Introduction. In his second Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama emphasized, among other social priorities, the need for quality education beginning early in life. He proposed universal access to pre-kindergarten education (2013) as a means for leveling the playing field on which all children have to operate in order to become successful as adults. The specific approaches that early childhood teachers use to reach the children in their classes are crucial, because if they are not effective, then the students will enter primary grades behind their peers. Because each step in the education process is important, these approaches matter. This paper looks at the Partners for Learning approach and the individualized approach to early childhood education.
Discussion. The Partners for Learning curriculum is based on ideas that began to appear in the 1970’s as the Learningames curriculum, changing to Partners for Learning in 1995. This curriculum began with more than 500 different activities that teachers could use to work with children in the areas of self and social development, fine motor skills, gross motor development, and linguistics. The purpose of this approach was to meet the need of each child where he or she was at that point, instead of locking them in to a group curriculum that might have been too easy or too difficult (Ramey & Ramey, 2004). While group curriculum is a part of learning in the primary and secondary years, it is possible to use interventions with this partner-based curriculum that engage children at their current ability levels and lift them, as needed, to remediate gaps that they have with their peers and to provide enrichment for those who are already at the top of the ability spectrum.
There are other individualized approaches that provide even more access to the curriculum for students. Based on Biosocial Developmental Contextualism, this paradigm stresses both the quantity and quality of interactions between the adult and the child as one of the primary pathways supporting behavioral and cognitive development in early childhood education. This paradigm views such concepts as neurobiology, developmental genetics, health conditions, and sociological practices and norms as central in the development of the individual. With this in mind, practitioners of this approach spend just as much time focusing on health care, solid nutrition and family support services, where needed, as they do planning the instructional program for their early childhood learners (Campbell et al., 2000).
Conclusions. One reason why President Obama and other social planners believe that public access to pre-K instruction is the vast socioeconomic differences in home life that so many children have. These approaches work, because they level the field somewhat between those families who can afford private schooling with enrichment and those who rely on public assistance. Also, all children receive access to learning the basic concepts discussed above, as opposed to being separated into groups who do or do not receive that learning because of parenting differences among various homes. These approaches are best implemented through existing school districts, as long as care is taken to ensure quality personnel. Barriers to implementation include a need to educate parents on the importance of learning at that age. Many parents are resistant, particularly lower on the socioeconomic end of the spectrum, because they are not aware of the benefits that such education can bring. Engaging parents as partners in this process can create lifelong rewards for the children involved.
Campbell, F., Burchinal, M., Skinner, M., Gardner, D., Ramey, C. & Ramey, S. (2000). Persistent effects of early childhood education on high-risk children and their mothers. Applied Developmental Science 4(1): 2-14.
Obama, B. (2013). Second Inaugural Address. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press- office/2013/01/21/inaugural-address-president-barack-obama
Ramey, C. & Ramey, S. (2004). Early learning and school readiness: Can early intervention make a difference? Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 50(4): 471-491.