Early Childhood Education: Programs and Benefits

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  • 0:01 Early Childhood Education
  • 1:24 Brain Development
  • 3:07 Zone of Proximal Development
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Many children go to preschool or Head Start as part of their early childhood. In this lesson, we'll look at what early childhood education is and two developmental reasons why it can be beneficial: brain development and the zone of proximal development.

Early Childhood Education

Helen is a mother. Her son Geo is about to turn two years old. Helen has heard conflicting information about whether she should send Geo to preschool or not. Some of her friends say that it's really important and can be really good for Geo, and others say that Helen would do better to keep him at home for a while longer.

Early childhood education spans the years from two years old to about six or seven years old. At the older end of that scale, children are going to kindergarten and first grade. But younger children have options as well. Head Start and preschool programs offer children their first glimpse of school.

It's important to note a big difference between preschool and daycare. While daycare can be beneficial to children, preschool focuses more on academics. Preschool teachers have studied early childhood education while most daycare teachers have not.

But even if Helen finds a great preschool with very educated teachers, should she send Geo to preschool or just keep him at home? While there are benefits to keeping a child at home with a parent, around age two, a child is uniquely primed for learning. Let's look at two important psychological concepts and how they support the argument in favor of preschool: Vygotsky's zone of proximal development and neuroplasticity.

Brain Development

Geo seems to be changing every day. He learns new words and how to do new things. Helen is amazed at how quickly Geo is developing. There's a good reason that Geo's skills and abilities seem to be growing exponentially every day. Brain development is a key feature of early childhood. Geo is learning and changing every day because his brain is changing every day.

To an extent, brain development in early childhood has to do with brain volume. That is, Geo's brain is getting bigger. But volume isn't the only aspect of development that is occurring in Geo's brain. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to change and adapt to become better at functioning, and it is at its highest point in early childhood. Think about neuroplasticity like this:

Imagine that you have a lump of clay in front of you. If that clay is hard and dried up, there's not a lot you can do with it; it will just stay a lump of clay. But if it's soft and malleable, you can form it into a bowl or a cup or another useful object. Neuroplasticity is like the soft clay; it is an opportunity for the brain to change and become better.

So what does this have to do with preschool and other forms of early childhood education? Though Helen is a great mom and loves Geo very much, and even though she knows a lot of things that she can teach him, Helen is not an expert in early childhood development. The teachers at her local preschool know the best things to do and say to help Geo take advantage of his neuroplasticity. Not exposing Geo to activities designed to help his brain develop is like having soft, malleable clay, but doing nothing with it.

Zone of Proximal Development

Brain development and neuroplasticity are not the only benefits to preschool. Helen's neighbor told her that preschool is important because Geo will be able to socialize with other children. But why is socializing with other kids important?

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