China - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education



Early Childhood Education in China


Located in Eastern Asia, People’s Republic of China is the most populous country in the world, with a population of 1.3 billion. There are fifty-six ethnic groups in the nation, with the Han making up about 92 percent of the population and other ethnic groups including the Zhuang, Uygur, Hui, Yi, Tibetan, Miao, Manchu, Mongol, Buyi, and Korean. Both ethnic languages and the official language of mandarin are used in ethnic areas. In the last few decades, the nation has made great progress in economic development, especially since 1978 when the country began to adopt an open door policy and market-oriented economic development. As a result of this economic growth, living standards have improved dramatically in the past ten years for much of the population, However, in 2002, 5 percent of the population was still below the national poverty line and the developmental gap between the urban and rural areas was great. Currently, the number of children aged 0-6 is about 99 3 million, 8.14 percent of the total population. Among the child population, more than 50 percent are less than 3 years of age. More than 60% percent of these children live in rural areas.

After the Communist Party took over mainland China, gender equity was on the government’s working agenda. Mothers were encouraged by the government to join the workforce, leading to the care of the children as a social issue. The Ministry of Education issued the first program regulation titled Kindergarten Provisional Operation Regulation (Initial) in 1952. It specified that “the purpose of the early childhood program is to ensure that children have a healthy physical and mental development upon entering the elementary school; meanwhile the program is to relieve the burden of child care from mothers, so mothers are able to have the time to participate in political, productive and educational activities.” The double purposes of the early childhood program have not been changed in the past five decades, while the fostering of the development of children has been expanded to include the development of physical, intellectual, social and emotional, and aesthetic.

A good beginning will provide an important foundation for children’s lifetime development and this idea has been well accepted by the policymakers in the government since 1990s. To provide optimal conditions for children’s learning and development, important policies have been made and implemented. In the two versions of the same government document titled Chinese Children Development Guideline (1990s and 2001-2010), the purpose of early childhood development is related to the nation’s economic and social progress, and is tied to the improvement of the quality of human resources in the nation. Although many specific goals have been established for the improvement of children’s survival conditions in rural areas in this document, the goal for providing equal education and universal access to all children is not mentioned. In recent years, the idea of equal education has been discussed primarily in the sector of compulsory education, and not yet in early childhood education.


Key Historic Figures

Xingzhi Dao (1891-1946) established the first early childhood program for farmers and factory workers in Nanjing and Shanghai in the 1920s. After Dao studied with John Dewey in the United States in 1910s, he returned to China to make great efforts for poor families and their children. He proposed that children’s education should start before the age of 6 and that education should encourage children to employ both hands and minds; to learn by doing. He was also an advocate for the education of creativity.

Xuemen Zhang (1891-1973) was a well-known child educator in North China and Taiwan. He worked with children as an ordinary teacher for many years. In his behavioral curriculum, he proposed that curriculum is experience and life is education for children.

Heqin Chen (1892-1982) was a well-known child psychologist and child educator. He studied psychology and pedagogy at Columbia University in the United States with Kilpatrick early in the twentieth century. After returning to China, he worked in Nanjing Normal University as a professor of child psychology and education. Chen was the founder of the first experimental child education center Gulou Kindergarten in Nanjing, and also established the first public early childhood education teacher training school in the early 1940s in Jiangxi province. He was the first researcher to study children’s psychological development in China. The curriculum research he conducted in Nanjing provided a solid foundation for the establishment of the first Kindergarten Curriculum Standard in China. He proposed the theory of “Life Education”, which emphasized: (1) the goal of the education as to foster a good Chinese citizen; (2) use of the nature and the social life as the resource of the curriculum; (3) the principle for teaching young children as “to learn by doing, to teach by doing and to make progress by doing.”


A Brief Sociology of Childhood in China

Chinese children’s position in society has been changing in the last few decades. Historically, children did not have many rights in a Chinese family. They were treated not as independent persons, but instead as the personal property of adults. Young children, particularly girls, could be killed at birth, abandoned, sold, or sent as a gift to relatives. Even as adults they usually did not have rights equal to the older adults in the family until they had a family of their own. This situation has been changing since early 1950s, following the Communist Party takeover of the country. However, in many rural areas today, girls may still not be treated equally with boys in terms of rights and position in the family.

