Early Childhood Education

Early Childhood Music Education Commission (ECME)


The International Society for Music Education (ISME) was founded in 1953 through the joint efforts of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Music Council (IMC), and the U.S.-based Music Educators National Conference (MENC). With members in over seventy countries, ISME is currently headquartered in Australia and is constituted by seven special interest commissions, each of which holds individual international conferences immediately preceding the biennial ISME World Conference. The early childhood commission was chartered in 1984, and has since met every two years at locations from Capetown to Copenhagen, providing an international forum for cultural exchange. Issues examined include children’s inherent musicality as manifest in their play, advances in music and neuroscience research; the roles of the family, schooling, and culture in musical development; and the preservation of cultural traditions in the light of the breakdown of cultural barriers. Proceedings are published and are often reprinted in one of three annual ISME journals. For more information, see www.isme.org.

Lori Custodero


Early Childhood Research & Practice (ECRP)

Early Childhood Research & Practice (ECRP), the first Internet-only, peer- reviewed, open-access journal in early childhood education, addresses issues related to the development, care, and education of children from birth to approximately eight years of age. The journal focuses mainly on research with clear implications for practice and contains articles on practice-related research and development.

ECRP was established in 1999 with funding from the U.S. Department of Education under the auspices of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. When the clearinghouse system was discontinued in 2003, the editors—Lilian G. Katz and Dianne Rothenberg—explored other economic models to keep the journal available at no cost to readers. In 2004, with funding from the Bernard van Leer Foundation and institutional support from the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the journal became bilingual, publishing all articles in both English and Spanish. The journal is available online at http://ecrp.uiuc.edu.

Lilian G. Katz, Diane Rothenberg, and Laurel Preece


Early Childhood Research Quarterly (ECRQ)

Early Childhood Research Quarterly (ECRQ) is sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The Quarterly publishes research and scholarship related to the development, care, and education of children from birth through eight years of age. The articles reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the field and of the National Association. Manuscripts published in the Quarterly are evaluated using blind peer review. The reviewers include international as well as U.S. researchers and scholars. Ad hoc reviewers, as well as Consulting Editors and Editorial Board members, provide critiques of submitted manuscripts.

The first issue of ECRQ was published in March 1986 with Lilian Katz at the University of Illinois as the first editor. The purpose of the Quarterly, described in the first issue, has been to provide a publication outlet for research and scholarship that addresses issues with important implications for policy and practice. The Quarterly has continued this tradition since that first issue. The Quarterly occasionally publishes topical issues. These issue have focused, for example, on research related to Head Start, to inclusion of children with disabilities in programs with their typically developing classmates, and to research related to early learning in math and science. The Quarterly is currently published by Pergamon, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Karen Diamond


Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE)

The term Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) embodies a field characterized by grounded theory, practices, and applied research concerned with the causes and consequences of disability in the first eight years of life. The field has evolved since its inception in the 1960s and 1970s based on increasingly more sophisticated understandings of the nature of early childhood disability and a clearer articulation of the obligations of society to young children with disabilities and their families. As the name itself implies, the field of ECSE can be conceptualized as a synthesis of knowledge and practice in Early Childhood Education and Special Education. But the field is more than the sum of these two components; it now represents a distinct body of professional knowledge, practice, and policy. The defining characteristics of ECSE may be found in the arenas of theory, program design (including professional preparation, credentialing, and standard-setting), state and federal social policy, and applied research.


Theoretical Foundations and Contemporary Understandings

Contributions from Early Childhood Education. Historical elements of the field of early childhood education have been incorporated into contemporary interpretations of ECSE. These include the Enlightenment and subsequent Romantic notions of childhood as a distinct time of human development in which both nature and nurture play key roles. Generally rejecting Calvinist concepts of the sinful human, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Froebel, and Johann Pestalozzi, among others, articulated a view of the child as capable, curious, innocent, active, and intentional. In addition, these early proponents particularized the early years of life as distinct from adult responses to and interpretations of the world. They suggested that there is a sequential developmental trajectory and that children have differential ways of thinking and behaving as they progress along such a trajectory.

