As adults who play an important role in the lives of children, early childhood educators play a critical role in brain development. However, the level of importance of this workforce has in many ways historically been undervalued. For instance, early childhood educators are typically the lowest paid in the field compared to their peers in the K-12 system. On average, early childhood educators make merely $10-$13 per hour (Loewneberg, 2018). Also, standards and competencies have varied widely in this workforce, due in large part to an uninformed perspective that working with young children requires less skill. Knowing what we do now about the critical nature of brain development, it is clear that this workforce is at least as important, if not more important, than other educators and that there are different, but equally important competencies required (IOM & NRC, 2015).
Looking at the importance of early childhood educators from a numerical perspective, the number of children throughout the United States in care and education settings from birth through age five is over 60% of the population (Childstats.gov, 2018). With well over half of children in the U.S. being cared for and educated by someone in addition to the support they receive in the home, it becomes clear that the work of these educators has a significant impact on children’s development. Having a highly skilled workforce is vital to ensure that we capitalize on children’s learning potential.
As discussed in the last section, secure attachments are vitally important. Early childhood educators have the capacity to build these interactions and relationships as well as develop the environment and experiences to foster deep learning and lasting brain connections. These connections encourage development through authentic instructional programming that considers the context of the child and their construction of knowledge. Through scaffolding, the effective educator guides this development, and the abilities of the child emerge.
Although educators often cannot change the trauma children may be experiencing, it is important for early childhood educators to recognize and understand the signs of trauma. Educators can connect families to services that can help alleviate the effects of trauma as well as address and minimize its impacts in the classroom. Because trauma can have long-term impacts on brain functioning, trauma-informed practices have become a hallmark of publicly funded prekindergarten programs. These programs focus heavily on the socio-emotional development of children in recognition of its profound impact on learning and well-being. Often, traumas from a child’s or family’s past may manifest as behavioral or learning difficulties in the classroom. A safe and healthy learning environment is paramount to successfully guiding the development of children experiencing the effects of trauma. The good news for early childhood educators is that many of the factors that build the foundation of the brain can be positively impacted by their work. Because the brain functions in an integrated fashion, learning and development are also integrated and can impact each other. In short, when we are exposing children to a new word, material, or experience, we are also building their brains. We know that learning is an active process and occurs within the context of social interactions (Levitt & Eagleson, 2018). The choices that educators make in the classroom to actively engage children through play can have a lasting impact on children’s lifelong learning trajectory.
Pause and Connect: The Important Role of Early Childhood Educators
The funding for this video was provided by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care.
After viewing this video, summarize the main points from the video in your own words. Can you think of examples from your own experiences that relate to the issues raised in the video?