The Essential Qualities Of Early Childhood Education

In early August, many educators and administrators are looking ahead to the day they greet students. August has a particular feeling of importance; the return is a huge deal for everyone involved. I’m sure this year is different in so many ways, that I can’t even imagine, which only amplifies the below list of qualities.

Young children and their families live in tightly-knit systems, which is developmentally and psychologically appropriate. Entering into a new learning environment is a meaningful event. In essence, early childhood educators may be the child’s first experience with learning from someone new outside the home.

I observed these five qualities in early childhood centers from dedicated educators:

1. Purposeful.

A teacher’s classroom threshold is an important boundary. When students enter the room, they walk into a carefully considered environment. Every square inch of the room has a purpose, a child-safe plant, or an inviting place to play. I believe this is true for all educators, not just early childhood educators. However, early childhood educators have a slightly different lens of responsibility: safety, comfort, and opportunities for active play are mandatory. Young children do not sit at desks. They may put things in their mouths. They need a place to feel comforted and safe. Therefore, all items and spaces have been carefully curated: fine motor, gross motor, blocks, dramatic play, sensory table, cubbies, cozy area with books, and art are intentional and purposeful.

The classroom belongs to the children. It is their space for learning, exploring, and playing.

2. Professional.

When early childhood educators return to work, there is a delicate balance between professional development and time working in classrooms. The first month of school is logistically and emotionally important. Teachers are very conscious about creating ease and grace for children, and parents, as they arrive that first day (first week). The understanding of where things go, how to start my child’s day, and how to say goodbye with ritual becomes reality. Now, the rubber meets the road. Parents need care also as they are learning too.

Educators set up the foundation for the first day, week, and month, while also attending necessary professional development opportunities. They prepare, implement, and integrate.

3. Presence.

The first month of school has moments of anxiety, including separation anxiety. Parents and children are learning the art of transition and flow. Early childhood educators strive to stay healthy for the first month because young children need consistency. They appreciate predictably as many things feel new. Being greeted by the same teacher every day establishes trust through presence. Educators are integral in establishing an environment that is safe, soothing, and secure as everyone adjusts to the new routine.

Self-care for educators is vital to be present emotionally, professionally, and logistically.

4. Patience.

For children, especially young children, time and repetition are how they acquire a new skill. Play-based learning is designed to captivate and motivate children in learning new skills. Early childhood educators focus on facilitating child-led developmentally appropriate play. This is the art of teaching. And yes, it requires patience as children learn more about how to engage with materials and each other. Educators often repeat short, simple phrases to clarify classroom safety, routines, and transitions as they learn about community.

Educators honor the child’s learning through observation, a calm tone, and loads of patience.

5. Playful.

Visual schedules or a timeline of the day provides educators and parents with a general flow for the day. Often including play, circle, a read-aloud, music, movement, outside time, lunch, and bathroom breaks. There are days when something shifts, and suddenly a new schedule for the day seems more fitting. Maybe the leaves and weather outside are perfect for exploring, or fresh snow has fallen, or a new book has arrived for sharing and discussing. Whatever the occasion, flexibility is key to harnessing momentum.

The space where spontaneity and creativity overlaps is where the magic of teaching lives.

Let’s honor and celebrate early childhood educators! They are committed to designing systems that promote safety, social-emotional growth, and engaged learning. The balance of care, developmentally appropriate play-based practices, quality literature, and smooth transitions creates powerful learning environments for young children; a refined skill set. Furthermore, early childhood educators are skillful at remaining calm and creative amidst a dynamic landscape. Young children are learning about themselves, language, emotions, and how to be part of a community. Essentials skills learned from essential professionals.

Early childhood educators are excellent resources of competence, creativity, and care. These qualities set the stage for young children as the move forward in their lives. I say, thank you.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden @ Unsplash.