What is early childhood education?

June 8, 2017

Early Childhood Education (or ECE) covers educational experiences from birth through age 8 and is often broken down into three groups: infants and toddlers, preschool, and K-3.

“Especially at the earliest stages, when the brain and body are developing so rapidly, education can set a critical foundation for success,” says Katherine Green, PhD, faculty lead for Capella University’s Early Childhood Education program.

Here, Green discusses the importance of early childhood education, and what graduates may want to explore with a master’s degree in this field.

Q. Why is education so important at such a young age?

A. Especially at the earliest stages, when the brain and body are developing so rapidly, education can set a critical foundation for success. We often only think of education in terms of cognitive development when in fact it includes physical and social-emotional growth as well. We see this very clearly in ECE, and our work covers all domains so that children are given the best start in education from the very beginning.

Q. Can you give us an example of how children in ECE learn or how they are best engaged?

A. ECE requires knowledge of what we term Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP), which basically means an understanding of what people should be expected to do or learn at their developmental level.

Having children to sit down at a desk and fill in a worksheet at age 2, or even age 4, is not developmentally appropriate as we know that younger children learn best through play and activity. They need to move around, create things, and explore the world by touching or climbing or tasting.

Q. How does Capella’s early childhood education and early childhood education studies master’s degrees prepare students for the challenge of teaching?

A. Our coursework and assignments are designed to be immediately applicable and helpful in the ECE classroom, and our students often excitedly report backstories of how they applied something from their courses in the field. We discuss real-world problems and share solutions from around the world.

The curriculum includes coursework in child psychology, classroom management, early childhood learning environments, family engagement, and strategies for eliminating achievement gaps. Our program also covers all three groups, and elective courses allow students to delve deeper into a specific area or focus on special education or supervisory skills.

ECE students learn the stages of child development and how to create learning environments and developmentally-appropriate curricula to encourage individual as well as group learning, skill development, reflection, critical thinking, and inquiry. They learn about ethical and ECE professional standards of conduct as well.

Q. What can you do with an early childhood education master’s degree?

A. Many people in our program have been teachers in private ECE classrooms and are now looking to move into administration of some sort. They may want to be directors in childcare centers or Head Start schools. Or they are licensed teachers seeking to expand their ability to teach P-3 students or take on a leadership role for ECE grade units.

*Note that graduates of our program do not qualify for their first teaching license or certificate.

Still others want to open their own centers, and having the master’s degree helps them acquire the knowledge and the credential to start a school. A few move into teaching at the community college level and may take on faculty roles.

Q. Are there any additional licenses or certificates that are required for early childhood education?

A. Much of the licensing depends on the state, and there may be various health and safety requirements depending on the type of center in question. Additional licensure or certification may be needed in ECE for classroom teachers, especially for those in public schools.

If working with ESL/ELL or special needs students, one may need additional certifications, depending on the role. In addition, private daycare or preschool centers require licensing by state agencies.

Learn more about Capella’s online MS in Education, Early Childhood Education and  MS in Education, Early Childhood Education Studies degree programs.

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