The Scope of Early Childhood Education
The fastest growing segment of early childhood programming is the infant/toddler component (birth to 2 years of age). Until fairly recently, most very young children were cared for by family members in the home. Recent research in the United States, however, has found that 38% of children from birth to age 2 spend over 35 hours each week in child care out of the home and another 17.3% spend between 15 and 34 hours per week in such care (Capizzano & Main, 2005). Statistics on the family suggest that this trend will likely continue. As these numbers continue to grow, the impact on low-income families is particularly strong. The need for quality infant/toddler care is especially important for this group of children and their families (Paulsell, Nogales, & Cohen, 2003). Although most current infant/toddler programs operate in a home environment with small groups of children, the number of center-based options where larger groups of very young children receive care is increasing. In either homes or centers, the major challenge for a teacher is to form a close relationship with each child in his or her care. Consistently and lovingly meeting the physical and emotional needs of very young children is an extremely important and challenging task (Edwards & Raikes, 2002).
A Center-Based Program for Toddlers
A typical center-based toddler classroom can have as many as six or seven children under the care of one adult. While additional assistance may be available during portions of the day, much of the care is provided by this one person. Caregivers working with toddlers spend considerable time assisting with activities such as eating, sleeping, and toileting. They work to make these interactions enjoyable parts of the day as they playfully and lovingly meet the needs of young children. The schedule of events for toddlers should be in a predictable sequence, provide for active and quiet times, and encourage quality adult–child and child–child interactions. The following schedule is typical of what you would find in a center-based program for toddlers. Try to imagine yourself spending extended time in this setting, engaged in the tasks described here.
Traditionally, preschool programs were designed for children between the ages of 3 and 5 as a way to enhance social and emotional development. These nursery school options became popular in the 1920s and continue to be highly valued by many middle-class families. More recently, prekindergarten programs have been promoted as a way to help children identified as at-risk of failing in the K–12 system develop the skills they will need to be successful in later years. Many preschool programs today have also expanded their age range downward to include 2-year-olds.
Rather than being full-day programs, most preschool classrooms operate half-time or less. A common model is to enroll children for three to five half-day sessions per week. With the increasing numbers of single parents and dual-career families, however, these partial-day sessions are often combined with the chance for children to participate in full-day child care as well. Preschool students may be in the same classrooms and working with the same adults as students in child-care options, thus making it difficult to separate the two programs.
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