Joshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)
Getting Started in Early Childhood Education (ECE)!
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
The Basics of Early Childhood Education
When looking for a beginning point in early childhood education there are some basics you should start your research or learning journey with. The first is digging into some of the prominent theories on child development. This is pretty heavy stuff and can be be confusing so take your time to understand the varied beliefs as often times school programs, national curriculums, and approaches base what they do on one or more of these theories. Next start looking at the different approaches to ECE. There are many out there and with a foundation in the theorists you will then be able to connect the dots as to which approach is related to which theoretical belief system. The third and final is to network and connect with early years educators around the world. This will really help you see how amazing teachers put theory into practice.
ECE Theories: Three Theorists you Should Know!
Knowing your theorists will help you figure out why certain schools approach learning a certain way. You many also find schools that don't seem to have any theoretical underpinning. There is no better place to start than with Friedrich Froebel, Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget. Any ECE course or introduction will most likely include these three theorists. They really are the bread and butter of child development theory.
Stating with Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) is particularly recommended because it was Froebel who coined the term 'kindergarten' that we use so often today. Like the man himself the term 'kindergarten' is German with Kinder meaning children and garten meaning garden. So literary a garden for children. It makes you think if that is what kindergarten means why do so many kindergartens lack the last part, a garden. Froebel's philosophy of education had four simple elements; free self-expression, creativity, social participation and motor expression. These are also elements that can be abent from the a kindergarten classroom but yet so important.
Lev Vygotsky was a Russian theorist. Although he died young Vygotsky had a long lasting effect on early childhood education. His theory on ZPD (Zone of Promixal Development) is one that is well know in the world of ECE. He also believed that the community has a central role in the process of making meaning and that cultural and social interactions play has a large impact on a child's development.
Jean Piaget was a Swiss theorist who was working around the same time as Vygotsky but lived longer and so he was able to develop his theories on children's cognitive development much further. Piaget had many great contributions to the field of ECE including Schemas and Stages of play (cognitive development). Many kindergartens or early years national curriculums base what the think children should be ready to learn on Piaget's stages.
These three theorists are just the tip of the iceberg as there are plenty more theorists in the sea. It is also important to understand that when you encounter the various theories you may find they challenge each other. So you need to take each with a spoonful of critical thinking and analyse different elements from each.
Approaches to ECE: Famous ECE Approaches & Curriulum's
Taking a deep dive into famous approaches to early childhood education will give you a more complete understanding of how theory gets put into practice. There is no better place to start than the Montessori, Waldorlf (Steiner) and Reggio Emilia Approaches, often called 'The Big Three'. Montessori and Reggio Emilia origintated from Italy and Waldorf from Germany. Since their inception each approach has gained popularity around the world. I also included High Scope which stems from the USA. It is a worthy approach to look at but probably not as popular as others out there. For example forest schools are increasingly popular and in the international education field national curriculums are far more common. the UK's EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage)and USA's Common Core etc. can be found in across Asia, Afric and South America. Although I would say most national curriculums come with way more political baggage that pollute DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practice).
The Montessori Approach was the first out of 'The Big Three' and quite revolutionary both for its child centered approach and also its founder, Maria Montessori. Some of the key elements include the teacher as a guide, mixed age learning and purpose built learning tools called manipulatives. Teachers interested in becoming a Montessori educator can find acredited certification in many countries.
The Waldof Approach was created by German artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. Unlike the Montessori Approach, which contains elements of traditional academic content in it, the Waldorf Approach focuses more on the arts. Like Montessori, Waldorf is also mixed age and offers schooling from early years to high school. Waldorf also has school and teacher accreditations. If the teacher in Montessori is a guide you could say the Waldorf educator acts more, but not predominately, as a performer offering a wide variety of stories and music for children. There is also a deep focus on natural materials and elements as well as a rejection of technology in the early years in favour of a deeper connection to the natural world.
The Reggio Emilia Approach differs from the first two in that it was named after a city not its creator, Loris Malaguzzi. Unlike Montessori and Waldorf, the Reggio Emilia Approach doesn't offer school or teacher certifications and so the only Reggio Emilia schools can be found in the city itself. Any kindergarten around the world that wants to follow the approach can only be Reggio Inspired. It is also an approach soley focused on the early years. The Reggio educator can be seen to take on various roles in the support of the child. Reggio also places a great focus on project based learning with the ideas for them steming from the children in each class. The families, community and teachers are all seen as important and valuable members of the learning journey.
As you delve into each approach you will find similarities and differences but it also true to say you will never fully understand any approach until you live and breath it. Working in, sending your child to or extensive study placements is the best way to really understand and feel an approach.
ECE Communities: Connect & Learn from Professionls
Now it is time to start connecting with educators and experts. The best place to do is on social media. LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Wechat (for those in China). You can find a wide selection of reading materials on Amazon as well as a wide variety of experts presentations and conversations on YouTube. Check out our conversations with authors and educators at Barrkinderplay.
There are many amazing facebook groups that focus on early years in general and specific approaches. I particulary recommend Reggio Inspired Educators. All you need to do is search them. If your interests are more professional then LinkedIn would be a good place to start.
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Getting Started in Early Childhood Education (ECE)
By Joshua Barr