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What is Early Childhood Education?

Early childhood education is a broad term used to describe any type of educational program that serves children in their preschool years, before they are old enough to enter kindergarten. Early childhood education may consist of any number of activities and experiences designed to aid in the cognitive and social development of preschoolers before they enter elementary school.

How and where early childhood education is provided can be very different from one state to the next – or even from one school to the next within the same state. Preschool education programs may be designed specifically for either three-, four-, or five-year old, and they may be provided in childcare and daycare or nursery school settings, as well as more conventional preschool or Pre-Kindergarten classrooms. These programs may be housed in center-based, home-based, or public school settings, and they may be offered part-day, full-day or even on a year-round schedule to include summers.

The National Education Association recognizes that a high-quality early childhood program includes five, critical components:

  • Provides a well-rounded curriculum that supports all areas of development
  • Addresses child health, nutrition, and family needs as part of a comprehensive service network
  • Assesses children to enhance student learning and identify concerns
  • Employs well-educated, adequately paid teachers
  • Provides small class sizes and low teacher-child ratios

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes that the effectiveness of an early childhood program is dependent upon a number of factors:

  • A quality staff
  • An appropriate environment
  • Consistent scheduling
  • Parental involvement
  • Proper grouping practices

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