What is Early Childhood Education?

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    Early childhood education describes the period of learning that takes place from birth to 8 years old. There are several types of early education programs, including federal, state or privately funded. The curricula and approach often vary at the preschool level, but there are generally agreed-upon standards for the types of learning addressed in early childhood education settings.

    You can take many career paths, including teaching, managing a daycare, and providing in-home care for children. Below are some examples of early childhood education careers:

    • Preschool Teacher: Preschool teachers introduce young children to education and prepare them for kindergarten. They plan curricula that are age-appropriate and introduce themes and concepts children will expand upon in elementary school. They also look for signs of emotional or developmental issues and bring them to the attention of parents or guardians. The early childhood teacher job description can vary between childcare centres.
    • Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher: Kindergarten and elementary school teachers create lesson plans for math, English, social studies and science, but also to teach students the soft skills they need to be successful in school. They communicate with parents about their child's progress and prepare students to take standardized tests.
    • Nanny: Nannies and other childcare workers care for children while their parents are out of the house. These workers are responsible for bathing and feeding the children, supervising their playtime, and organizing their activities.
    • Childcare Center Director: The childcare centre director oversees all of the preschool teachers and childcare workers. They are responsible for hiring and training staff, planning the budget, developing the educational standards and programming for the centre, and meeting with parents to discuss students' progress.
    • School Counselor or Psychologist: Working in elementary schools, counsellors and psychologists can diagnose learning disabilities or cognitive, emotional or behavioural problems in young students. Together with parents, counsellors and psychologists can design and implement behaviour modification programs for students.

    The Impact of Child Care on Young Children

    What effect does daycare have on a child's success in grade school? One National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found mixed results about how daycare influences children throughout their academic careers.

    In 1991, NICHD researchers tracked more than 1,350 children from birth through various childcare settings (at home with a parent, relative or Nanny, or daycare) to elementary school. It found that children who spent time in "high quality" daycare centres as youngsters had better vocabulary by the fifth grade than those who hadn't. But the study also found that daycare charges had more behaviour problems, even accounting for the child's gender, family income, and quality of the daycare centre.



    Supporters of quality daycare have discussed the array of early learning and socialization that children learn by spending time with peers and how early childhood educators are more trained than ever. Moreover, primary grade teachers applaud the way quality daycare centres prepare children for elementary school. Children learn structure and routine at a young age and are responsible for putting away their coats, putting on their shoes and other independent tasks.

    "I always ask my kindergarten students about their care before coming to school," says one Texas teacher. "Based on their responses, I may change my approach to socialization and early school skills at first, because some kids who have stayed home with a parent and haven't interacted with peers much don't know general school rules such as sharing, waiting in line, not touching others, and not talking when someone else is. But, on the other hand, daycare kids typically have all the social rules down pat."

    Early educators also point to the lesson plans and early hands-on learning that daycare participants get to experience. For example, most quality daycare centres teach their students the ABCs, early reading, simple math and science, and even general hygiene skills.


    The main negative about daycare is that your kids will get sick more frequently than home to a single caregiver. Even at the best and cleanest of daycare centres, the germs are flying! So it's inevitable that children will be exposed to more illness at daycare than they will at home, which can mean more trips to the doctor, more medical bills, and more sick time for your toddler.

    Foes of daycare have argued that preschool leads children to misbehave because children learn bad habits from watching other kids. In addition, Daycares are busy and can be a stressful environment for some kids.

    Choosing the right Childcare

    For whatever reason, the decision to leave your child in the care of someone else is very difficult. Thankfully there is a world of choice when it comes to options, and online search platforms such as help make difficult decisions easier. So whether you're looking at Nurseries, Childminders, Nannies, Au Pairs or Babysitters, the choice is yours, and there is a suitable option for every situation.

    It can be useful to sit down with your partner or anyone else involved in caring for your child so that you can discuss the practical arrangements that need to be in places such as timings, locations and days you'll require Childcare. For example, for some families, a very early start means that perhaps it would be more suitable to have a nanny or au pair. For others, more traditional childcare hours may be better suited to a nursery environment.

    Childminders also offer a great bridge between the former options as they care for your child in a home environment but can also do drop off's and pick up's for nursery sessions or school, meaning that you'll have more flexibility and someone will be able to provide wrap-around Childcare so that your child can get the best care while allowing you to accommodate different work hours or shift patterns.

    Below is an outline of the most popular childcare services on offer, including the pros and cons.

    The Nanny

    A Nanny has a more autonomous role, ensuring your child's wellbeing and safety through responsible supervision within your own home. Nannies have various levels of experience, skill and qualifications. Depending on your child's age, what you expect to pay and the level of care required, you may find an array of Nannies who may or may not be suitable.

    OFSTED does not currently regulate nannies; however, they can join the voluntary part of the register, which ensures a minimum standard that parents can expect. This also means that you can pay your Nanny through a childcare voucher scheme run by many employers.

    The pros: Nannies are a convenient option for many families as they provide care for your child or children within your own home. This can be particularly useful if your work hours differ from day to day or you require a more flexible arrangement. This can usually be discussed and agreed upon with your Nanny at the interview. In addition, your Nanny is directly employed by you, so you can negotiate the contract terms with your prospective Nanny before a job offer is made. Any changes can then be discussed later and can be changed if both parties are in agreement.

    You can have more direct input into how your child is cared for, and the one-to-one care can be a comfort in your absence. Another advantage is that some Nannies (by prior agreement) are happy to do light housework or chores in your home, which will help to ease the demand on your time when you return home from work.

