Early Childhood Studies: Current Issues and Trends

Changing Demographics

The changing racial, cultural, and linguistic demographics in Hansvale County have an impact on Building Blocks Learning Center (BBLC). Teachers at the center have been forced to change the curriculums to accommodate the demographic changes seen in the county. The center now accommodates children, regardless of whether they are white or black since immigration in the county has resulted in parents from all corners of the world who are willing to have their toddlers go through quality care and education. However, it is crucial to note that quality care and education are not the only factors behind the witnessed immigration.

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Other factors, which include the search for greener pastures and security, are outside the context of this discussion. According to Choi et al. (2016), the changing demographics in early childhood have increased the complexity of childhood professional practice, owing to the need to fulfill the demands for cultural and linguistic diversity. Modern preschool classrooms have children from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Early childhood professionals have to become more culturally responsive and better prepared to operate in an environment with diverse young children and families. Additionally, the need for Building Blocks Learning Center to remain culturally and linguistically sensitive has increased the need for its teaching professionals to seek training to gain more skills that will enable them to deliver the best learning experiences to its students. Such cultural and linguistic sensitivity in the learning center has also increased the demand for bilingual practitioners who are better prepared to provide learning, which is considerate of the children in the school.

Moreover, changes in policies to accommodate and reflect diversity in classrooms is a major impact on the early childhood profession since practitioners are increasingly operating in an ever-changing environment, as witnessed in BBLC (Choi et al., 2016). BBLC’s appreciation of demographic changes is evidenced by its toddler program that emphasizes sign language to allow learners to interact properly even with their colleagues who may have hearing problems.

Home language and/or race may influence children and families. The main impact here is an increase in disparities concerning the rate of enrollment of children into early childhood programs among different communities. One example of this impact has been notable among families of minority Hispanic communities who have indicated the lowest enrolment level. The lower rates of enrollment by the community may have been tied to their strong partiality for informal care by relatives (Lindsay, Salkeld, Greaney, & Sands, 2015).

BBLC’s pre-school education program is fashioned in a manner where tutors can differentiate their lessons to meet the learners’ diverse language demands. Elish-Piper (2017) offers another example in the US that is experiencing many immigrants who are not familiar with English. The authors reveal how teacher-child relationships are important in streamlining their (children) communication skills at an early age, especially in communities that speak a second language at home. The changing demographics, for instance, home language or race and culture in BBLC have far-reaching impacts on children and families.

Firstly, the changes affect children’s educational attainment since they have to take time adjusting to the new language, culture, and consequently, the learning syllabus. According to Crosnoe, Prickett, Smith, and Cavanagh (2014), some of the changing demographics include single-parent families, culturally integrated families (where the parents are from different cultural backgrounds), and same-sex marriages among other changes.

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Crosnoe et al. (2014) note that due to the instability of the family structure, children lo longer have a stable environment to develop maximally, a situation that leads to poor outcomes in learning and development. Such demographics also influence children’s sense of identity, hence consequently interfering with their learning (Crosnoe et al., 2014). In the case of single-women led families, poverty is a major issue, which has negative outcomes on the wellbeing of the household and on the children (Jiang, Ekono, & Skinner, 2014).

The changing demographics demand the need for the establishment of early childhood programs to ensure that all learners attain equitable outcomes and experiences. According to Piazza, Rao, and Protacio (2014), early childhood programs can effectively respond to the above changes by focusing on activities that are culturally considerate of all learners. This goal can be achieved by focusing on communication, collaboration, visual representation, explicit instruction, and inquiry.

Through these activities, early childhood practitioners can ensure that communication and the representation of different learning activities factor in the diversity of the learners and families (Piazza et al., 2014). Secondly, it is important to encourage cultural training for the professionals to ensure that they are sensitive to the diversity that exists in the learning environment. For example, increasing the number of practitioners who are multilingual or with exposure to more cultures in BBLC can increase their cultural competency and hence their ability to teach effectively in a diverse classroom.

