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To those unfamiliar with the details of early childhood development, teaching preschool seems like an easy job. After all, young kids are easy to entertain, and because they are so little, they don’t require the formal instruction provided in elementary and secondary classrooms. To outside observers, preschool teachers might seem to be playing with their young students for the duration of school hours — but the truth is that teaching preschool is one of the most important jobs in the education system.

Why Early Childhood Education Matters

Young minds and bodies are developing as fast as they ever will. In their first year of life, babies’ brains double in size; by age five, children have brains that are essentially the same size as adults’. During this critical period of growth and development, kids gain the foundational knowledge and skills that will help them navigate life successfully. Studies have found that a lack of proper stimulation during this time in a child’s life leads directly to developmental and learning delays, which can impact a child’s success into adulthood.

Sometimes, the impacts of inadequate stimulation during early childhood are not obvious until a child reaches adolescence or adulthood. Developmental delays might manifest subtly in a child’s behaviors or personality, which might influence their path through life. Some surveys have found that children who are enrolled in high-quality early childhood education programs enjoy better career opportunities, better health, lower crime rates and lower levels of dependence than their peers who skipped preschool.

Preschool teachers might seem to be providing basic levels of care to their young students — playing, toileting, feeding, etc. — but the truth is that how preschool teachers interact with young kids could have an incredible effect on how the little ones learn and grow. Thus, all early childhood educators need to recognize the importance of their role and commit to providing the best possible environment for students.

How Early Childhood Educators Can Make an Impact

The more training and experience an early childhood educator can acquire, the better. A foundation in early childhood development can help educators in this field succeed in delivering what young children need to grow and thrive. Generally, it is advisable for professionals in this space to acquire a master’s in early childhood education, so teachers and administrators have a foundation of skills, knowledge and tools that will aid them in creating and maintaining constructive classrooms.

In addition to remaining committed to learning new information and skills in early childhood education and development, teachers and administrators can work together to create a community of engaged and successful learners using the following tips:

Appreciate the uniqueness of each child. Every individual child has value and deserves respect and personalized care. Educators should consider how the developmental, cultural and linguistic elements of the environment impact every child’s ability to learn and grow.

Promote every child’s agency. Just as adults gain skills through practice, children learn and grow when consistently given opportunities to explore their own abilities. Educators should provide a diverse range of activities for children to explore and independence to develop their own ideas and devise their own solutions.

Consider how biases may be affecting interactions in the classroom. Everyone is affected by known and unknown biases, even early childhood educators. Educators need to reflect regularly on biases that may be influencing how they act and react to different children in different situations.

Set meaningful goals for individual children and the class as a whole. Children enjoy being motivated by challenging but achievable goals. Because children can develop at different rates, educators should be careful to set goals based on individual performance.

Offer multiple tiers of support. Teachers and administrators should work together and with other professionals, like classroom aides, healthcare providers and special educators, to maximize the potential of every student.

Advocate for early childhood education. Educators should promote knowledge about the importance of high-quality early childhood education and speak against unfair policies that limit access to preschool or introduce biases that put some kids at risk.

Though preschoolers might not be learning calculus or programming computers, preschool classrooms still offer some of the most valuable lessons in the entire education system. A preschool teacher has one of the most important jobs in society — and they deserve respect and support for their contributions.