Some of the historical trends discussed in this chapter apply to early learning today: the field still believes in the importance of play (Plato), that early learning is the foundation for all education moving forward, and that children grow best in environments that are nurturing and supportive. In some cases, the financial aspects that impact the field are yet to be known. New governmental regulations will most likely come into play as society shifts in 2021 after surviving a global pandemic.
Looking back historically can also help us to predict what lies ahead. The remainder of this chapter will focus on trends of the past influencing the field today.
In the 2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama stated “in states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children . . . studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So, let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind” (White House Archives, 2013). This public address started a conversation about what the United States values in terms of early learning initiatives as it was the first time that early learning was specifically called out in a presidential address.
If you were to do an internet search for “trends in early learning”, the results would be long and varied with a variety of opinions from an assortment of resources both inside and outside of the field of early learning. In addition, it is likely that you would see lists of initiatives that will shape the future of early learning, as well as trends that impact children directly and those that are in place to support families. Keeping that in mind, it becomes a difficult task to sort out how today’s decisions will impact tomorrow’s children. When looking at trends, however, two things become very clear: it is necessary that a unifying message that includes all children is essential, and that advocacy for this movement is critical.
One way that the United States has moved toward improving consistency and trying to create quality in childcare is through a quality rating improvement system, also called QRIS. This state-by-state initiative attempts to address the priorities that former President Obama spoke about in his state of the union address. In Washington State the QRIS system is referred to as Early Achievers. The QRIS national learning network has reported this state-by-state map current as of January 2017.
Turning to the professional organization NAEYC, the document Unifying the Framework for the Early Childhood Education Profession provides insight to the difficult current realities of the field and the pathway to unification by taking steps to professionalize the field. Within the document, a clear message about the need to align professional preparation for students studying early childhood education, compensation for teachers working in classrooms, and making the clear distinction that advocating for “the good of our country’s children, families, educators, businesses, and economy” is the message that so many in the field believe will lead to public investment in early learning.
The goal of the Power to the Profession initiative is clear: to establish unity and clarity around the career pathways, knowledge and competencies, qualifications, standards, accountability, supports, and compensation to define the early childhood profession across all states and settings. Much more about the initiative is in chapter 2 of this text.
As society changes and as we learn more, so do the issues and trends being discussed within the field of early childhood education. Often, the concerns professionals have in the field historically have been reflective mirrors of those societal changes and sometimes these changes have positive or negative impact. For example, in response to rapidly growing global awareness and the increase of culturally responsive and anti-bias curriculum, teachers are becoming more aware of how their classrooms must reflect the communities in which they work. Certainly, the historical nod to play based learning will again become a focus of our work as more and more young children are exposed to technology at an early age. And we certainly have yet to see the impact of the current global pandemic and the impact it will have on children and families as we move to a nation that becomes healthy and safe again.
But the largest focus for the past few years in the field has been the diverse communities in which we work and live and how those communities need to be supported. NAEYC released an equity position statement in 2019 that clearly communicates that all children have the right to equitable learning opportunities. Many people within the field agree that we must respond to the changing societal landscape and the funding for early learning should support this work. In Washington State, DCYF has spent the past year (2019) studying how the early learning system can provide strategies to help all children and families thrive while eliminating inequities in outcomes for children. In a recent statement published throughout the state, DCYF has reminded us of our vision: “Washington State is a place where each child will start life with a solid foundation for success based on strong families, culturally relevant early learning practices, services and supports that lead to racial equity and the well-being of all children and families”.
What societal changes have occurred over the past 10 or 15 years that you feel have influenced the field of early childhood education?
The field of early childhood education and the profession of working with young children is a rewarding career with a rich history of teaching, nurturing, and caring for young children. As teachers, our skills, knowledge as well as personal believes and morality shape how we interact with children and families.
Our field is one with historical roots that tie to modern day concepts that is supported both within our state and nationally through efforts to professionalize the field.
One thing is certain: change is all around us in the field, and the profession must respond to the trends. This means we will always strive to do what is best for the children and families we serve and continue to move with the wave of change.