Learning to Learn: The Importance of Early Childhood Education

You probably can’t remember much from your time in preschool. If anything, you might recall singing songs, playing games, napping and maybe a few friends you made along the way. Most people would see these activities as merely fun and games, but in reality, they are so much more than that. They are the tools by which we literally build our brains, first generating and then pruning the neural connections that support everything we do from the social, physical and cognitive sense to the executive control that shapes our ability to function within the world. Play is not just children’s scientific method, it is also the construction method for creating the meat and spirit of who we are.

You may have noticed that there seems to be a lot of talk about early childhood education (ECE) these days, especially here at SHP, but what makes it so important? ECE refers to the period from a child’s birth to when they enter kindergarten. Though this period may be brief, it is absolutely pivotal in a child’s life because it is the only time when they are not only learning, but creating the machinery and developing the skills with which to learn. Children in this stage are in a constant state of observation and exploration, translating the world (and how to interact with it) into pathways and patterns in their brains. Patterns that work well or are reinforced through repetition remain, while those that do not tend to fall by the wayside. Driven by their own agency and innate curiosity, kids learn how to communicate and interact with others, as well as begin developing personal interests that can last a lifetime. And the results are as impressive as they are measurable.

According to a study from the National Education Association, children enrolled in early childhood education programs are:

  • Less likely to repeat a grade
  • Less likely to be identified as having special needs
  • More prepared academically for later grades
  • More likely to graduate from high school
  • Higher earners in the workforce

It’s obvious that a great early education experience will set a child up for success for their entire life by giving them the basics of learning, which they will use throughout their educational journey. But what does a successful early educational experience look like?

High-quality ECE programs are enriching, active, challenging and carefully planned and executed. They are grounded in an understanding that the child is the owner of their own learning, supporting and enabling their confident exploration of the world. The curriculum typically includes games, arts & crafts, songs, books and nature exploration—all led by well-prepared teachers who engage with their students and provide a safe and supportive environment to help young learners feel comfortable in a new and sometimes daunting setting. Zero To Three, a research-based organization that advocates for the developmental needs of infants and toddlers, says that ECE programs should also afford students the opportunity to build language and literacy skills, thinking skills and self-control in an encouraging and fun manner.

But a rich and engaging curriculum must be housed in an equally supportive environment—which brings us to the building itself. When it comes to the design and construction of an Early Childhood Education Center, there is a responsibility on both the owner and the design and architecture teams to create environments that enable independence, a sense of welcome and comfort, a variety of spaces to support different learning needs and foster curiosity and a sense of adventure while keeping actual risk to a minimum. Creating a well-rounded and functional ECE building means designing flexible, practical and pedagogy-specific spaces that give children the opportunity to explore, socialize and practice the skills they’ve learned from their teachers and peers.

Take Mt. Healthy Early Learning Center, for example. Located on a site within walking distance of the students in the greatest need, this 400-student preschool includes pairs of adaptable classrooms that share a studio space and an outdoor learning area, encouraging teacher teamwork and enabling flexibility. Meanwhile, low-set windows engage students with the several natural ecosystems of the site.

Though the people within the school are essential to propelling young students forward, the layout and design of the facility still play a significant role in how children practice what they’ve learned. And being the future-focused team we are, it’s especially thrilling to support the young learners of today on their journey to being the problem-solvers and changemakers of tomorrow.