Thoughts on Early Childhood

By Jim Greenman

Childhood is a time when children become the people that they will be; when nature and nurture, heredity and experience constantly intertwine to determine the course of development. Recognizing the importance of the whole child is important to the child's success in school and success in life.

Fundamental Beliefs On Development

  • From birth, children are active learners who construct meaning through experience.
  • Development occurs in sequences. The precise sequence and timing reflect individual and cultural differences. Children know the world differently at different periods in their lives.
  • Development is not a race and earlier is generally not better in motor development, reading, and most other developmental areas.
  • Intelligence is not a single, unified, cognitive construct. There are multiple intelligences. The question is not "How smart is this child?" but rather "How is this child smart?"
  • Cognition is a social phenomenon. Social experience shapes the way we see and interpret the world. Our social environment plays a critical role in motivating, facilitating, and sustaining developmental growth.
  • Emotional intelligence is as important to success in school and life as cognition.
  • The primary vehicles for child learning are:
  1. Play: active exploration and discovery chosen by the child in a experientially rich environment/strong>
  2. Interaction with children and adults
  3. Opportunity for reflection on that experience
  • Language plays a critical role in development because it is our primary avenue of communication and mental contact with others, the major means by which experience is represented psychologically, and an indispensable tool for thought. A rich language environment is essential in the first five years of life.
  • Based on the development of the brain, there are optimum periods for learning, particularly acquiring a facility for language and second language acquisitions.

Fundamental Beliefs On Early Education

  • Early education is not about didactic instruction and information. It is about hands-on experience with the world of people, things, concepts and mentoring adults who help children understand how the world works and all that they are capable of. It is about discovering skills and knowledge, challenge and mastery.
  • All experience or play is not equal, and the early childhood educator's job is to provide the most educationally appropriate environment and to mentor the child.
  • Teachers need to recognize for each child what Vygotsky calls the Zone of Proximal Development: the hypothetical, dynamic region where development takes place. It is the distance between what a child can accomplish during independent problem solving and what he or she can accomplish with the help of an adult or more competent member of the culture.
  • Scaffolding is a useful metaphor for describing the optimum teaching/learning interactions. The child constructs his or herself through active interaction. The social environment is the scaffold that allows the child to move forward and build new competencies. The quality of the scaffold — the social environment — greatly influences the child's development.
  • Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is an important concept that has often been defined rigidly to not allow for cultural and individual differences. NAEYC's revision in 1997 and subsequent position papers recognize that DAP requires consideration of what the individual child is capable of.
  • School readiness is an important concept that has been used inappropriately to push academic instruction downward. It has also been inappropriately rejected by some early childhood educators as a legitimate concern and responsibility of preschool programs. Developmentally appropriate school readiness is a responsibility of early education programs and is met by focusing on the intellectual and social skills necessary for school success prior to the transition to school.

Children are active learners who learn best from activities they plan and carry out themselves. They are little scientists and builders, acrobats and artisans who need active experience with the world of people and things; who need opportunities to set goals, plan, reflect, and take responsibility. From birth, they are communicators who need a world filled with books, language experiences, and great conversation. Offer each child a world rich with discovery opportunities guided by skilled and sensitive teachers who recognize each child’s individual strengths, optimum opportunities to learn, and what he or she needs to succeed in school and life.