Early childhood education regards education in early childhood, which are the most vulnerable stages in a persons life. According to the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children), it spans the human life from birth to age eight.
Other terms that are often used interchangeably with "early childhood education" are "early childhood learning," "early care," and "early education."
Early childhood education often focuses on children learning through play. The term, "early childhood education," is often used to describe preschool or baby / child care programs.
Early childhood education is also incorrectly referred to by many as "babysitting." This stigma is widespread and many do not seem to understand the importance of educating young children. Due to early childhood learning spaces being more holistic and based around play centers many (without a trained eye) think that what trained educators are doing is providing play opportunities for children, with no structure or assessment of abilities.
Infants and toddlers experience life more holistically than any other age group. Social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and physical lessons are not learned separately by very young children. Adults who are most helpful to young children interact in ways that understand that the child is learning from the whole experience, not just that part of the experience to which the adult gives attention. Researchers in the field and early childhood educators both view the parents and/or families as an integral part of the early childhood education process. Early childhood education takes many forms depending on the theoretical and educational beliefs of the educator or parent.
Much of the first two years of life are spent in the creation of a child's first "sense of self" or the building of a first identity. This is a crucial part of children's makeup--how they first see themselves, how they think they should function, how they expect others to function in relation to them. For this reason, early care must ensure that in addition to employing carefully selected and trained caretakers, program policy must emphasize links with family, home culture, and home language. Care should support children's families rather than be a substitute for them.
If a young child doesn't receive sufficient nurturing, nutrition, parental/caregiver interaction, and stimulus during this crucial period, the child may be left with a developmental deficit that hampers his or her success in preschool, kindergarten, and beyond.
Worst-case scenarios such as those found in Russian and Romanian orphanages demonstrate how the lack of proper social interaction and development of attachment affect the developing child. Children must receive attention and affection from their caregivers to develop in a healthy manner.