If you're a new early childhood educator, your learning doesn't stop once you enter the classroom. Here are some of the subjects you should keep studying to provide a well-rounded education for your students.
As an early childhood educator, you're not required to have an extensive depth of knowledge in all of the subjects you teach. However, the more knowledge you have, the more effective you are at teaching. The major subjects that early childhood teachers need to study are:
- Language and Literacy
- Social studies
- Health and Physical Education
- Arts and Creativity
These subjects are required for state Praxis® exams and are the building blocks for a well-rounded education. If you do not have to take a Praxis® exam for your state teaching certification, check with your state's requirements for guidance on the most important subjects.
Language and Literacy
All early childhood educators need to understand how children learn language through conversation, reading, and writing. You also need to balance teaching students who primarily speak English versus students who speak other languages. Phonological awareness is a key concept to study so that you can help students hear and speak words correctly.
For reading and literature, your focus is on building comprehension skills so that students can read a passage, identify important phrases and concepts, uncover themes, and summarize the information. You also need to help students develop analytical skills to interpret what they read, and identify relationships within the text.
Writing skills are also heavily emphasized at this stage. Students are introduced to various forms of writing, the basic structure of each writing genre, and how to conduct simple research. Digital media may also be introduced, and discussions on newspapers, online content, and the history of print media can enrich learning.
Early childhood math focuses on building fundamental logic skills needed to identify relationships between numbers and perform basic calculations. Here are some examples:
- Finding number patterns
- Grouping and classifying numbers
- Identifying number types such as whole numbers and decimals
- Understanding place value
- Performing basic operations
As you teach higher grade levels, you build upon the fundamentals and incorporate more challenging computations such as fractions and percentages. You also teach students how to interpret numbers, analyze word problems, and determine whether answers make sense.
Later, algebraic skills are gradually introduced to teach students how to think deeper and more analytically. Algebraic equations are not necessarily presented or solved, but the underlying strategies are discussed. Basic geometry is also incorporated at this stage, as well as metrics and data analysis. Therefore, you need to have a firm grasp on:
- Computing the perimeter, area, and volume of various shapes
- Measuring with the U.S. standard and metric systems
- Collecting, analyzing, and presenting data
Though young learners are not required to be math whizzes at this point, it is important that you have strong understanding of the fundamentals so that you can effectively teach skills to your students.
You don't need to be an expert scientist, but you do need a broad understanding of physical and life sciences, and how to create engaging lessons that promote curiosity and discovery. Basic physical science concepts include:
- States of matter
- Different types of energy
- Geology of the earth
- Weather patterns
- Types of objects in outer space
Life science is the study of living organisms and how they grow and interact. You should understand the main differences among plants, animals, and microorganisms, and the basic survival mechanisms for each. At this level, you can introduce the concept of ecosystems by emphasizing how living organisms interact with each other and their environment.
Technology should be incorporated into lessons to show how science applies to everyday life and helps solve problems. Kate Peila, elementary school teacher and guest writer for Organized Classroom, suggests creating a technology center to help students learn how to use computers and work independently. Though it's still too early to introduce complex experiments and analysis, the scientific method should be used to help students develop logical and critical thinking skills.
For early childhood education, social studies involves basic geography, government, and culture. Students also learn productive social skills, such as conflict resolution, and get a broad understanding of how people develop belief systems and personal relationships. Make sure you have general knowledge about social sciences, world history, civics, government structures, various cultures, and current events, so that you can answer your students' questions and give them room to explore on their own.
Health and Physical Education
This subject includes the basics of human health, disease, substance abuse, and emotion management. You also need a general understanding of how the human body works, the importance of physical activity, and how to eat a balanced, nutritious diet.
Arts and Creativity
Though you may not be a profound artist, it is important for young students to explore the realms of creativity and learn about various art forms. This means you should have a broad knowledge of performance art such as theater, dance, and music, as well as visual art, such as painting and sculpting. You should also be able to organize individual and group art projects and incorporate creativity in other subjects.
Other Important Skills
Always keep up on classroom management, child psychology, emotion management, and how to teach responsibility. There are plenty of online courses available to help you improve your technology and communication skills as well. Check out Study.com's professional licensure courses for ways to brush up and learn new skills.