Let’s put it this way: It’s not all finger-painting.
Sure, early childhood education can be a whole lot of fun, but it’s far more important than fun alone. In fact, early childhood is among the most critical periods in the development of the human brain. It might be called “preschool,” but that says nothing about its importance: preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary education have the ability to put children on a positive trajectory for the rest of their life.
As an example, take language learning. As linguist Eric H. Lenneberg showed, children who suffered brain injuries were far more likely to recover and improve their language skills than adults who suffered similar brain injuries. And as anyone who has tried to learn a language late in life knows, it’s a lot harder to gain mastery of the grammar rules and vocabulary then than when you’re a child.
But language is only the tip of the iceberg.
Children’s minds are uniquely “plastic,” or able to change. Whether it’s typically academic subjects like language or math, or more ambiguous knowledge like learning how to interact with peers, early childhood is extremely important.
Traci Palmer, an education expert and founder of TicTacTeach.com, has identified 13 key benefits of early childhood education, including everything from building concentration and patience in kids, to exposing them to diversity.These things are important, and that’s why we need teachers and childcare workers specially trained to shepherd kids through this critical period.
And using the word “critical” is not overstating it—if anything, it’s understating how important early childhood education is.
Study after study has confirmed its importance. The National Education Association maintains a good survey of research in the field, and much of it shows an additional benefit: Good pre-primary schooling has the potential to lessen social and economic inequities.
As an example, they cite one study which shows the following:
A longitudinal study of participants in a Chicago public schools program serving preK through third-grade students reported that at age 24 program participants had acquired more education and were less likely to commit crimes than those who did not receive the same level of service.
They also note the astounding example of Oklahoma:
The journal Developmental Psychology has published research that confirms that Oklahoma's pre-kindergarten program is successfully helping kids prepare for school. (Oklahoma is one of the few states to offer preschool to every four year old.) While learning gains were made by children of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, the study found the most significant improvements among Hispanic children.
In other words, whether it’s increased likelihood of finishing high school and getting a college education, staying out of jail, or closing the achievement gap between different ethnicities, early childhood education has been shown to be critical.
Sadly, only about 50 percent of eligible kids go to a full-day preschool, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The reasons for this are many, but one important way of dealing with this shortfall is educating more people to go into the field. Let’s put it simply: We need more teachers.
Hopefully, these lists and rankings will help you identify what you’re interested in, and where you might fit in to develop your skills and abilities. And don’t forget to keep checking back in as we expand these and other pages.