The Care and Education of Young Children: The Expanding Contexts, Sharpening Focus

by Leslie R. Williams & Frances O'Connell Rust - 1989

An introduction to this special issue of the Teachers College Record that represents some of the most recent thinking on the conceptual and practical growth within the field of early childhood education and child care.

Early childhood education and child care are two now highly visible aspects of a field of study, research, and practice focusing on the young child. That field, commonly referred to in a growing body of literature as “early childhood,” has in the past encompassed many distinct specializations, including study of the development of young children from birth to age eight, provision of child-care services, nursery school and kindergarten education, after-school programs, study and guidance of parenting, specialized caregiver and teacher preparation, and a variety of advocacy activities.

For nearly two hundred years, the field has grown and changed as young children have become increasingly precious and important to our society. Currently, however, the field is undergoing the most rapid expansion of its concerns and redefinition of its purpose in its long history. While there have been other periods of high activity concerning the well-being of young children in the United States (as in the inception of the Head Start program in the 1960s), the present form of attention given to early childhood is distinguishing itself in two ways. It is becoming more broadly based, with heightened awareness of the powerful intersection of social, economic, and political forces affecting the lives of young children and their families. At the same time, there is a greater focus on the issues cutting across all those spheres that affect the nurturance of our youngest citizens, and across the specializations within the field. What have been considered separate strands of endeavor are now being woven into whole cloth.

The concerns of early childhood are more far ranging than ever before partly because of the age span of the children served by the field. Although three-, four-, and five-year-old children were the subjects of much of the pioneer work in the field, infants and toddlers (neonates to age three) and primary school children (six- to eight-year-olds) have recently represented important extensions of our study, research, and practice. With the acceptance of the total continuum from birth through the third grade as our province has come an equally great expansion of the settings in which the work of early childhood practitioners and researchers is carried out. These settings now range from the infants’ own homes or homes of other caregivers to informal and formal public and private school classrooms, as well as a variety of nonschool situations, such as work place or employer-provided facilities, and hospital and hospice programs.

Parents, caregivers, family and social workers, health-care professionals, and teachers have all become key players in the services having an impact on children’s lives. Once focusing more singularly on care or education, these players are now converging in recognition of the commonality of their concerns. Today, high-quality child care assumes the provision of educational opportunities across the age range served. Programs originally designed as educational have been expanded to include important elements of care, that is, provision of nutritional and social services, and extended or full-day options. We are presently faced with an almost exponential increase in demand for services at the same time the knowledge base undergirding our work is being reassessed for its adequacy in addressing such varied expectations.

This special issue of the Record represents some of the most recent thinking on the conceptual and practical growth within the field. It examines three interconnected facets of the larger involvement, namely, the broad sociocultural contexts influencing the development of young children and their families, the evolution of specific settings or programs where care and education occur, and the emerging consciousness of early childhood educators and care providers toward their responsibility for refinement of practice. The articles are grouped and sequenced to reflect these topics.

The first five articles provide a view of the broad context in which current concerns over early childhood are evidenced in our society. Senator Moynihan begins with a political and social plea to artfully create policies to serve our children. Edelman follows with an equally sensitive concern for the child, the family, and the nation from an economic point of view. Despite our attempts to desegregate and integrate the various racial and ethnic groups comprising our society, black children (and others identified as “minorities”) still suffer social and educational inequities. Comer would make the overcoming of racism a special purpose of the early childhood field. Schorr identifies a broad array of factors that put young children at risk and describes programs that have been successful in dealing with them, Lee expands the examination of context further to the theoretical stance we take toward the child’s mind. He addresses the question of egocentricity versus sociocentricity in the young child.

The next four articles consider some of the current practice in early childhood and provide reflections on emerging trends in program design. Fromberg examines the kindergarten curriculum from two perspectives, the academic-formal and the intellectual-experiential. She also deals with teacher certification and administrative practices. Caldwell offers a view of child care and education working hand in hand. Haskins and Alessi describe a successful model of racial integration and education in the Buffalo public school setting. Magid explores the benefits of employer-sponsored child care, with discussion of the probable consequences for young children, their families, and early childhood care providers.

The final four articles illustrate and articulate the move of child care and early education specialists toward a more elaborated vision of the field. Bowman urges expansion and recognition of the personal experiential as well as the scientific bases for our knowledge and practice, while Rust and Kagan speak to the necessity of extending our awareness of the power we have to create and direct change in a rapidly shifting sociocultural milieu. Williams concludes with a discussion of future directions in the field, and their relation to ways early childhood specialists are choosing to express and enact their concerns—their professional language and actions.

This collection of essays is suggestive of more extensive changes to come in child care and early childhood education. It is a field still becoming. We look forward to the continuing, rapid evolution of this endeavor.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 90 Number 3, 1989, p. 334-336 ID Number: 459, Date Accessed: 1/23/2022 8:29:36 PM

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