5 Ways Early Childhood Educators Impact Young Learners
By Maya Yatom, Curriculum and Training Specialist
Research has long supported the claim that the first five years of life are a critical time in terms of development3. The rate of growth is unmatched at any other phase of life for physical, cognitive, emotional, and intellectual growth. By age five, children can recognize over 10,000 words1; the average adult knows a total of approximately 42,000 words2. During the first five years a child learns how to sit, stand, walk, run, jump, and kick. They learn how to see the world and how to interact with it.
During the first five years of life the foundation for growth and development is created. A child’s experiences during early childhood have an immense impact on their cognitive, psychological, and physical well-being throughout their life3,4,5.
In the US, 62% of children aged five and younger are enrolled in childcare on a regular basis6. Early childhood educators stand at the forefront of influence on these children’s futures.
If this sounds like a big responsibility, it is!
5 Areas of Impact by Early Childhood Educators
Let’s take a look at a few ways early childhood educators can impact young learners.
- Family support: The familiar saying “it takes a village to raise a child” comes to life in the relationship between families and childcare centers. Early childhood educators provide a safe environment where children learn, grow, and thrive. Childcare centers and preschools also give parents access to an experienced community of educators and other parents with whom they can connect. When parents can drop their children off confidently without feeling stressed, they have more bandwidth for their own work and can better enjoy quality time with their children.
- Serve and return interactions: Healthy relationships with caregivers are crucial for building both social emotional and cognitive skills5. Serve and return interactions in which children naturally reach out for contact are important building blocks for such relationships. When an infant babbles and gestures and their caregiver responds, when a toddler cries out and their caregiver reaches out to comfort them, when a child asks a question and their caregiver answers in earnest – these are all small examples of healthy serve and return interactions. These relationships help children develop a sense of security and well-being, which gives children the confidence to learn, explore, and grow.
- Recognizing early signs of developmental differences: While all children are different, and developing at different rates should be allowed and even celebrated, recognizing developmental differences early can make a significant difference for a child’s future. Professional educators have insight fueled by both an educated and a comparative perspective putting them in the critical position of recognizing early signs of developmental differences. Being aware of developmental milestones and communicating in a professional manner with the families allows the parents to then take a step and speak with their pediatrician or local early intervention team as needed.
- Practice makes perfect: Research shows7 that a strong foundation of social emotional skills is key to greater academic achievement. Just as children practice again and again drawing out the shape of letters, just as they learn letters through song, play, conversations, and books, they must also learn to process their emotions through practice and play. Naming and recognizing emotions are an important aspect of the early childhood curriculum.
Educators have the opportunity to make an incredible impact when they not only name an emotion but also give the child space to feel the emotion and offer different ways to process it. Early childhood educators can incorporate planned lessons on emotional regulation as well as practice during both free play and structured activities.
- Opportunities for success: Every child is unique. One child may be a social butterfly but struggles with transitions. Another child may be a natural artist but struggles with making connections with other children. Early childhood educators observe each child in various situations, then build in opportunities for them to shine their strengths alongside opportunities to grow. By allowing children opportunities for small successes, you help build their self-esteem as well as help them open up more avenues to try things that might otherwise be daunting.
Early childhood educators are in a unique position to make a world of difference for a child, a family, and a community. Taking the time to pause and make small changes to allow each child to blossom and feel successful and for the parents to feel supported can allow you, as an educator, to take your work one step further making a change for the better one child at a time.
- Law, F., Mahr, T., Scheeberg, A., & Edwards, J. (2017). Vocabulary size and auditory word recognition in preschool children. Applied Psycholinguist. 38(1): 89–125.
- Brysbaert M., Stevens M., Mandera P., & Keuleers E. (2016) How Many Words Do We Know? Practical Estimates of Vocabulary Size Dependent on Word Definition, the Degree of Language Input and the Participant’s Age. Frontiers in Psychology. 7:1116.
- Shonkoff, J. Deborah A. Phillips, eds. Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2000) From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
- McCormick, B., et al. (2020). Early Life Experiences and trajectories of Cognitive Development. Pediatrics. 146(3). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-3660
- National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Young children develop in an environment of relationships. Working Paper No. 1. Retrieved from http://www.developingchild.net
- U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Early Childhood Program Participation: 2019 (NCES 2020-075REV), Table 1. Retrieved May, 1st 2023 from: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=4
- Cooper, J., Masi, R., Vick, J., (2009). Social-emotional Development in Early Childhood What Every Policymaker Should Know. National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University.