My own beliefs about early childhood education are based upon the knowledge that children's growth is developmental. It seems very clear to me that a high quality early childhood program must provide a safe and nurturing environment which promotes a broad spectrum of support for the child's physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. I strongly agree with the tenets of the National Association for the Education of Young children--that high quality, developmentally appropriate programs should be available to all children (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992, p. 7). Children under the age of eight have enormous potential for growth and achievement, and it is my belief that they have rights to fulfill their possibilities. A separate statement of the NAEYC divides the concept of appropriateness into two aspects--age appropriateness and individual appropriateness (Bredekamp, 1987, p. 2). This statement coincides with my belief that children are unique individuals who may or may not reflect the usual characteristics of other children of their same age.
Furthermore, I believe that a developmentally appropriate curriculum for young children is correctly tailored to the specifics of each age group. Different ages have different needs, interests, and developmental tasks, and the curriculum should reflect those variations. The most effective early childhood curriculum offers creative expression, social and emotional interaction, child-adult communication, child-child communication, physical expression, knowledge acquisition, reasoning practice, risk-taking, and personal autonomy. Early childhood learning happens through play. In this case, play is a serious matter, although it is quite fun to all involved. Children learn by doing and actively participating. When given the opportunity to explore, children flourish. They experiment, make choices, achieve strength and a sense of belonging as an effective individual within the context of a supportive, safe group.
It is my belief that early childhood learning must happen in an integrated manner. Children of this age are too young for rigidly separated subject matter, and the skillful teacher of young children easily integrates the physical, emotional, social, creative, and cognitive areas of early learning.
Role of Child as a Learner
Johann Pestalozzi and Froebel, two of the earliest professionals in early childhood education, championed the development of the quality of early childhood theory and practice. Pestalozzi contended that young children learn most effectively by doing, by playing, and by interacting with the environment--the physical world and other children (McCarthy & Houston, 1980, p. 4). Early, effective learning happens best in a mixed age group, multi-cultural settings,
Froebel, like Pestalozzi, believed that play is of paramount importance in the development of the child, and that the emotional quality of the child's life (relationship with parents and other significant people) profoundly permeates the quality of the child's life (McCarthy & Houston, 1980, p. 6). Pestalozzi did not particularly formalize his theories and methods, but he had a very good intuitive grasp of the necessity for language development, nurturing environments, and healthy relationships for children as a springboard for optimum learning.
The child as a learner has cognitive needs, and these vary according to the age of the child. Piaget became famous for his work in the cognitive domain, and his guidelines of pre-operational thought to more sophisticated abstract thinking are useful for teachers who wish to be careful about not expecting too much from children who are operating at a lower cognitive level (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987, p. 54). His work was rather theoretical, and others (principally Kamii and DeVries) have expanded Piaget's theory to widen its practical usefulness in early...