Every profession has its acronyms that are second nature to those within but rather foreign to others. The early childhood profession has a long list, covering not only its profession but also the vast network of services that support young children and their families. However, within the profession, both EEC and DAP are universal and represent extremely important components.
Early childhood education had much to celebrate when the brain research studies of the 90’s clearly demonstrated what we in the profession had always known; young children are capable of learning and absorbing a great deal. A tremendous amount of learning takes place in the first few years of life, and understanding how to facilitate that learning with the style of interactions, the design of environments, and the training of teachers is tantamount to creating an educational experience beyond simply a safe, caregiving placement. The importance of replacing “daycare” with “Early Education and Care” (EEC) became the new goal for our youngest. Our profession is evolving rapidly and St. Michael’s staff is rising to those challenges.
Over the last two decades, quality in EEC has become a driving force behind funding, educational placement and advancement, and general concern for the brain development of all young children, regardless of the environment or circumstances of their birth. For many years, the National Association for the Education of Children (NAEYC) was the only quality assurance standard; in fact, their accreditation remains the standard for the highest level of recognized excellence in most states. There are several factors in achieving a high quality EEC environment, and all those factors require a knowledge of child development and a subsequent recognition of the mechanics of the developing mind. Children do not think or learn in the same manner as adults and young children do not think and learn in the same manner as older children whose brains are more physically developed and matured to other levels. Young children learn best through interactive, multi-sensorial ways; most often, play is the vehicle of the most successful learning. Young children think differently, not deficiently. Those differences need to be respected and accommodated to ensure that the skills and lessons they learn are incorporated into their development. Authentic is an important word in EEC.
Those authentic experiences happen when teachers understand developmental stages and know how to challenge, entice, and nurture children as they learn; teachers create situations that draw children in and build the foundations of later learning. Young children learn best when developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is used to set the foundations of literacy, numeracy, and language as well as gross and fine motor and social-emotional skills. These skills are learned through interacting with materials and other people in ways that make the most sense to young children, using as many of their senses as a creative teacher can address. Flash cards, repetitive teacher-directed drills, and work sheets may be appropriate for elementary school age children who have a solid understanding of what letters and numbers are, as well as what to do with the information that is being presented. But for young children who are still learning the basics of verbal language, of counting and categorizing, of sharing and turn taking and resolving conflicts, etc., etc.–these finite exercises of rote are, at best, attractive displays and, at worst, disconnected incidents that may be confusing and ultimately discourage higher thinking such as creativity and the ability to connect learning to the next level. Our intent here at St. Michael’s is to offer our children best practices that will excite them now and give them the basic tools to become lifelong learners.
Early childhood is not a race, but a time to build a strong, deep, and broad foundation of interests, skills, and experiences which will then support successful learning in whatever mode of instruction presented.
Come and visit. Ask questions. Offer feedback. Support St. Michael’s. What we do here matters.
Lucinda Ross, M.Ed.