History of Early Childhood Education


 teaching theoriesThe education of the young mind is an important step in readying the child for future learning experiences. The evolution of early childhood education has transformed how adults and parents view the importance of offering stimulating and exciting opportunities to the very young.  Early childhood education offers toddlers learning experiences that benefit them throughout their educational career.

History of Early Childhood Education

According to Pre-K Now, the concept of early childhood education started with a European mother in the early 1800’s that educated children outside of their homes. The idea came to America during the Industrial Revolution with “infant schools” set up in churches, factories, and private homes to care for the young while parents were working. The state of Wisconsin created constitutional amendments to include committees dedicated to free education of children aged four to twenty in 1848 and then later, in 1873, started the first four year old kindergarten program.

As time progressed, other states began to follow Wisconsin’s lead in the area of early childhood education with preschools, day care centers, and nursery programs starting across the country.  In 1926, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) was established dedicated to improving the well-being of all young children and focusing on the quality of education and developmental services offered to children from birth to the age of eight.

Head Start, founded in 1965 as a program through the United States Department of Health and Human Services, was originally founded to ready low-income children over the summer months for upcoming kindergarten. Over the years, Head Start has become a respected preschool aged program found in many communities working with children of all backgrounds and abilities.

Early Education Teaching Theories

The concept of educating young children within the family has been happening for many, many years, but the evolution of early childhood education within an outside setting has many different theories and facets. The studies conducted by Jean Piaget along with the work he did with children, paved the way for educators to create different styles of teaching to use within programs. Many of these theories of teaching are used in preschools around the country. They include:

  • The Montessori Method: Maria Montessori was the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree with areas of study in psychiatry, education and anthropology. Her belief was that every child was born with potential and that children should be allowed to be free to explore and play within their environment. In the early 1900’s, Montessori visited the United States to share her unique style of teaching. The main focus is to always be attentive to the child and follow the child in the direction they chose to go when learning. The Montessori Method is practiced within many preschools around the country.
  • Reggio Emilia Approach: Begun in Italy after World War II in the city of Reggio Emilia, this preschool teaching style is based on children’s symbolic language and the context of project-oriented curriculum. With the Reggio Emilia approach, community is a large part of the educational process and with opportunities for educational experiences for teachers to maintain their abilities and to enhance and dedicate themselves as educators to the development of the young child. The environment of the educational setting is also considered to be an important aspect of the child’s development and often considered as the “third teacher.” Along with Piaget’s constructivist thought, the Reggio Emilia Approach, the community as well as teachers believe the child to be interested in learning and experimenting through inner motivation, promoting educated and productive future adults.
  • Play-Based Learning: The concept of play-based learning is exactly what it sounds like, playing to learn. Many educators have helped pave the way to understanding the wonders of allowing children to learn through their play. Bev Bos, both an educator and writer, has been sharing her ideas and concepts through books and lectures for over 40 years. Her suggestions of teaching with a hand’s off style encourages teachers to let children lead themselves through problem solving and discovery with minimal intervention, and to learn through play.
  • Direct Instruction: Siegried Engelmann and Wesley Becker coined this teaching concept in the 1960’s.  The goal is for children to be directed through their development with teachers leading activities directed toward specific learning. Often drilling methods are used as well as rote learning. Other characteristics of direct instruction are fast-paced learning activities, active involvement between teachers and children, and positive reinforcement offered often and mistakes corrected immediately.

Early childhood education is an important step in educating children and offering stimulating opportunities for exploring and learning.


About the author -

Sarah Lipoff

Sarah is an art educator and parent. You can visit her website here.


2 Responses to History of Early Childhood Education

  1. Archana Kumari says:

    I agree with the information given in this blog but i want to add some more information to it.

    During seventeenth century it was recognized for the first time by Europe that early years have a particular role in subsequent human development. The importance of first hand experience , learning through play, impact of positive reinforcement and active learning during early childhood was expressed by many European philosophers and educators such as Czech Jan Amos Comenius, Jean –Jacques Rouseau, and Johann Pestalozzi. The thought of these philosopher took a practical shape when British industrialist and socialist Robert Owner, set up an infant school for the children of his cotton mill workers from the age of one. A German educator Freidrick Froebel who believes in learning through play started a school for children and named it as ‘Kindergarden’. The trend was continued by Maria Montessori who came with an additional idea of emphasizing individual over class teaching, where children are given liberty to follow self choosen activities. Then it was carried forward by establishment of Bancon Hill school and Summerhill School. In Japan, the concept of early childhood education was influenced by the thought of Jean Piaget.
    During and after Second World War, public policy towards early childhood education was evolved as a result of demand for an enriching preschool education, for growing middle class, helping the needs of working mothers and to prepare children for primary schooling. By the end of twentieth century, the concept of preschool as a place of offering education for children from all backgrounds and run by highly qualified professionals was widely accepted in Europe and North America (UNESCO, 2007: 121-122).

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