than a single component. These include ECEC goals, pedagogical and content practices, among others. However, the primary purpose of a high-quality early childhood curriculum should be in ensuring the expansion and development of comprehensive early childhood care and education, particularly for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children. According to OECD (2018), there are various ways of maintaining a high quality early childhood education curriculum, including the following:
Ensuring Consistency and Adapting to Local Needs
Multiple benefits come with a good ECEC. In utilizing all these benefits, it is necessary to promote quality across the subject provision in the different age groups, all of which should contribute to a system that is more equitable. It should also support and the guide the subject staff, facilitating communication between the parents and teachers, and in ensuring continuity between the kindergarten and middle school levels. It is, however, necessary to also keep in mind that an ECEC can remain the same for years and lack the requirements in being able to adapt to the ever-changing societies (Sun et al., 2015). It can also limit the creativity and freedom of the involved stuff.
Due to ECEC centers often being more diverse, with children coming from different backgrounds and home environments, putting into consideration the fact that these children can have differing needs is necessary for the effectiveness of the curriculum. Activities and settings whose primary purpose is in accommodating the different approaches to learning for children in their early ages have proved to be reducing the potential inattentive and disruptive behavior the children may have otherwise possessed, such as fighting with a peer, being unwilling to respond to questions or not co-operating in class.
With the many communities, cultures, and settings that different children get to grow up in, engagement of various stakeholders in the development and refining of a good curriculum, and in adapting to the curriculum, is important (Sun et al., 2015). A high-quality curriculum aims towards meeting the children's needs, as well as genuinely focusing on the child and their development.
Aligning the Curriculum towards the Set Goals and Continuous Child Development
When determining a good ECEC framework, standard, or guideline, the ECEC goals should first be defined, and the curriculum's content clarified. Defining this first has proved to be challenging in many countries, as the differing stakeholder visions of what the curriculum should be aiming at and what it should be including is still a question. Researchers, policymakers, parents, and professionals consider different subjects as being important, with each having its cultural ideas and values a child needs in their early development. Aligning curriculum content and goals with the future and current societal needs at large may at times be challenging, particularly, with ensuing changes, such as advances and increasing migration in knowledge and information economies (OECD, 2018). In most countries, ECEC goals are usually set, as well as the subjects being prescribed on a national level. It is so often due to the intensive consultations that different stakeholders involved in the curriculum may have.
Ensuring a continuous child development from birth to their primary education has proved to be the primary challenge in many countries with a "split system" where early learning and early care can be administered by the different ministries (OECD, 2018). These countries have ECECs that lack a proper framework for children between the ages of zero to three. The used approach of splitting the system is often because of the differences between the two sectors, such as differing goals, historical roots, and a focus on the contents.
Ensuring there is a smooth transition from ECEC to primary education may at times also be a challenge in already established and integrated systems in some counties. Practices and approaches to teaching prove that children's experience may often be disconnected in different curriculum settings and compulsory schooling systems (OECD, 2018). Aligning the curriculum appropriately can indeed go a long way ensuring the quality of the curriculum.
Thinking Beyond the ECEC's Dichotomies
Traditionally, ECECs have been categorized in more comprehensive models that are leaned towards an academic approach. The approach makes use of a curriculum that needs to be initiated by staff, while also having cognitive aims for school preparation. It also focuses on each child and aims at broadening the scope of well-being and holistic development. There is also a prescription of teaching in critical topic areas while also limiting a child-centered environment that is characterized by activities that are self-initiated, as well as self-determination and creativity (Taguma, Litjens, & Makowiecki, 2012). Having aims that are more flexible aids in integrating emotional and social well-being, communication skills and general knowledge, while also risking losing focus on the essential educational goals.
However, it is necessary also to note that "mixed models" combining different curriculum approaches may not always successfully be integrated into practice. In many countries, implementing a mixed model curriculum has proved to be less effective than having a purely academic and comprehensive approach. Nevertheless, a clearly outlined dichotomy between a theoretical and compressive approach may not always be warranted (Vliegenthart & Adelmund, 2000). As opposed to focusing on the curriculum type, it may prove beneficial to highlight the curriculum's critical learning areas, implementation, as well as considering other approaches that promote flexibility.
Considering Children's Perspective
Studies confirm the significance of a child's perspective not only through how they participate in different activities but also through the active input, and they place in decision-making processes. Evidence has also suggested a consultation with children as having great potential of increasing their self-esteem and fostering social competence (Sun et al., 2015). It can also aid the dedicated staff to reflect on their own practice concerning used ECEC as well as aspects such as the design of outdoor and indoor spaces.
Ensuring quality in an ECEC by considering children's perspective recommends a mode of learning that is child-initiated. Conducted research confirms that children can learn best when they are actively engaged when the interactions are meaningful and frequent, and when the curriculum builds on the previous learning (Vliegenthart & Adelmund, 2000). The ability of the staff members to be able to create a chain of learning events over time with concrete activities and a clear and direct perspective may also prove to be of importance. It will aid in ensuring quality in the ECEC through consistent development, particularly in academic areas.
Studies have often addressed the question as to what constitutes to high quality early childhood curriculum. Among the best definitions include high-quality early childhood curriculum being understood as a program that ensures and nurturing and safe environment while also promoting the social, physical, intellectual, and emotional development for young children. Early childhood generally includes the ages from zero to eight (U.S Department of State, 2018).
Development and growth can be understood in a way as a continuum that takes place from birth and onwards. However, it is evident that there are indeed some necessary changes at some stages and ages. The shift from the early childhood to middle school was among these essential changes. As a result, it is essential that an early childhood classroom sound, look, and feel different from an elementary classroom. (Wechsler, Melnick, Maier, & Bishop, 2016). According to Wechsler, et al. (2016), there are various features exhibited by every high quality early childhood curriculum that will be addressed in the section. There will also be a review of the European ECEC curriculum, as well as discussing the curriculum's approach.
Comprehensive Early Learning Standards and Appropriate Child Assessments
A high-quality ECEC needs to be based on comprehensive standards of early learning, those that consider the child, developmentally appropriate in its nature, as well as being effectively implemented. The early learning standards address many other domains of development. These include social-emotional, academic, and physical, as a way of ensuring children grow in all the ways that aid them to be healthy and ready for the later years in school. They also must accommodate the implementation of developmentally appropriate curricula, one that emphasizes the guided learning opportunities that are hands-on and language-rich (Wechsler et al., 2016).
Studies conducted by Wechsler, Melnick, Maier, and Bishop determined that students extensively involved with content during the development of conceptual understanding can aid in developing skills in certain areas, such as language and development. However, the curriculum must be well implemented if it is to be effective. Teachers must also be well prepared before following through with the curriculum as well as being involved in in-class coaching for teachers as a way of increasing the likelihood of the curriculum being effectively used (Wechsler et al., 2016).
Professional Knowledge and Skills
Another key feature of a high-quality ECEC is its ability to aid the dedicated staff implement proper support to the learning and development processes the children have. Countries need to be encouraged to align qualifications for early childhood educators. All the lead teachers also need to have a bachelor's degree and should have specialized in early childhood education (Wechsler et al., 2016). Well-prepared teachers should also have the...
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