The role of early childhood education and the purpose it serves has been a subject of much debate for centuries and continues to be so today. In several states, including Massachusetts, preschool and kindergarten attendance is not mandatory, leading one to assume that early childhood education is not equivalent to “real” schooling. On the contrary, this early education aids the young child in a number of ways. While Katherine H, Read discusses speech and action in preschools and Anne Hoppock focuses on the importance of kindergarten, both authors share similar ideas about early childhood education at large.
According to Read and Hoppock, both preschool and kindergarten are important in that they help the child to acceptably express their need for physical activity while providing them with the freedom they need to grow; protect and teach children about their health and safety; help them learn how to work with others, especially with children their own age; build their confidence in a new environment; and provide them with the choices they need to grow up and mature.
As any parent of a young child can tell you, four- and five-year-olds are energetic and eager to explore the world. This energy should not be restricted, as it only harms the child. At this age, children are physically unable to sit still for long periods of time, and adults must keep this in mind instead of labeling a child as “disobedient” or ” troublemaker” for being fidgety. Entering preschool or kindergarten marks a dramatic shift in a child‘s life, as they enter a new environment with rules that are to be followed that can be very different from his home life, where he has as much freedom as he wants.
Learning to curb this natural enthusiasm for being loud and active is a natural part of growing up, and kindergarten marks the first step on this path of maturation. However, the kindergartner “needs a maximum of freedom and physical activity” in order to truly be able to grow and explore the world around them.
They still possess the need to be active, and as Read states, the child’s “needs will not be met by a suggestion about sitting quietly and listening to a story. The meaning of their behavior lies in a need for activity. The teacher’s part is to help them find some acceptable expression for this need”. By redirecting the child’s attention to appropriate, constructive outlets such as suggesting that they rake leaves outside, the teacher gives them the freedom they need as young children. In doing so, they also teach them that there are appropriate times to run around the playground wildly, such as during recess or outside play, and times when they need to focus their energy on a productive task. This enables children to exercise their self—restraint and therefore prepare themselves for first grade and the following years As in all grades, the health and safety of children is first and foremost in preschool and kindergarten.
However, it takes even higher priority in the early childhood classroom because at this age, children are only just starting to understand the concept of germs and learning what to do to keep themselves healthy. Hoppock elaborates on this point when she states that the child “should be learning, at this level, the ‘why’ of healthful behavior”. A child watches and learns from his teacher, who must keep track of things such as “seeing that drinking cups are not used in common, that towels are kept separate, that toys which have been in a child’s mouth are washed, that the window is closed if there is a draft”. Through observation as well as being made responsible for washing his hands after using the bathroom or cleaning up his workspace, the child learns about the basic principles of health and sanitation. Preschool and kindergarten, therefore, are not merely daycare facilities that protect children from health hazards; they also educate them by exposing them to situations where they can learn firsthand about being safe and healthy.
Preschool and kindergarten also mark a child’s transition from an egocentric state of mind to one that accommodates other children as well. Many four— and five-year-olds have only associated with a handful of other children at once and therefore aren’t used to having to share their possessions, wait their turn, or cope with not always being the center of attention. Thus, a major purpose of the early childhood classroom is to help the child “learn to cooperate and share without withdrawing, fighting, or giving up his own rights”. He needs assistance to learn how to live with and work with other people, and he finds it in the form of his teacher. When a child is growing upset with a situation or with a classmate, Read suggests redirection as a method to cope: “If he’s throwing something dangerous because he‘s angry, we can suggest an acceptable way of draining off angry feelings—like throwing against a backstop or using a punching bag or pounding at the workbench.
In suggesting alternate ways to act during times of frustration, the teacher shows the child that reacting in anger is not an acceptable way to handle a situation and teaches him a valuable lesson about respecting others and cooperating with them, As adults, many people tend to forget the fears and worries that accompany the first day of school each year, let alone the first day of preschool or kindergarten. The early-childhood classroom is essentially the first step down the long road of education and is understandably intimidating given the brand new environment. Hoppock correctly states that “a major purpose of the kindergarten is to help children feel adequate in the new world of school”. When faced with a school full of strangers and new rules, it is scary to be among the youngest students. Thus, children need teachers who are approachable, put them at ease, and help them cope with new situations, new challenges, and new skills to master.
Read corroborates this view by emphasizing the importance of appropriate speech and advises, “Use only words and tone of voice which will help the child feel confident and reassured”. Unfortunately, teachers exist who will call out a child’s behavior in front of the class and use it as an example of what not to do, embarrassing the student and potentially wrecking his motivation to try hard in class. Teachers who work with very young children in particular must be especially careful to bolster their confidence and praise them for what they do right, not criticize them for their mistakes. The numerous interactions between children and their teachers and peers in both preschool and kindergarten lay the foundation for the many years of schooling ahead of them as well as their attitude towards education and are, therefore, of great importance. One of the major goals of early childhood education is to assist children as they develop and grow, providing them with a variety of rich experiences and opportunities to learn.
In order to do this, teachers must allow children to make choices of their own, empowering them and showing them that they too are important enough to make decisions and manage their material. Hoppock lists a variety of ways that children are active participants in their own learning: “He can help plan, too, He can evaluate. He can make some decisions for himself. He can initiate projects. He can contribute”. Once children see that they can choose what they want to paint instead of being told what to do, or that they can share a story that contributes to the topic at hand, they gain confidence and perceive themselves as having worth. This is one of the most important views for a child to adopt, as a healthy self-perception is essential in growing up.
Read also speaks on the subject of growing up and the importance of providing choices when she states, “With increasing maturity one makes an increasing number of choices. Being able to make decisions helps develop maturity” . Children are aware that adults make most of the important decisions in their lives, such as when to go to bed and what vegetables they have to eat. When they are given the responsibility to make their own decisions, they realize that making choices is a sign of maturity and delight in the freedom to choose. However, Read goes on to clarify that while choices are necessary for a child to grow and develop, they must be given only when appropriate. She explains, “But there are decisions which a child is not ready to make because of his limited capacities and experience”. Choices should be given only if the adult intends to honor the child’s answers by posing statements as questions, such as “Do you want to go inside now?” instead of “It’s time to go inside now,” can have negative consequences if the child answers “no” and the teacher makes him go inside regardless.
It only confuses him and he may be less trusting of the teacher the next time she asks him a similar question. Ultimately, however, providing the child with opportunities to make choices assists in their growth and development, making preschool and kindergarten an ideal environment l personally could not agree more with both Katherine Read‘s and Anne Hoppock’s ideas concerning early childhood education I strongly believe in the educational benefits of both preschool and kindergarten, and I believe that they lay a strong foundation for not just the child‘s years in school but for the rest of his life. While they may seem basic and trivial, the ideas fostered in youth remain with the child and are extremely influential. If he does not learn how to work with his peers at a young age, for example, or if he doesn’t gain self-confidence early on, he may struggle later in life. Therefore, I believe that early childhood education is greatly beneficial and am looking forward to fostering these concepts in my own kindergarten classroom someday.