This chapter discusses some of the key educational practices that can support the development and early learning of children from birth through age 8.
There are several principles for instructional practices that are generally applicable to all students, regardless of their developmental needs or the subject matter being taught. These principles include managing the learning environment, teaching subject-matter content through learning trajectories, using tiered intervention approaches, using a mix of instructional methods, using interdisciplinary approaches to instruction, and ensuring follow-through and continuity.
The physical environment, materials, time and structure, instructional strategies, student behavior, communication, and classroom climate are important components of the context in which young children are educated.
Teachers need to have content knowledge, which includes an understanding of the subject matter, common content knowledge, specialized content knowledge, and horizon knowledge. They also need to have pedagogical content knowledge, which includes an understanding of how students learn and what makes concepts and skills difficult or easy to learn.
Learning trajectories are based on developmentally sequenced activities and quality instructional practice. They can help educators understand and be responsive to children’s developmental processes and constraints, and their potential for thinking about and understanding content. The learning trajectories construct organizes, connects, and operationalizes the above three types of knowledge—especially content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge—for teaching specific subject-matter content. It also adds an essential component of knowledge gained from psychological and educational research on how children think and learn about the content.
Using a Mix of Instructional Methods
Although educators need to be trained in a core set of practices, the research base is still too small to identify which specific instructional practices are the best for which children in which situations for which outcomes. However, the evidence base is large and robust enough to identify some key instructional practices that are associated with children’s development and learning in each domain of development and early learning and that are appropriate across ages and grade levels.
These include engaging and nurturing relationships between educators and children and among children; providing opportunities for children to engage in playful activities and explore their environments; providing adults who are responsive to children’s individual needs, interests, and skills and who reinforce appropriate behaviors; using language- and literacy-rich environments, engaging in dialogic reading, and building on children’s experiences with language and literacy; using small groups to engage in intentional teaching and learning experiences.
Using developmentally appropriate and culturally responsive teaching practices that are engaging, interactive, and supportive of individual needs, interests, and skills; using positive reinforcement; encouraging and supporting students’ development of self-regulation skills; using instruction that is explicit, direct, and interactive and that involves explicit modeling of appropriate skills, strategies, and processes; providing opportunities for students to practice and apply skills and strategies; active learning techniques; using explicit and direct instruction to teach skills and strategies; supporting student engagement in and understanding of science and math; and providing opportunities for students to apply skills and strategies through authentic and meaningful tasks. Because of the nature of the goals of learning in each domain of development and early learning, the instructional practices that are appropriate for each are complex and dynamic and may vary depending on age, grade level, and individual needs, interests, and skills.
General Educational Practices For Working With Infants And Toddlers
There are some things to keep in mind when working with very young children to help them learn and grow in the best way possible. These include things like making sure there are small groups so each child gets more attention, having one main caregiver for each child to build trust, and using language and games to help with learning. The environment is also important for safety and health and it can be helpful to include things from a child’s culture to make them feel more comfortable.
Language And Literacy
The active ingredient of supporting language development in care and kids education settings relates to educators use of high-quality language interactions (such as extending what a child says and using varied and complex language) and social scaffolding of language and literacy skills, a form of instructional guidance by which educators progressively provide less ongoing support as children development proceeds to enable students to exercise independent skill. Age-appropriate language proficiency can be achieved through systematic instruction in vocabulary, listening comprehension, syntactic skills, and awareness of the components of language.
In order to teach math well to young children, educators need to understand the subject matter, how children learn it, and what instructional tasks and strategies can help them learn it. Unfortunately, many educators receive weak preparation for teaching math, and often lack knowledge of mathematical content. This deficiency is exacerbated by a gender gap favoring men in this knowledge category but a preponderance of female educators in the preschool and elementary school years. As a result, preschool teachers often spend less time engaging children in mathematics than in any other subject. Because content knowledge is a prerequisite for implementing pedagogical knowledge, increasing the mathematics knowledge of early childhood educators needs to be a priority.
Children’s investigations into how the world works often lead to refinement of their ideas and the development of scientific reasoning skills. Preschool children know a great deal about the natural world and are able to take simple observations and form conclusions about how things work. They also demonstrate understanding of simple data patterns and generate possible explanations for phenomena. Older preschoolers interpret simple data patterns and generate possible explanations for phenomena. However, instruction in science in the United States is of low quality, and children from low-resource communities and minority groups typically receive less quality instruction than children from more privileged backgrounds. Progress in identifying learning trajectories and core concepts in science is less advanced than in mathematics. Comprehensive strategies that eschew simple dichotomies, such as “play” versus “academic,” are needed.
Fostering Socioemotional Development
Socioemotional development is important for kids education. Many children in early education settings and early elementary classrooms arrive with prior experiences of adversity and chronic stress, which can affect their behavior and learning. It is important for educators to have the knowledge needed to interpret young children’s anxiety, difficulties in paying attention and following instructions, impulsivity, and problems with emotion regulation as arising, in part, from the effects of chronic stress on developing brain systems.
Generally speaking, learning environments that are well structured and predictable, that provide support for children’s self-regulatory capacities, and that offer secure and warm relationships with educators will provide the greatest benefits to all children. Children experiencing chronic stress and adversity may have other specific needs for support, but such a learning environment can help buffer stress for these children. Providing such an environment not only helps these children, but also helps educators maintain a constructive classroom environment that is not regularly subject to behavioral disruptions.
Read more about educational practices on ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.