Dr. Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori model of education, believed that the first three years of a child's life are critical to emotional and mental development. Alas, until recently, those who were given the responsibility of caring for and educating these youngsters were primarily untrained and underpaid. Fortunately, the tide appears to be changing on training early childhood educators, and community colleges are at the forefront of the new trend. We will take a look at how early training impacts children and what community colleges are doing to raise a new generation of early childhood educators
equipped to answer the call.
The Importance of Early Childhood Education
According to a report in Community College Week
, more research continues to surface regarding the importance of the years from birth to age three. This developmental time is when a child's brain begins making connections to his outer world. This age group has been historically dubbed the future of our nation, yet the educational system rarely puts in the time, effort and money to educate this demographic as effectively as it could. In fact, those at the front of the public education movement often regard early childhood education as an afterthought – after the more important issues like school choice, student performance and educational standards.
A report by the New American Foundation called attention to the educational plight of our young in a report in CCW that stated pre-kindergarten education has "long been the poor stepchild of the education system, with fewer resources, spotty quality standards, and limited attention to children's learning outcomes. To provide children with a solid foundation for success before they enter school, we need to start treating pre-K
as a fundamental component of the education system; not an optional add-on." The report added, "Teachers working with young children must have higher education levels that enable them to support that development.
Bringing up the Standards
To that end, many states are implementing stricter standards for the qualifications of pre-K teaching staff. Many programs across the country now require teachers at this level to have a minimum of an associate's degree
in early childhood education. Head Start, a federal early childhood education program for low-income families
, now requires all early childhood teachers to have an associate's degree and lead teachers must have a bachelor's degree
for that position. A new standard that goes into effect next year requires half of all Head Start teachers to have four-year degrees
before they can be hired.
Some states are also beginning to tighten their requirements for early childhood educators, and many in the field predict that the standards across the country will slowly require teachers to have more education in their field to land the best jobs possible. Despite the low pay many early childhood educators face, the abundance of employment options turns many to this field while in school. Most community colleges boast a nearly 100 percent placement rate
for graduates of their early childhood education programs. We have an example of some of the programs currently available at community colleges around the country.
This community college offers a variety of degree options for those pursuing a career in early childhood education. Training includes class lectures, observation studies and practical field work with mentor teachers. According to the college website
, both certification
and an associate's degree are available in this field. These credentials can help you get a good job at a day care center, preschool or before and after school care. The college also states that those who receive an AAS degree through their school will be able to find employment immediately after graduation.
Community College of Allegheny County
In Pennsylvania, those interested in a career in early childhood education can explore their options at Community College of Allegheny County
. This institution offers certification in Early Education and Child Development, as well as an associate's degree in Education and Child Development. Students who complete the two-year program may wish to transfer to a teacher certification program after graduation to expand their options.
For those interested in pursuing training in the Montessori model of early childhood education, South Mountain Community College
in Arizona is a good choice. This school offers a program that is fully accredited by the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education. The program demonstrates how to act as a guide rather than an instructor, allowing students to explore the world on their own terms.
Early childhood education appears to finally be getting the attention it deserves. If you are interested in this field, contact the community college in your area to find out if they offer an early childhood education program for you.