Early childhood education is a widely and frequently discussed subject in the contemporary world. A range of new researches is conducted to provide the scholars with a better understanding of the minds of young learners, their needs, development, and social factors that impact them throughout the early stages of lives. The contemporary educators work hard to come up with new approaches taking into consideration the factors mentioned above and a variety of teaching techniques employed in modern classrooms.
The first attempts of the development of educational practices and specialties of work with young children date several centuries back. Among the world, renowned educators of the past who focused on early childhood education are Johann Pestalozzi, John Dewey, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Maria Montessori, and William Froebel. As childhood was recognized as an individual stage of personal development, the scholars began to work on the development of a special approach for the children in education. In the earlier periods, the education of young children used to be rather formal and included several necessary standards the learners were supposed to match by the end of the course. Besides, the education of young children was mainly practiced in home environments instead of collective classrooms.
Before the appearance of well-known educators, society had paid little attention to the development of children. The young generations of lower and working classes were harshly disciplined and generally ignored since they were of little use as workers and suppliers. The only education they received included the practical knowledge of their parents. The children of the upper class were educated at home. Their curriculum was composed of several basic disciplines popular back then and necessary for the child to be able to function in the upper-class society. Johann Comenius, the Czech educator, was the first to suggest that mothers show special care to their babies starting from the first stages of pregnancy (Platz & Arellano, 2011). Comenius also initiated the discussion about the nature of children, their minds and the kinds of learning most suitable for them. The role of nature in the development of young children was studied by Rousseau, who suggested that frequent interactions with nature and the natural pace of development are essential for the harmonious growth and maturity of the children. Rousseau modified the common belief that the education of young children was supposed to be conducted at home and promoted the idea of educating children in natural environments. Dewey was one of the first educators who offered engaging young children into play-based learning since it stimulated their social, physical, and emotional development.
The role of the teachers evolved along with the development of the understanding of children. Earlier, the teacher carried mainly disciplinary functions and was allowed to apply physical punishments during the teaching process. The strict and harsh approach was favored as it was deemed effective at the elimination of unwanted behaviors and features such as mischief, excessive energy, or non-standard ways of thinking. These days, a teacher is viewed as a guide leading the learners towards the knowledge. The contemporary education is child-centered, the teacher is allowed to supervise and encourage the learners to take courage and express themselves, form personal opinions, develop independent interpretations, come up with unique solutions. Today, childhood education is politicized and is based on the increased attention towards young children (Morrison, 2012).
The educators such as Rousseau, Comenius, and Dewey emphasized the connection between the knowledge children gained during their classes and the surrounding environments. The scholars supporting naturalistic learning were convinced that it was highly important for the children to be able to connect what they learn at school with practical everyday life. Interactive learning where the senses of a child are involved was one of the ideas suggested by Comenius (Platz & Arellano, 2011). This understanding of early childhood education is a significant part of the dominant approach towards the education of young children today. The contemporary teachers research the meaning of context in childhood development and education. According to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory, the development of a human being cannot be studied separately from the surrounding factors and overlapping contexts that shape people’s characters, personalities, habits, perceptions, and behaviors (Gershoff, Mistry & Crosby, 2013).
Among the factors that affect contemporary children are their families, the environments where they grow up, social and economic status of their communities, their cultural background. Assessment of the children today includes the research of the impacts of all of these factors. This is done to find out what kind of knowledge children obtain from their surroundings, determine the needs and interests of children based on their environments, and choose the appropriate curricula for various categories of children (Morrison, 2012). To achieve the kind of teaching Comenius discussed, where the knowledge provided in the classroom was applicable in the everyday lives of the learners, the contemporary educators focus on advanced inclusion of the learners. In contemporary American society with its growing diversity recognition inclusion is a crucial factor able to make education interactive and efficient for learners of all kinds.
The main societal factor impacting young children is family. Young children tend to spend most of their time with parents, so they play a highly important role in early childhood education. Today, family involvement has been made an official part of the education of young children and it is a key influence in providing high-quality education for young children. For example, in Illinois, the State Board of Education has developed a 10-year plan of expectations concerning the engagement of families into the process of early childhood education. The main standards of the plan include such aspects as the choice of parents considering the desired level of involvement, creation of opportunities for parental participation in education, the support of parental engagement from the side of the school staff, respect towards the background and culture of the family, and environment of the child, and the perception of parents as stakeholders engaged into leadership and decision-making practices (Hilado, 2013).
One more important societal impact in the modern world is its technological development. Snow (n. d.) compared the skills of young learners entering kindergarten in 1993 and 2007 and found that the children of 2007 possessed a greater range of knowledge and skills, which certainly happened due to the engagement of the families into education. At the same time, modern parents admit that the time they spend reading to the children has drastically decreased because it was replaced by television watching. Technologies occupy an important niche in society today, yet they must not take over the educational roles unsupervised.
In conclusion, the approach towards early childhood education has changed a lot over the last several centuries, but today we find ourselves practicing the same techniques and exploring the same ideas the educators of earlier periods did. The importance of context and environment in the process of education has been re-evaluated and now it is the key strategy applied to the modern education of young children.
Gershoff, E. T., Mistry, R. S., & Crosby, D. A. (2013). Societal contexts of child development: Pathways of influence and implications for practice and policy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hilado, A. V. (2013). Examining understandings of parent involvement in early childhood programs. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 15(2).
Morrison, G. S. (2012). Early childhood education today (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Platz, D., & Arellano, J. (2011). Time tested early childhood theories and practices. Education, 132(1), 54-63.
Snow, K. (n. d.). Research news you can use: Family engagement and early childhood education. Web.