There is more to early childhood education than cognitive development
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a
strong influence on early childhood education in the United States . Through
its local, state, and national organizations, it has provided useful information
to educators across the country. NAEYC's journal, Young Children, disseminates
valuable ideas about educational topics and findings of child development research.
Over the years early childhood educators and NAEYC have focused primarily on
cognitive and educational issues.
I believe it is time to examine this focus. As the eminent German psychotherapist,
Dr. Alice Miller, wrote in her recent book, For Your Own Good, " reason
constitutes only a small part of the human being, and not the dominant part
at that" (1983, p. 144). I am concerned that by emphasizing cognition
in early childhood education, NAEYC and teachers of young children are not presenting
an accurate picture of children and their world.
From the point of view of the child's developmental needs, the most
important dynamics of life are emotional and social. Cognitive life is secondary,
based upon and generated from the child's affective and interpersonal
experiences. Would it not be helpful if NAEYC and other leaders in early childhood
education focused more on presenting the emotional and social characteristics
of young children and how these dynamics interact with cognition and learning?
This would offer a more accurate and complete understanding of young children,
put early childhood education in developmental perspective, and shed a fuller
and more revealing light on learning.
At stake here is how this focus on cognition and curriculum influences the
way educators and parents perceive and interact with young children. By emphasizing
curriculum and cognitive development in the child's early years, NAEYC
and many leaders within the field disseminate an image of young children that
is not in developmental focus. They set the stage for adult interactional patterns
that can be harmful.
By emphasizing cognition in early childhood education, [we] are not presenting
an accurate picture of children.
This is an issue of comparative will and power. In their interactions with
children, educators and parents have far more power and influence. Compared
to adults, children are relatively helpless and emotionally vulnerable. As they
attempt to help young children become independent and competent, it is easy
even for good early childhood educators and parents to overlook these facts
and to overpower the will of the child. When this happens most children do not
protest. If it happens regularly, the child's creativity, vitality, and
feelings are suppressed.
This suppression has long lasting and deleterious effects. Great and enduring
damage can be done to the intrinsic motivation to learn and to achieve when
early childhood educators impose on youngsters a curriculum that focuses primarily
on the attainment of cognitive competencies. With the best of intentions, parents
and early childhood educators can harm young children when adult behavior does
not reflect an awareness of and sensitivity to children's emotional and
social strength and vulnerability. By adjusting the focus of their efforts,
NAEYC and other leaders in the early childhood field can sensitize adults and
help prevent this covert damage to children.
Peter E. Haiman, Ph.D., is an Education Consultant in the
San Francisco area a former Associate Professor of Early
Childhood Education, and past President of San Francisco
Haiman, P.E. 1984. Viewpoint. There is More to Early Childhood Education Than
Development. Young Children 40 (1): 8. [This article also appeared in the NAEYC
Stress in Young Children's Lives, edited by Janet Brown McCracken and
published in 1986.
"Reprinted with permission from the National Association for the Education
of Young Children."
This article was published in Young Children, 1984.