Twentieth century writers, philosophers, and pedagogues took these ideas further, providing more complex analyses of the early years as times of psychosocial, cognitive, linguistic, and motor development. Thus, the work of John Dewey, Sigmund Freud, Arnold Gesell, Erik Erikson, and Jean Piaget influenced the field of early childhood in ways that have been incorporated into today’s conceptualizations of ECSE. Complementing the primarily psychological orientation that these contributors offered, the work of human ecologists (Urie Bronfenbrenner and his followers) has also helped define the field as one that is alert to the contextual aspects of development. More recently, the social constructivist theories of Lev Vygotsky, as interpreted in the United States by Wertsch, Rogoff, and others, has shifted the focus from concepts of fixed stages of development to more dynamic variables associated with the developmental niche (cf. Super, 1987) and the influence of sociocognitive interactions with peers and more capable others.


Contributions from Special Education. Emerging roughly at the same time as Rousseau’s Enlightenment ideas was a body of work interested in abnormal development and its amelioration. Beginning perhaps with the publication of Itard’s The Wild Boy of Aveyron in 1801, European and American educators began to describe cases of developmental disability associated with early experiential deprivation, congenital conditions leading to mental retardation and psychomotor impairments, and chronic physical and mental illnesses. Subsequently, a significant effort was made to provide various forms of humane and not so humane treatment to individuals with disabilities. For example, in France and the United State, large-scale congregate institutions were built to house those with cognitive, sensory, and health-related disabilities (e.g., the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb was built in 1818 in Connecticut, and the Perkins Institute and Massachusetts School for the Blind opened in the 1830s. These and similar institutions were soon expanded to serve “idiots” and “morons” whom it was believed could benefit from intensive and sheltered long-term treatment).

In the early part of the twentieth century, the field of special education began to emerge in conjunction with the rapid expansion of public schooling. Technical concerns with the diagnostic process (e.g., Alfred Binet’s design of intelligence tests that could be used to predict intellectual ability), behavioral treatment (Edgar Doll’s early work in operant conditioning), and the effects of social cues and environment all became the building blocks for contemporary special education practices. Much of this work challenged Darwinian notions of purely inherited and fixed intellectual and social capacities, thus creating a rationale for the efficacy and imperative of treatment for those whose development deviated from the norm.


Converging Theory and Practice. It couldbe argued that Maria Montessori’s work in Rome, where she established the Orthophrenic School for the Cure of the Feebleminded in 1899, was the first example of a systematic effort to work with young children with significant developmental disabilities. Her belief that “defective children were not extrasocial beings, but were entitled to the benefits of education as much as—if not more than—normal ones” (Roos, 1978) became a key principle in the practice of special education. Subsequently, she turned her attention to developmental challenges associated with early environmental constraints. Her Casa dei Bambini in the slums of Rome was an explicit effort to mitigate the effects of poverty in early childhood. These two strains of intervention—in response to developmental impairments as well as the social conditions of early development—can be seen as the basis for the field of ECSE as it is understood today.

By the 1960s, J. McVicker Hunt and Benjamin Bloom, among others, were leading investigations of the interdependence of innate capacity, the qualities of environment in the early years, and the role of “cultural deprivation” as it was then conceptualized. These three streams of investigation invited interdisciplinary research and practice, exemplified over the past four decades by the work of neonatologists (Brazelton), sociologists (Bronfenbrenner), developmental psychologists (Samaroff, Chandler), behavioral psychologists (Bijou, Bricker, Strain), and proponents of family systems approaches (Turnbull, Dunst).

These historical and contemporary interpretations of young children and early disability have created a somewhat eclectic, a-theoretical approach to Early Childhood Special Education as it is practiced today. Many practitioners remain focused on a “medical model” that embraces the clinical concepts of diagnosis and treatment aimed at the absence of pathology (normalcy) even as they incorporate sociocultural perspectives that take into account the ecology of childhood, in which the concern is with the effects of early experience and the quality of caregiving environments. Depending on both the nature of the individual child and the professional orientation of the practitioner, ECSE may draw upon behavioral, biomedical, or psychosocial/developmental models of intervention as applied in homes, child-care centers, preschool programs, public schools, or community agencies.


Programmatic Representations of ECSE

The practice of ECSE has its recent roots in compensatory early childhood programs such as Project Head Start (established in 1964) and more targeted, intervention-oriented programs funded by the Handicapped Children’s Early Education Act of 1968. Project Head Start is significant in this light as a model of comprehensive, family-directed support aimed at both individual children’s wellbeing and the family’s economic and social development. Grounded in Hunt’s observations of the link between poverty and early childhood disability, Head Start began as a form of primary prevention. The working assumption was that early educational support for children living in poverty, in combination with parental education and support provided in the context of extensive social services, would increase the likelihood of educational success and reduce the incidence of childhood disability. Responding to a concern that some young children with disabilities were not being included in Head Start classrooms, in 1972 the U.S. Congress mandated that at least 10 percent of Head Start enrollments include children with diagnosed disabilities. In this way, Head Start became an important national effort to provide direct services to young children with a wide range of disabilities, and it was intended to serve as a model for other program development in the public and private sectors.

