New era in early childhood education stresses family dynamics

University Park, Pa. -- A collaborative conference between Penn State and Syracuse University recently highlighted a new era in early childhood education. James Johnson, professor-in-charge of the early childhood education (ECE) program in Penn State's College of Education, and three ECE doctoral students, Eunjung Choi, Carla Glisan, and Suzanne Swartz, presented their research at a recent conference at Syracuse on April 22 and 23.

"I think that we wanted the interdisciplinary fertilization and stimulation," Johnson said, as there has been an increasing interconnection between education, human ecology and human development throughout the nation.

Notable among the convergence are Pennsylvania's new education standards for children in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, which stress the developmental perspective that teachers need to have a firm foundation in child and family development and they need to understand the dynamics and changes that diverse families undergo.

"It's important for teacher educators to really include in their experience with their students an emphasis on the child, the child's family, and the child's culture to meet the child's educational needs and interests," Johnson said. "I think that we in Penn State's College of Education have been aware of that in our various interdisciplinary endeavors, and it really is important with respect to serving the Commonwealth in its new teacher certification bands. I think that it's always been assumed that it's important for teachers to have this, but now it's moving from just being included to being emphasized. Educating for diversity in the 21st century is paramount."

To that end, Johnson is collaborating with Richard Fiene, associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State Harrisburg, and Kathleen McKinnon, assistant professor of special education, to catalog early childhood teacher education programs throughout the country. The Foundation for Child Development is funding the study that seeks to identify how doctoral/research universities have been adapting in recent years in response to pre-kindergarten through third grade changes in public schools throughout the nation.

The researchers are examining 42 universities and colleges in states with public pre-kindergarten programs to describe and analyze the content and context of teacher education programs that exist or are planned for pre-kindergarten through third grade education.

The results, scheduled for reporting at the end of June 2010, will provide useful information at the national level to inform early childhood education professionals, and it will assist educational leaders and policy makers in program planning within institutions of higher learning and in state agencies for educators of students in pre-kindergarten through third grade.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010