Lastly, Piazza et al. (2014) note that programs should encourage close collaboration between early childhood professionals and families to create a rapport and an understanding of the various demands of different children in the learning environment. Such an approach will result in early childhood professional design activities that meet the diverse demands, thus guaranteeing equitable learning experiences and outcomes.

Poverty and Child Development

One of the impacts of poverty on healthy child development and learning is the lack of affordability by parents to enroll their children in early childhood education programs (Jiang et al., 2014). Underprivileged parents opt for cheaper ways to educate their children such as through relatives (Jiang et al., 2014). Another common feature among children from poor families is the toxic environmental exposure such as unsupportive parents, domestic violence, neighborhood aggression, and crime among other negative externalities that increase their stress levels (Luby et al., 2013).

Inevitably, high anxiety levels have deleterious effects on the children’s mental development and learning (Luby et al., 2013). To encourage the enrollment of children from poor backgrounds, the center can organize program modifications such as subsidy funds to assist them to meet tuition fees. To counter the problem of inadequate nutrition, the center can enroll in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). CACFP reimburses centers at free, reduced-price, or paid rates for eligible meals and snacks served to the enrolled children, specifically targeting the neediest children (Child and Adult Care Food Program, 2016).

CACFP helps centers provide balanced meals and nutrition education to their families. The rationale behind this suggestion is that parents may be willing to have their children enroll in centers such as BBLC but fail to have the capacity to sustain them in school following their lack of finances to cater for nutrition expenses among other costs.

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Children living in poverty have unique needs and circumstances that require adjustments in the early childhood program to meet their needs. Jiang et al. (2014) note that children in living in poverty face different factors that put them at a risk of emotional and behavioral problems. To overcome the risks, the early childhood programs should be modified to consider issues such as the inclusion of early childhood mental health consultants, effective partnership between learning institutions and families, support for early childhood professionals, and family-based support, for instance, the Head-Start Program.

Such changes will ensure that learners have the necessary emotional and mental support to prepare them well for learning. Additionally, such modification will ensure that early childhood practitioners have the necessary skills to offer effective learning activities to the children. Lastly, the family-support programs will ensure that problems at the family level are identified early in advance, with remedies being provided to pave the way for continuous learning for the children. According to Blazer (2012), teachers and early childhood development professionals can enroll themselves into programs that improve their child-handling skills while enabling them to identify and solve critical issues such as inequity at the beginning of infancy education.

Several strategies can be used to promote healthy development and learning for children from poor backgrounds. Choi et al. (2016) assert that early childhood professionals should focus on creating high-quality teacher-child interactions with emotional support for children. The authors note that emotionally supportive and well-organized classrooms increase the learning outcomes for children from poor backgrounds (Smith, 2016).

In this case, first-rate teacher-child interactions relate to the close and personalized focus on students’ welfare at the classroom environment where early childhood professionals work closely with the child to satisfy their (kids) emotional and learning needs (Choi et al., 2016). The awareness of the emotional and learning needs of the child allows the teacher to dedicate more time to interacting with the children, thus boosting the learning outcomes. However, to have the best outcomes, it is important for teachers to be trained on cultural and emotional sensitivity, which will ensure that they are considerate of the prevailing learners’ needs.

Various Federal policies relate to equity in early childhood education. For instance, the 2007 Head Start Law provides a concrete roadmap that supports the formation of partnerships with state and local initiatives, including innovation and excellence in early childhood education. The legislation has also been instrumental in creating a platform for fund development such as the Early Learning Challenge Fund that has allowed centers such as BBLC to provide social, nutritional, and parental involvement services.

The No Child Left Behind Act provides a framework for assessing children such as those in early childhood centers through the administration of standardized tests that assess their yearly progress (Bogin & Nguyen-Hoang, 2014). The law requires the centers to provide services to students who fail to meet the standards of the test. These services may include social, nutritional, and counseling among others (Bogin & Nguyen-Hoang, 2014).

