Why is so important Early Childhood Education (ECE)?

What is early childhood education?

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) in the US includes a wide range of part-day, full-school-day, and full-work-day programs, under educational, social welfare, and commercial auspices, funded and delivered in a variety of ways in both the public and the private sectors, designed sometimes with an emphasis on the “care” component of ECEC and at other times with stress on “education” or with equal attention to both. Although ECEC scholars and advocates are increasingly convinced of the need to integrate all these program types, categorical funding coupled with diverse societal values continue to support the differences. The result is a fragmented ECEC system, of wide-ranging quality and with skewed access, but with some movement in recent years toward the integration of early childhood education and care.

Early childhood education is a term that refers to the period of time from a child’s birth to when they enter kindergarten, according to Dr Jessica Alvarado, academic program director for the BA in Early Childhood Development at National University. According to  Alvarado, it is an important time in children’s lives because it is when they first learn how to interact with others, including peers, teachers and parents, and also begin to develop interests that will stay with them throughout their lives.

But Alvarado says it’s a common misperception that early childhood education is only about learning basic skills. “It’s so much more than that,” she says. “It’s a time when children learn critical social and emotional skills and a partnership is formed between the child, their parents and the teacher. When this is done successfully, it lays the groundwork for it to continue throughout the child’s education.”

Nations around the world are becoming aware of the importance of early childhood education as well. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is an international governing body whose  mission is “to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development, and intercultural dialogue through education.” Here’s what the organization says about the importance of early childhood education:

“Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is more than preparation for primary school. It aims at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing. ECCE has the possibility to nurture caring, capable and responsible future citizens.”

What is the purpose of early childhood education?

Simply put, the purpose of ECE is to provide children with strategies that help them develop the emotional, social and cognitive skills needed to become lifelong learners. The Zero to Three Foundation considers the following skills to be the most important for young learners to master:

Language and literacy

Language provides the foundation for the development of literacy skills. Learning to communicate through gestures, sounds and words increases a child’s interest in — and later understanding of — books and reading.


Children are born with a need to understand how things work. In their everyday experiences, they use and develop an understanding of math concepts, such as counting and sorting, and problem-solving skills that they will need for school.


This refers to the ability to express and manage emotions in appropriate ways and is essential for success in school and healthy development overall. It enables children to cooperate with others, cope with frustration and resolve conflicts.


When children feel competent and believe in themselves, they are more willing to take on new challenges. Self-confidence is also crucial for navigating social challenges, such as sharing, competition and making friends.

The fact that all of these skills can be developed without homework or tests is still difficult for some adults to believe. “There are always parents who don’t understand that children learn best when they have the option to do so in a manner that is pleasurable,”

ECE curriculums are set up to encourage young students to learn about themselves and the world via experiences. This could include indoor or outdoor play, cooperative or individual play, domestic play, sensory play and constructive play, to name just a few types.

Why is Early Childhood Education important?

The Abecedarian Project is a long-term study that monitors the benefits of ECE. It follows children born between 1972 and 1977. As infants, these participants were divided into two groups: those who received early education and those who didn’t.

Researchers followed both groups from infancy to their forties. Kids from the first group:

  • Demonstrated higher IQ scores through the age of 15.
  • Scored higher on math and reading achievement tests in elementary and secondary school.
  • Had fewer placements in special education classes.
  • Were more likely to attend a 4-year college or university.
  • Were less likely to become teen parents, use drugs, or succumb to depression.
  • Were more likely to hold a job and a bachelor’s degree at the age of 30.
  • Had a lower incidence of hypertension in their mid-thirties.

These impressive results speak highly of early childhood education. Similar research, like the Perry Preschool Project, demonstrated similar results.

Let’s take a look at other benefits of educating children before they enter kindergarten.

1. Exploring Brain Capacity

Between birth and the fifth birthday, a child’s brain develops more than at any other stage of their life. A brain completes 90% of its growth before the kid enters kindergarten. It’s imperative to take full advantage of this period to ensure educational success in the future.

The study “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3” showed that children (under 3) from wealthy families knew 30 million more words than kids from poorer families. The reason is simple. The size of a child’s vocabulary depends on how many words adults use when speaking to them.

Without ECE, kids simply don’t have as many to build their brain’s capacity to its fullest.

2. Acquiring Social Skills

Socializing with people other than family is an integral part of childhood education. Learning how to interact with others, be it peers or teachers, can simplify the education process in the future.

Early socialization requires adult participation and modelling. Learning how to share and cooperate is an integral part of social life. When it’s done with professional guidance, children can benefit greatly.

The skills gained in a safe learning environment won’t just help children socialize in school. They can improve their relationship with their parents and go a long way toward gaining self-confidence.

3. Understanding the Fun of Learning

Children are always learning, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be hard. If children aren’t prepared for the process, they can lose all their natural enthusiasm. As a result, these kids could have a tough time in elementary school and beyond.

Early childhood education professionals know how to give lessons in a fun and exciting way. Once children figure out that learning can be exciting and rewarding, they can accept the challenges that the process brings and enjoy being active learners.

4. Improving Concentration

Young children have short attention spans. Their desire to discover new things often leaves them unable to concentrate on something for a long time. Early childhood education programs give them the opportunity to discover new environments, experiences, and connections while working on their ability to focus.

By the time children go to kindergarten, they know how to listen, participate in group tasks, follow directions, and concentrate on individual projects.

5. Investing in Health

Early childhood education has both short and long-term health benefits for children. Short-term benefits stem from health interventions that usually come as part of the early education package. Preschoolers in daycare centres or other child care programs tend to undergo regular health screenings and receive nutritious meals.

Long-term benefits stem from higher income and reduced chances of risky behaviour (drug use, early pregnancies, etc.), which lead to less stress and easier access to high-quality healthcare services.

Society Benefits from Early Childhood Education

Besides being highly beneficial for children and their parents, ECE has impressive benefits for society:

  • Better health - lower public health costs and reduction of welfare programs.
  • Fewer committed crimes - less expenditure on the criminal justice system.
  • Higher-income - higher tax returns and less spending on social security programs.
  • Higher labour market participation - lower poverty levels.

Early education for children can have a profound impact on society. This should result in:

  • Better funding for early childhood education programs
  • Improved staff training and working conditions
  • Higher quality of early education provision

Early education has already become an integral part of our society’s existence. However, public funding for ECE programs has been historically very limited, and not nearly available enough to families who could use the support. With increased awareness of ECE benefits, and with corresponding increases in state and federal funding. Early learning opportunities can become more accessible to children from all backgrounds and income levels. Every child needs access to high-quality ECE.