Sunday, October 29, 2017

Why do Early Childhood Teachers need a College Degree?

Over the last ten years there has been an ongoing debate  do teachers of children younger than five need college degrees? There are those who believe that taking care of children who "play all day" do not need a college degree. If it were true and all children did all day was play I would probably agree with them. However, child play in early education goes beyond enjoyment by a wide margin.

Let me tell you my story:

After two and  a half years in  college,I started my degree in elementary education and the following year I began to serve in the two and three year old class st Grace Church St. Louis. I fell in love with the two's and decided to switch my major to early childhood education. I was surprised to find out there were 90-semester hours difference between the two majors.I was perplexed, how could two fields that shared one title education be so different that they basically shared only the college general requirements? Upon counsel from my college advisor I opted to get my Masters of Art in ECE rather than start all over since I was a second semester junior.

I graduated and taught first grade and junior high school science before I went back to school to get my Masters of Art in Early Childhood Education. It was over the course of this year, I began to realize why there was so much difference in the two fields. It was literally necessary for me to set my elementary education degree  on a shelf and ignore what I knew before in order to learn about early education. It is not an exaggeration to say they are polar opposite in theory and practical application.

First an early childhood teacher has to know the ins and outs of the four domains of development (physical, intellectual, language, and social/emotional). Knowledge of these four areas has to become almost innate. Early Childhood is based on observation, interaction, listening, and asking questions.   Using these foundations a teacher then must set up the environment to support each child's individual scope of learning. This scope of learning shifts and changes depending on the child and what other lessons the children are developing. A teacher has to keep up with every shift of development for each child and change the environment accordingly.

Young children use play to act out, practice, and absorb all the things they have observed, heard, been involved in, or want to know more about. Kids under 5 can not yet think in abstract terms. So, as they play they often think out loud to themselves. Teachers listen to what is called thought-speech and ask questions that get kids to expand their thinking and move along the process of learning more about what they are thinking. Based on this teachers choose books, activities, and cooking experiences that will help the children build on what they are learning.

In addition, the largest area of development in the ECE classroom is social/emotional development. This starts by teachers learning about and using a standardized assessment called the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. This assessment is a combination of teacher observations, questions discussed with parents, and evaluating a series of developmental exercises children are asked to perform. All the data is collected and sent off to the testing center where it is evaluated and returned. This one time assessment is used as an starting point on which teachers  can build upon to guide each child's learning start.

Teachers of children from birth to age 5 are teaching children how to put things where they belong, how to follow directions, sitting still during circle time, waiting their turn, and learn to listen. Teachers also guide children in how to interact with one another learning to negotiate, consider the feelings of others, share, and be kind. This is the greatest impact teachers have on children as they get ready for the Kindergarten classroom.

Brain research shows that in the first five years of life is when the brain makes it possible to develop these pathways. The early childhood classroom is an ever changing environment allowing children the opportunity to look at a situations and circumstances in a variety of ways. A teacher who has studied child development, classroom organization, classroom environment, observation techniques, open-ended questions, and a variety of other skills learned in a college classroom is far more equipped to support children in their learning and development.

The final reason an adult in an early childhood classroom needs a college education is above all the most important is called Developmentally Appropriate Practices or DAP for short. This is the concept of ensuring children are in an environment and are participating in activities which are geared toward the development of where they are in age and developmental stage. When children are pushed it can cause stress and overwhelm which  can damage brain development, but also can keep children from gaining the skills necessary for future success. ECE Teachers are tasked with ensuring children have a balance of activities which help kids build upon the skill they already have and stretching them to acquire the ones in a way which causes them to grow without causing undue stress. This is the purpose of knowing and understanding the principles of developmentally appropriate practices and the  signs of stress in children and doing everything necessary to maintain this balance.

Do adults who teach young children need college degrees? The answer is yes. There is so much going on in a child's life and development, that they need adults who understand how they learn and what to do to support that learning. This by the way is the foundation for everything they will learn in the future. ECE professionals are our first line of care and support for our youngest learners. They deserve to have adults who are fully able to help and support their learning and development. Childcare is very expensive parent should get what they are paying for someone who can step in and help their child to develop fully and be ready to step into the Kindergarten classroom ready to learn.

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  1. This is nothing short of excellent. Thank you Barbara.

    1. Thank you James, I Just wanted to go on record that ECE is about much more than play!