    If you have an early start or a late finish at work, you can feel confident in the knowledge that someone caring and reliable is at home getting your child up for the day or helping him or her into bed at the end of a fun-filled day.

    Where needed, many Nannies drive and would be happy to use their vehicle or one you provide to transport your child to appointments, playgroups and little adventures out and about during the day. Again, this makes errand running and transportation issues less of a hassle.

    The cons: While one-to-one care is of great benefit to any child, it is important to ensure that your Nanny takes your child or children out to enjoy social interaction with other children. If your Nanny does not drive or you live in a rural location, this could be problematic; however, with a little planning, most of the pitfalls associated with the above should be easily overcome.

    Nannies don't come cheap! One-to-one care comes at a cost, you will not only be paying your Nanny's wages, but additional costs for fuel, food, outing expenses and so on can soon add up to more than a day at a nursery.

    Another consideration is that you must ensure that you pay your Nanny's tax and statutory contributions. Regular payslips will be required, and you will also need to have a system in place to ensure your Nanny is paid on time each week or month.

    There is also the risk that your Nanny may become ill at the last moment, leaving you with little time to arrange last-minute cover. If your Nanny has his or her child, this could also impact on absence from work, unless the child is joining your Nanny at work while he or she cares for your children at the same time. Your Nanny will also be entitled to annual leave, something you'll need to pay for, so consider what childcare arrangements you'll have in place to cover any periods of absence.

    The Au Pair

    An Au Pair can be an affordable alternative to hiring a Nanny. Many works on a live-in basis; however, they are limited in the number of hours they can work. It is also not recommended that Au Pairs care for Childcare under the age of two on a sole charge basis. Au Pairs generally come from foreign countries, and part of their experience is to learn another language such as English.

    The pros: An Au Pair quickly becomes like another member of the family. They rely on you for a home-away-from-home experience, and in turn, they provide a loving and stimulating level of care for your child, often doing housework as part of their agreement.

    The cons: If you need more than the minimum number of hours, you'll need to hire an Au Pair Plus. This can mean more expense; you will also be feeding another individual, the household costs will increase in line with the extra person in the house. Is this still an affordable option once you have done the sums? You will also need to be comfortable with the idea of having someone else living in your home. You may need to set some boundaries in terms of 'house rules' to ensure that everyone respects each other's space and the relationship benefits everyone in the long run.

    Some Au Pairs speak very little of your language. Is this a potential barrier to communication, and will you and your child be comfortable with muddling through at the start and until your Au Pair improves his or her language skills?

    The Childminder


    A childminder can provide a wonderful alternative to Childcare in your own home. Childminders are more formally regulated. They require OFSTED registration and will be inspected to determine the standard of childcare provision on offer. In addition, childminders offer a home-from-home setting. This means that children will have the freedom and comforts they are used to in their own homes but with the added benefit of a structured routine that has its roots in delivering a core educational curriculum.

    The pros: Children will benefit from a more holistic, homely environment. There is still a structured routine with education at the core, but with the added flexibility of outings, trips to playgroups or before/after school provision with drop off's and pick up's where offered. Children may be cared for alongside other children. However, ratios are regulated, meaning your child will still benefit from more focused one-to-one care. Childminders tend to charge less per hour than a Nanny or Nursery, so this may be a more attractive option for some families. Childminders may also offer a greater degree of flexibility. This can be particularly useful for families who have to deal with shift patterns that do not follow mainstream work hours.

    The cons: Some childminders only work term time. Others may have days where they take leave, and you'll need to find alternative Childcare. If they become ill or care for their ill child, you may again need to find alternative Childcare at the last minute. Only some childminders offer free entitlement funding. Others don't accept childcare vouchers. Your child may only socialize with a small number of children, particularly where a childminder does not attend local play or activity groups.

    The Nursery

    Nurseries provide play, care and early education for children below school age. Some nurseries take babies from as young as six weeks and provide care for them until they are of school age. Nurseries are usually privately run or operated by organizations such as schools, churches or similar. They can be fairly expensive; however, many parents choose this option as it provides a steady and reliable form of Childcare.

    The pros: Nurseries offer a stable environment, working towards a core curriculum to ensure your child's educational, emotional and social needs are being met. Your Childcare is not affected by staff illness in the same way with a Nanny, Au Pair or Childminder, for example. Some Nurseries offer care year-round, meaning that you are not restricted over the holiday periods. You also have more flexibility for family holiday's as you can take your child out of the nursery when you wish. Children benefit from meeting lots of other children, making new friends as children come and go, helping to give them a good social grounding.

    The cons: Nurseries can be expensive. If your child is ill or you take your child out of nursery for a family holiday, you will still need to cover the cost of the nursery place. In addition, children may be more susceptible to illness from mixing with lots of other children until they build up good immunity levels. Start and finish times are usually not flexible. Late pick-ups or early drops off's are not usually available ad hoc. Your child may get less one-to-one care due to child-staff ratios; however, the structure of activities throughout the day means that your child will be actively engaged for the duration of their session.

    What is the purpose of early childhood education? Simply put, the purpose of ECE is to provide children with strategies that help them develop the emotional, social and cognitive skills needed to become lifelong learners.

    Early childhood, defined as the period from birth to eight years old, is a time of remarkable growth with brain development at its peak. During this stage, children are highly influenced by the environment and the people that surround them.

    Educational programs may be designed specifically for children at each individual age and can be provided in settings including childcare, daycare, nursery school, preschool, and kindergarten.

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