What is Early Childhood Education?

Early childhood education (ECE) includes both informal and formal experiences that contribute to a child’s cognitive and social development from birth to preschool age.
Informal experiences often take place at home, on the playground, or in an educational setting. They often include the development of skills through observation, exploration, and natural consequences. For example, even as children are developing verbal language, they can engage in learning informally by picking up on body language, tone of voice, etc. This can go a long way in a child’s development of social awareness, emotional intelligence, and relationship building. Another part of informal early childhood education experiences includes developing physical motor skills like moving, jumping, picking up objects, etc. Although these are certainly skills that can be taught, they become fully formed through practice which often happens in informal spaces.
Formal experiences most often take place in, but are not limited to, educational settings. These educational settings are designed to facilitate children’s learning by providing active and quiet learning spaces, varied materials for content learning that support learning math, literacy, art, science, etc., consistent routines, and intentional teaching.

Why is Early Childhood Education Important?

During the early childhood years, the brain makes millions of connections between individual neurons which are the information messengers of the brain. In fact, a newborn baby’s brain will double in size by a child’s first birthday, and will have completed 90 percent of its growth by five years old! All of this means that early childhood is an extremely important time in a child’s life because this is when children’s brains are developing the most. This means that a quality ECE experience can help build a strong foundation for future learning, behavior, and health. Although outcomes certainly vary, in their 2021 Action Center newsletter, the National Education Association share that children in ECE programs are:
  • Less likely to repeat a grade
  • Less likely to be identified as having special needs
  • More prepared academically for later grades
  • More likely to graduate from high school
  • More likely to be higher earners in the workforce

What are my options for a career in Early Childhood Education?

Working in the field of ECE is an important job that can be incredibly rewarding. In considering a career in the ECE field, it is a good idea to first have some experiences working with children (e.g., through volunteer roles in your community, or working at summer camps) to make sure it is the right fit for you, and to meet people who can share their experiences and advice with you.
Next, it is important to think about the type of role you’d like within the ECE field. For example, you can be an ECE teacher, a nanny, a child life specialist, a childcare consultant, or even a family support specialist, to name a few possibilities! Requirements for these types of ECE providers varies, but generally speaking higher wages and benefits are associated with those who have obtained degrees and credentials. To narrow down your focus, consider your previous experiences, what interests you the most, what type of workplace environment you’d feel most comfortable in, and what your financial goals are.
In the end, if you love children, are patient, flexible, creative, and seek to make a difference in the lives of others, consider a career in early childhood education. We need folks just like you working in this field!