Early Childhood Education

Osborn, D. Keith (1927-1994)


Dr. D. Keith Osborn was a pioneer in the field of early childhood education in the United States. Osborn earned his bachelor’s degree at Emory University, a master’s degree in early childhood education at the State University of Iowa, and a doctoral degree at Wayne State University. At the time of his teaching in 1950, Osborn was one of only a few male faculty members in the field of early childhood education.

In 1965, he was the Chairman of the Division of Community Services at the Merrill-Palmer Institute in Detroit, Michigan, where he served for 16 years. In February 1965, he became the Chief Educational Consultant to Project Head Start and later a member of the Head Start Planning Committee (Califano, 1997). Concerning the “War on Poverty,” the Johnson administration called for “special programs devised for four- and five-year-olds, which will improve the child’s opportunities and achievements” (Hymes, 1979, p. 32). Project Head Start emerged as the answer to that call.

Designed as a comprehensive program to be implemented in the summer of 1965, Osborn was called on for his expertise in early childhood education. Specifically, he and his colleagues on the planning committee for Head Start initiated trends such as reduced class sizes for young children, on-site support consultants, and university preparation programs for teachers of young children that have had a long-lasting influence on the field of early childhood education. Osborn was especially instrumental in the initial training of teachers in Head Start as well as the design of high quality early childhood classrooms that support the development of the whole child. Training in early childhood education, as advanced by Professor Osborn, was important from the assistant in the classroom to the university faculty member. Osborn’s initial writings on the outcomes of Head Start (archived at the Merrill-Palmer Institute) noted the importance of continuity of high-quality educational environments once children left Head Start. These assertions supported the need for research on programming for young children, including Head Start, to validate the efforts and best practices of early childhood educators.

Osborn, in a printed interview, highlighted his beliefs about the contributions that he made to Head Start that included a focus on the whole child, helping teachers see the importance of including parents, and mechanisms for regional training support. Such support exists to this day in the training and technical staff offices for Head Start and Early Head Start in the ten regions of the United States.

Osborn’s professional contributions also include service on the planning committee for the Children’s Television Workshop, the President’s Council on Early Childhood Education, and the President’s Council on Television. His work on these committees influenced his research on television violence and young children’s perceptions of television. Osborn advocated for changes from the television industry as well as the role that families play in moderating their children’s television viewing. His work with early childhood educators focused on practical and developmentally appropriate teaching strategies, including books from the 1950s to the 1970s on cognitive activities, creative activities, and classroom management.

Osborn served as vice president for the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) from 1959 to 1961. He was a professor of education and child development at the University of Georgia for twenty-six years. Osborn’s written work carefully accounted for the history of early childhood education and child development and its influence on current and future practice. In his text, Early Childhood Education in Historical Perspective, Professor Osborn chronicled the influences on early childhood education in the United States. His work extended to examining educational experiences for underrepresented groups. Osborn’s scholarly record included more than 600 presentations to professional groups and over 100 publications. See also National Head State Association.

Further Readings: Califano, J. A. (1997). Head start, a retrospective view: The founders. In E. Zigler and J. Valentine, eds., Project Head Start: A legacy of the war on poverty. 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: The National Head Start Association; Hymes, J. L. (1979). The early days of Project Head Start. Early childhood education, living history interviews. Berkeley, CA: Hacienda Press; Osborn, D. K. (1991). Early childhood education in historical perspective. Athens, GA: Daye Press, Inc.

Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett, Charlotte Wallinga, and Boyoung Park