Brain Research and Child Development

Recent brain research findings show the ability of people to influence the development of the brain and consequently children’s learning outcomes. Patterson and Vakili (2014) point out to new evidence, which identifies the influence of the social and physical environment on the development of brain and learning outcomes. Accordingly, the findings of recent brain research are relevant to the child development and learning since they support the need for interventions that will enhance brain development, thus increasing children’s learning capacity (Patterson & Vakili, 2014).

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Some of these activities that brain research supports include the role of nutrition, family interactions, and childhood environment. With such understanding, practitioners and other stakeholders in early childhood development can put in place policies and interventions to enhance children’s brain development, thus leading to better learning success. According to Sripada (2012), the ability to develop and modify thinking and behavioral patterns is most cognizant during a child’s early years of life. The center and the early childhood professionals can use this recent information to exploit learners’ ability from early ages to improve their development and learning (Sripada, 2012). Secondly, recent research by Prado and Dewey (2014) indicates that adequate nutrition is essential for neurodevelopmental processes.

This information is relevant in cases of children from poverty-stricken families who suffer from nutritional deficiencies and/or whose level of development in their early years is threatened. This claim is in line with Ramey and Ramey’s (2010) findings, “addressing the comprehensive service needs of young children and their families are essential to the school readiness of low-income, and indeed all, children” (p. 60). Similarly, consistent constructive education of children through repetitive learning experience may help to stimulate a child’s brain to respond to future experiences (Belsky, 2012).

Research by Patterson and Vakili (2014) about brain studies and child development shows the importance of health and emotional interventions in enhancing the healthy development and learning of children. According to Patterson and Vakili (2014), early childhood professionals can use the findings in research to design programs that can facilitate an environment that is emotionally considerate of the learners’ needs.

Additionally, the findings can guide BBLC professionals to understand the influence of the social and physical environments of children, thus leading them to appreciate the circumstances of each learner. Such awareness will facilitate high-quality teacher-child interactions where the professionals are keen and interested in the needs of each child (Choi et al., 2016). The outcome of the approaches is a better learning and excellent emotional outcomes for all learners in BBLC.

Effective Use of Technology in the Classroom

One of the benefits of integrating technology into learning is the acceleration of the education process (Diamant-Cohen & Goldsmith, 2016). Technology helps in narrowing the gap among children from challenging demographics such as the gap between learners from low-income and high-income families. A challenge posed by the use of technology as a teaching tool is the aspect that some teachers may deploy it inappropriately to replace important aspects of active learning such as teacher-child connections, child-child interactions, and vigorous play.

An example of wrongful deployment may be witnessed when teachers take much time doing their things such as receiving and sending personal emails or even playing games using gadgets that are meant to be used as learning tools for students. This practice reduces their time with children, hence affecting their knowledge attainment and consequently classroom performance.

It is crucial to recommend the necessary guidelines for families concerning the appropriate use of technology for children. When using technology for teaching, the aspect of human interaction is essential for infants and toddlers. Gonzalez, Borders, Hines, Villalba, and Henderson (2013) recommend encouraging parents to be actively involved in their children’s education. They should be aggressively involved in the child’s learning process through a one-on-one interaction such as active talking or even via mobile phones. Newborns need to be stimulated through active contacts with other children or with grown-up individuals.

For the case of children with special needs, technology that is tailored to their needs should be incorporated as part of their learning experiences. For instance, according to Crosby, Rasinski, Padak, and Yildirim (2015), the use of images, animals, and surroundings for children with mental conditions such as cerebral palsy may help in improving their memory.

Children in another developmental stage such as preschoolers and kindergartners should be allowed to touch and/or explore appropriate interactive media such as touch screens to enhance or stimulate their emotive aspects. Children in this stage should also be introduced to computer knowledge and skills at an early age. According to Diamant-Cohen and Goldsmith (2016), the move can provide such youthful kids with the opportunity to effectively use digital media in class.

