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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers
young children, which is creating a pressing demand for child care;
an emerging consensus among professionals and, to an ever greater extent, among parents that young children should be provided with educational experiences; and
the accumulation of convincing evidence from research that young children are more capable learners than current practices reflect, and that good educational experiences in the preschool years can have a positive impact on school learning.
The growing consensus regarding the importance of early education stands in stark contrast to the disparate system of care and education available to children in the United States in the preschool years. America’s programs for preschoolers vary widely in quality, content, organization, sponsorship, source of funding, relationship to the public schools, and government regulation.
Historically, there have been two separate and at times conflicting traditions in the United States that can be encapsulated in the terms child care and preschool. A central premise of this report, one that grows directly from the research literature, is that care and education cannot be thought of as separate entities in dealing with young children. Adequate care involves providing quality cognitive stimulation, rich language environments, and the facilitation of social, emotional, and motor development. Likewise, adequate education for young children can occur only in the context of good physical care and of warm affective relationships. Indeed, research suggests that secure attachment improves social and intellectual competence and the ability to exploit learning opportunities. Neither loving children nor teaching them is, in and of itself, sufficient for optimal development; thinking and feeling work in tandem.
Learning, moreover, is not a matter of simply assimilating a store of facts and skills. Children construct knowledge actively, integrating new concepts and ideas into their existing understandings. Educators have an opportunity and an obligation to facilitate this propensity to learn and to develop a receptivity to learning that will prepare children for active engagement in the learning enterprise throughout their lives. This report argues,