The Handicapped Children’s Early Education Program (HCEEP) was conceived by Congress in 1968 as a means to demonstrate innovative approaches to the treatment of young children with disabilities as well as those who were “at risk” for educational disability due to development that was compromised by environmental or biological conditions. Programs were required to model not only new approaches to treatment, they were also expected to involve parents intensively (like Head Start), pilot effective methods of program evaluation, and ultimately lead to local community sponsorship and funding. Dozens of new programs received three-year pilot funding under the First Chance Network, thus establishing a national context for the subsequent expansion of special education and therapy for children from birth to school entry age.

Head Start, HCEEP, and related program initiatives were growing at the same time that states were limiting admissions to or closing residential institutions for individuals with severe disabilities. This had two direct consequences. First, the financial burden for care was shifted from centralized, institutional settings, often situated in remote rural locations, to local, community-based nonprofit organizations and, later, public schools. Second, the social support burden was shifted from institutions (where little parent-child contact occurred) to families. In this way, the treatment of very young children with disabilities became a matter of family responsibility rather than a state commitment. Some states systematically developed family support measures to offset the effects of this shift. In other states, families received little help for the new demands placed on them as a result of deinstitutionalization.

Another historical development that became salient beginning in the 1970s and 1980s was a marked increase in the incidence of childhood disability. This increase was a function of improved diagnostic and reporting procedures (including greater access to local clinics and implementation of federally mandated Child Find procedures), increased survival rates for premature infants due to improved medical technologies, and measured increases in post-natal disability such as autism as well as cognitive, motor, and behavioral complications following maternal substance abuse. This convergence of model program development, deinstitutionalization and the shift to community-based care, and the growing incidence of early childhood disability all contributed to the ways in which the field of ECSE was defined and practiced.

Professional organizations have also played a key role in the conceptualization and standards that characterize ECSE. The two primary constituencies of professionals have been early childhood special educators and clinical specialists affiliated with the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children and early childhood teachers and program directors affiliated with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). These two groups have collaborated closely over the past ten years to articulate standards for professional practice and preparation. Following a critique of the original NAEYC’s guidelines for Developmentally Appropriate Practice (Bredekamp and Copple, 1987) for undue emphasis on child development at the exclusion of children whose development does not follow the “normal” course (Mallory, 1992) and the standard’s failure to account for variations in cultural context (Mallory and New, 1994), the guidelines were revised to include strategies for use in infant and preschool classrooms designed for typically developing children as well as those with special needs and those from minority and non- U.S. cultures. Further, the revised guidelines now include significant reference to assessment procedures, classroom adaptations, interdisciplinary therapy, and parent involvement appropriate to young children with disabilities. In complementary fashion, DEC has articulated recommended practices for early intervention and early childhood special education (Sandall, Hemmeter, Smith, and McLean, 2005).

In addition to describing current approaches to child assessment, family participation, program design, therapeutic interventions, and program evaluation processes, DEC has also been a strong advocate for improved professional development and licensure. Together the two organizations have had a significant impact on the U.S. Department of Education personnel preparation initiatives and state licensing standards. It is now the norm for states to require some form of early childhood special education teaching credential, often associated with a baccalaureate or master’s degree in ECSE or a related field. This, in turn, has led to the rapid expansion of ECSE programs in colleges and universities nationwide, many of which are located within regular early childhood teacher education programs. However, a shortage persists of qualified teachers who are capable of working effectively with young children with disabilities and their families. The collaboration of early childhood teachers and those who specialize in working with young children with disabilities has been fostered by increased application of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary team models. Because young children with disabilities often experience multiple challenges to their development, and because treatment is seen as most effective when provided in natural environments such as home or school (rather than isolated, clinical settings), ECSE programs often include diverse specialists who must carefully coordinate their work with individual children and families. Thus, a child with motor and cognitive impairments might receive direct support from an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a child psychologist, and a teacher, all working in the same setting and orchestrating their interactions with the child in a way that assures her inclusion in the classroom group and effective delivery of therapies as required in an IFSP or IEP.