As children at this level become more successful in using technology, teachers and parents should celebrate their accomplishments, for instance, by clapping when they use a piece of technology correctly as a way of encouraging and motivating them. Parents and teachers may also document children’s progress in the form of videos or images to enable the children to connect various relationships at different points in their life. It can be difficult to strike a balance between active learning and technology, especially for older teachers. However, it is important to teach children and their parents that technology is not just toys, but tools that can be used to improve their learning experiences (Diamant-Cohen & Goldsmith, 2016).

References

Belsky, J. (2012). Experiencing the lifespan. Basingstoke, The United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

Blazer, C. (2012). Pre-kindergarten: Research-based recommendations for developing standards and factors contributing to school readiness gaps. Web.

Bogin, A., & Nguyen-Hoang, P. (2014). Property left behind: An unintended consequence of a no child left behind ‘failing’ school designation. Journal of Regional Science, 54(5), 788-805.

Child and Adult Care Food Program. (2016). Child day care centers. Web.

Choi, J. Y., Castle, S., Williamson, A. C., Young, E., Worley, L., Long, M., & Horm, D. M. (2016). Teacher-child interactions and the development of executive function in preschool-age children attending head start. Early Education and Development, 27(6), 751-769.

Crosby, S., Rasinski, T., Padak, N., & Yildirim, K. (2015). A 3-year study of a school-based parental involvement program in early literacy. Journal of Educational Research, 108(2), 165-172.

Crosnoe, R., Prickett, K., Smith, C., & Cavanagh, S. (2014). Changes in young children’s family structures and child care arrangements. Demography, 51(2), 459-483.

Diamant-Cohen, B., & Goldsmith, A. (2016). Digital media and young children. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 14(2), 38-39.

Elish-Piper, L. (2017). Parent involvement in reading. Illinois Reading Council Journal, 45(2), 45-48.

Gonzalez, L., Borders, L. D., Hines, E., Villalba, J., & Henderson, A. (2013). Parental involvement in children’s education: Considerations for school counselors working with Latino immigrant families. Professional School Counseling, 16(3), 185-193.

Jiang, W., Ekono, M., & Skinner, C. (2014). Basic facts about low-income children. New York, NY: National Center for Children in Poverty.

Lindsay, A. C., Salkeld, J. A., Greaney, M. L., & Sands, F. D. (2015). Latino family childcare providers’ beliefs, attitudes, and practices related to promotion of healthy behaviors among preschool children: A qualitative study. Journal of Obesity, 15. Web.

Luby, J., Belden, A., Botteron, K., Marrus, N., Harms, M. P., Babb, C.,… Barch, D. (2013). The effects of poverty on childhood brain development: The mediating effect of caregiving and stressful life events. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(12), 1135-1142.

Patterson, J. E., & Vakili, S. (2014). Relationships, environment, and the brain: How emerging research is changing what we know about the impact of families on human development. Family Process, 53(1), 22-32.

Piazza, S. V., Rao, S., & Protacio, M. S. (2015). Converging recommendations for culturally responsive literacy practices: students with learning disabilities, English language learners, and socioculturally diverse learners. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 1(3), 1-13.

Prado, E., & Dewey, K. (2014). Nutrition and brain development in early life. Nutrition and Dietetics, 72(4), 267-284.

Ramey, C., & Ramey, S. (2010). Head start: Strategies to improve outcomes for children living in poverty. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Smith, P. D. (2016). Meeting the needs of children in poverty: In the U.S. where more than half of students are considered poor, schools provide more than education. District Administration, 1(11). 56-64.

Sripada, K. (2012). Neuroscience in the capital: Linking brain research and federal early childhood programs and policies. Early Education & Development, 23(1), 120-130.

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