by Debra Pierce, Professor, Early Childhood Education
I am an Early Childhood professor for Ivy Tech. Our program has qualified professors and instructors, all of whom have a master’s degree or higher in the field and have experience actually working in the profession. I spent 15 years teaching in a NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) accredited preschool myself, before teaching adults.
The Early Childhood Education program at Ivy Tech is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This means the courses and instruction and program philosophy follows the guidelines of NAEYC, meeting standards for quality and promotion of developmentally appropriate practices.
Early care and education is a very important field. A child’s brain grows to 90% of adult size by age five, so providing proper experiences and stimulation are critical. This growth supports cognitive (early language, literacy, and math), social (metacognition, empathy, prosocial), attention, self-regulation, and executive function skills. As a child grows up, the skills he acquires later will cumulatively build on these early ones.
The achievement gap between low-income children and those in higher socio-economic groups is already apparent by 18 months. Waiting until kindergarten to try to close it is a colossal waste of precious time! A related benefit of preschool is the availability of early screening and treatment of developmental delays, which can provide services and make a difference for children.
Evidence suggests that one or two years of early childhood education provided in a developmentally appropriate program will improve a child’s early language, literacy, and math skills- representing between ½ to a full year of additional learning than he would have attained without access to preschool.
Recent research has found that children who attended pre-K were less timid, had higher levels of attentiveness, and were more engaged in the classroom.
Investing in quality preschool programs create substantial returns, and this is especially true with at-risk children. For example, a recent evaluation of the Chicago Public Schools’ “Child Parent Centers” found that for every dollar invested, nearly $11 is projected to return to society over those children’s lifetimes. This is due to higher rates of college attendance, employment in higher skilled jobs, lower rates of grade retentions and special education placements, and less criminal arrests, welfare spending, and unemployment.
Research tells us that without quality preschool, at-risk children are 25% more likely to drop out of school and 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
Some of the most important take-aways from attending a quality preschool may be things other than academics. They are skills that enable people to interact appropriately with others. Children learn important skills like controlling their tempers, keeping an open mind, and the ability to focus. These are things they will need to be successful in the workplace and in life in general.
If we project 20 years into the future, without investments in early childhood education, we can expect a less educated workforce, lower earning ability, less taxes being paid, and an increased reliance on preventable social services.
Even during rough fiscal times, investing in high quality early childhood programs is one of the most effective choices the government can make.
Recently, our state voted to expand state-funded preschool. This is wonderful news, for two reasons. For one, it provides the opportunity for even more young children to have a chance to attend preschool and get a great start towards in their development and education. Secondly, it has opened up the need for many more teachers of young children! Just about every program in our state is looking for trained and qualified early educators.
This is a great time to get into the field of Early Childhood. When someone asks me what I would say to a person considering pursuing this career, this is how I always respond: “You will need to have an innate passion for working with young children. This is not a job. This is not “watching kids” or babysitting. This is a full-on commitment to caring and teaching. It takes patience, flexibility, and unconditional love.”
When I think about some of the greatest rewards that I remember from working with young children, many come to mind. These include those teachable moments with the three-year-olds I taught, when they would have those epic “ah-hah” moments… figuring out something for the first time or finding something that totally fascinated them. Or, when you get those hugs throughout the day and sometimes they inadvertently call you “mom” or “grandma.” Or, the close relationships I built with the children’s families, as we worked together to the benefit of their children’s learning and development. All of those things made my soul smile.
I am also sometimes asked what some of the hardest parts about working in Early Childhood Education. Those would probably be working with at-risk children, knowing that the safest parts of their day are those spent with you and that they will have to go back to situations at home that no one would wish on another, and especially not a young child. It was, however, very rewarding to know that when they were with me, they felt safe, loved, and were learning.
Sometimes working with families can be difficult, as well. Many times, adults have had bad experiences themselves in school situations. This makes them leery of any school and they could either feel intimidated or defensive around teachers… even their child’s preschool teacher. This takes work to mend, but it is usually these very parents that turn out to be the most reliable and wonderful and definitely worth the effort!
If any of this has sparked some interest for you, please don’t hesitate to drop by to talk with me about our program and how you can get involved in the Early Childhood profession. I would be happy to share my experiences and information about our program over a cup of coffee. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.