The final essential characteristic of ECSE to be addressed here is the role of family-centered service delivery. While the initial focus of ECSE was on individual child treatment and education, the ecological orientation that came to define special education in the 1970s and 1980s was translated into policy requirements in the 1980s and 1990s. Family-centered models emphasize full parent participation in child assessment and subsequent decision-making about program design, parent support through educational and social services, counseling for parents and families experiencing emotional stress related to raising a child with a disability, and, in some programs, specific training for parents in advocacy techniques to increase their ability to secure appropriate services (Dunst, Trivette, and Deal, 1988; Turnbull and Turnbull, 1986).


State and Federal Policies

The field of ECSE has been significantly affected by the implementation of federal and state laws and regulations over the past thirty years. In addition to the Head Start integration mandate mentioned above, federal special education laws beginning with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 have had profound impacts on services for young children with disabilities. While the early versions of the law did not mandate free, appropriate public education for children below six years old, subsequent amendments did. When the law was revised in 1987, it included a requirement for educational services beginning at age 3 and allowed access to federal dollars for those states that chose to begin services at birth. Under Part C of the law, children from birth to three years of age who are deemed to be “at risk” for school failure due to developmental problems and/or environmental challenges associated with poverty or harsh living conditions may be served, in addition to those with diagnosed disabilities. Beginning in 1987, programs serving children from birth to three years may develop Individual Family Service Plans (rather than Individual Education Plans), reflecting the family-centered practices described above. The current version of the law, known since 1997 as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), preserves the requirement for free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, beginning at age 3.

States have enacted laws and policies that parallel the federal legislation. Some states (e.g., Maryland, Minnesota, New York) have extended the mandatory provision of services even earlier, to the birth of a child with a known disability or condition with a strong likelihood of causing later impairment. Such services tend to be home based in the case of infants and available in day care centers and preschool programs in the case of toddlers and preschoolers. These service delivery systems are often under the jurisdiction of health and human service agencies rather than local or state educational agencies, but the nature of service tends to reflect the practice standards referred to above regardless of type of government sponsorship.


The Focus of Applied Research

Research in the field of ECSE over the past three decades has focused on four major areas of interest. First, classroom-based alternative treatment and education approaches have been extensively studied, from traditional behavior modification models to more ecologically oriented analyses that investigate the transactions between children and their social contexts. Particular therapy models have been examined, such as sensory integration techniques, augmentative and alternative communication strategies, and dietary and related biochemical experiments with children with presumed health-related disorders (e.g., hyperactivity, autism, seizure disorders). Second, considerable research has occurred in preschool classrooms on effective strategies for enhancing the social integration of children with disabilities and typically developing children. Again, a major orientation of this research has been on the ecology of childhood disability, with concerns for how young children establish and sustain friendships and how children use peers for problem solving and to fulfill social needs. Third, extensive research has focused on the effect on families of raising a young child with a congenital or acquired disability. Family systems theory has framed much of this research, and a notable shift from pathological or deficit models (child as a negative factor) to more asset- based models (child as opportunity for family growth and reorganization) has occurred in recent years. The DEC recommended practices cited earlier (Sandall et al., 2005) articulate a synthesis of research on effective practices for young children with disabilities and their families with respect to assessment, family support, interdisciplinary educational practices (including the use of technology), policy and systems change, and personnel preparation. Finally, policy-oriented research has emphasized the efficacy of ECSE programs and their cost-benefit to society. Much of this work has sought to illuminate the long-term developmental outcomes of children served in such programs and the long-term financial benefits associated with early prevention or intervention. See also Disabilities, Young Children with; Teacher Certification/Licensure.

Further Readings: Bredekamp, S. and C. Copple, eds. (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children; Dunst, C. J., C. M. Trivette, and A. G. Deal (1988). Enabling and empowering families: Principles of guidance for practice. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books; Mallory, B. L. (1992). Is it always appropriate to be developmental? Convergent practice for early intervention practice. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 4(11), 1-12; Mallory, B. L., and R. S. New, eds. (1994). Diversity and developmentally appropriate practices: Challenges for early childhood education. New York: Teachers College Press; Roos, P. (1978). Parents of mentally retarded children— misunderstood and mistreated. In A. Turnbull and H. Turnbull, eds., Parents speak out. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill; Sandall, S., M. L. Hemmeter, B. Smith, and M. McLean, eds. (2005). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/early childhood special education. Longmont, CO: Sopris West; Super, C. M., ed. (1987). The role of culture in developmental disorder. San Diego: Academic Press; Turnbull, A. P., and H. R. Turnbull (1986). Families, professionals, and exceptionality: A special partnership. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

Bruce L. Mallory