Early childhood education (ECE), also called early childhood learning or early education, describes the formal teaching of children outside a home or family setting. Early childhood educators prepare young children for future schooling by teaching them basics such as math, reading and writing. In the United States, these educators include preschool, kindergarten, and elementary teachers of children younger than eight years old.
Early childhood education focuses on learning through play-based activities for kids. It is based on the philosophy and research of Jean Piaget, a twentieth-century Swiss philosopher and psychologist. Piaget placed a great value on the education of young children. “Only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse,” he declared.
Early childhood educators work in childcare centers, public and private schools, and charitable organizations. They teach preschool, kindergarten, and elementary education. Most teachers work normal school hours when children are present. However, they often use evenings and weekends to create lesson plans and grade papers. Most ECE teachers do not work during the summer months.
Preschool teachers educate and care for children between the ages of three and five years old. Their education and training requirements differ according to state regulations. Some states require a high school diploma while others require a college degree in early childhood education. Most states require certification and continuing education.
Kindergarten and elementary teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Some teachers pursue a master’s degree in education or child psychology. Public schools require early childhood educators to have a state-issued certificate or license.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), preschool teachers earned an annual median wage of $25,700 in 2010. Kindergarten teachers earned a median wage of $48,800. The median annual salary for elementary teachers was $51,660.
The job outlook for early childhood educators is promising. The employment of preschool teachers is expected to grow 25 percent by 2020. A 17 percent growth is expected for kindergarten and elementary teachers. This anticipated job growth is due to three main factors: the growing population of young children, a decline in student-teacher ratios, and a continued focus on early childhood education.
The earliest years of a development are the most crucial ones for children. It has been said that 85 percent of who people are –their intellects, personalities and social skills– is developed before they are five years old. Early childhood educators invest their time, energy and expertise where it makes the most difference. They have a unique opportunity to impact future generations.