Ensuring that curriculum in early childhood education is both developmentally appropriate and child-centered involves educators making decisions about the most relevant content to include in the curriculum based on the needs, interests and capabilities of the learners. Developmental psychologists such as Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget, have done extensive work in describing the cognitive changes that children go through throughout their lifetime. Knowledge of these changes is important in guiding decisions about curricula content, material and activities.
Piaget proposed that each child moves progressively through each of four stages of cognitive development as they mature physically. These are the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational periods. At the early childhood level a child is in the sensorimotor and preoperational stages which lasts between ages zero (0) to two (2) years old and two (2) to seven (7) years respectively. Children first “learn about their surroundings by using their senses and motor skills”. (Slavin, 2000, p. 33).
Edwards (2005) believes that these stage-based characteristics that Piaget has identified are important starting points for curriculum design as educators need to have a clear understanding of the characteristics of learners before any decision can be made about what curricula content to deliver to them. In designing an early childhood curriculum Jalongo, Fennimore, Pattnaik, Laverick, Brewster, and Mutuku (2004) contend that the child must figure at the center of this process.
As a results the developmental needs of the child must be first and foremost in the mind of the educator as decisions are made about curricula content and structure. First and foremost an early childhood curricula must be specific to the early childhood level. Jalongo et al (2004) caution that early childhood programs must be designed specifically for early childhood education “rather than replicate the curriculum and pedagogy that characterizes later academic experiences” (p. 145). Consequently tasks should be so designed so that they are manageable based on the cognitive and physical capabilities of the children.
Additionally the designers of curricula material need to ensure that such programs and the material that go along with them are innovative. Educators in the field should work collaboratively in deciding on the most appropriate material to include in the curriculum. Moreover when it comes to actual classroom implementation the curriculum should be used as a guide and not as an absolute (Jalongo et al, 2004). This means that teachers should be flexible in implementing aspects of the curriculum based on the unique needs of their particular set of learners.
Furthermore curricula should be continuously improved to reflect new knowledge about how children at the early childhood level learn. For each group of students the curriculum should be adopted to better serve their needs and challenges. Consideration must be given to the particular ethnic, cultural, and language characteristics of the children concerned and seek to meet them where they are. This means that, rather than trying to force children into a pre-made mold, educators must ensure that the children are the basis used in constructing the mold.
Evidently the task of designing developmentally appropriate curriculum, though it is left mainly up to the educator who interacts most intimately with the students, must take into account the specific needs, interests and capabilities of learners. Educators cannot leave the child out of planning the early childhood curriculum. Failure to include the group at which early childhood programs are geared will only result in failure both on the part of the educator and the learner.
Edwards, S. (2005, Mar). Children’s learning and developmental potential: Examining the theoretical informants of early childhood curricula from the educator’s perspective. Early Years, 25(1), 67–80.
Jalongo, M. R., Fennimore, B. S., Pattnaik, J., Laverick, D. M., Brewster, J. & Mutuku, M. (2004, Dec). Blended perspectives: A global vision for high-quality early childhood education. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32(3), 143-155.
Slavin, R. E. (2000). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice. (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.