The popular metaphor “children are flowers of the country, the future of the country” has been used to describe Chinese children. The idea that children should have special protection and care is not only written in the constitution but broadly accepted in Chinese society. During the past few decades, the conditions for the survival and development of Chinese children have been improving steadily. For example, the mortality for children under the age of 5 has decreased from 225 per 1,000 births in 1960 to 36 per 1,000 births in 2001; the infant mortality has decreased to 30 per 1,000 births. In 1991, the People’s Congress passed the Young Citizen Protection Law, which specifies the purpose, principles, and responsibilities for the protection of children. In the same year, China signed The Convention on the Rights of the Child. In order to achieve the child protection goals an important government document was issued in 1992, titled “Chinese Children Development Guideline in the 1990s.” The document made children a top priority. Ten specific goals for child survival, protection, development, and education were established. In 2001, the State Council Women and Children Commission declared that almost all the goals proposed in that guideline have been reached. A new Chinese Children Development Guideline for 2001-2010 has just been released, which proposes specific goals and implementation strategies in four areas: health, education, legal protection, and the environment.

However, changing people’s perspective on children’s rights in family life has been relatively slow, particularly in rural areas. Family planning policy may have made a positive change for children’s position in the family. Because of the pressure of population growth on the nation, the government initially encouraged and then (starting in 1979) enforced the policy of one child per family. As a result, over 90 percent of families in urban areas today have only one child. Needless to say, the only child in the family has been able to receive more care and have a better education. Parents invest more money and time in their only child’s health and education. In the family, the only child experiences the situation called “4-2-1 Syndrome,” four grandparents and two parents give their love and attention to the single child. One result has been overprotection and not enough discipline for the child in some families. It is also possible that the change in children’s position within the family may be reflected more in the distribution of attention and resources to the child, and not so much in respect for the child’s rights. For example, parents and grandparents usually have very high expectations for the child’s academic achievements. Many children in the urban areas are now expected to take extracurricular classes at an early age, such as English, computer, music, and visual arts. These children and their parents are often busy during the weekends, running from one training class to the other. In many cases, children’s own interests and choices are not considered and respected.


The Purposes of Early Childhood Education Policies

The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and the National Women’s Federation play important roles in formulating the national policies for the development and education of young children. The purposes of the policies are to (1) protect young children and mothers by improving their living conditions and the quality of service; (2) set up the national program and curriculum standard and to improve the quality of early childhood education; (3) coordinate the administration and management for early childhood education programs between different social sectors at the national, provincial, and local government levels; (4) improve teacher training and professional development system; (5) provide better support and child-care service to families and parents; and (6) provide support for the development of the early childhood education program in undeveloped areas.


Extent of Provision

Up to 3 years of age, the majority of Chinese children are usually cared for at home by grandparents, other relatives, or a hired nanny. In some cases, if family resources allow, the mother may quit her job for a few years to take care of the child. Before the mid-1990s, many workplaces provided child-care services for their workers. Many mothers returned to work after sixty days of maternal leave (the current policy allows for at least ninety days of paid maternal leave) and left their child in the on-site program. However, in recent years the number of employer-based services has been decreasing, because many state owned businesses have been sold to private individuals, resulting in closure of some of the child-care services. In urban areas, at the age of 11/2, some children go to kindergartens that provide toddler programs, while others go to private home day care. A high percentage of children stay home until age 3. In some urban areas these children may go to early childhood education centers or stations for some parent-child educational activities. The percentage of children who enroll in regular education programs for children before three in urban areas is usually less than 20 percent. The early childhood education service for children aged 0-3 is not available in rural areas.

At the age of 3, the majority of the children in urban areas attend kindergartens for three years of early childhood education. Most of these programs provide full-day services and some also provide a boarding program. In urban areas the percentage of the children enrolled in early childhood programs is over 90 percent, while in rural areas it is only 39 percent. In 2002 there were 11.2 million kindergartens in China, serving 20.36 million children.


Program Types

The most popular type of kindergarten program is called You Er Yuan. This is usually a full-day program for children aged 3-6, or in some areas age 5 only and age 6 only. The school day lasts from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm Children either have one meal and two snacks or three meals and two snacks in the center each day. Parents are responsible for paying the cost of the food. In recent years, the service of boarding kindergarten (overnight accommodations) has been welcomed by some busy working parents in urban areas. Half-day programs are rare. The children in this kindergarten program are usually grouped by age, although mixed age grouping does exist. Teachers who work in kindergartens are required to have at least three years of professional training.

An independent early childhood education institute for children below the age of 3 is another type of program called Tuo Er Suo. This is an infant nursery that usually provides full-day service. The operation of these nurseries is the same as that of kindergartens and may be partially funded by the government, workplaces, or individuals. In recent years, this type of program has been integrated into kindergarten programs in some urban areas. Teacher qualification in these programs is usually not as good as that of kindergartens.

A third type of program that has emerged recently is called Zao Jiao Zhong Xin. This is an early childhood education center. These centers also provide services for children below the age of 3. Financially supported by local governments or other resources, these centers usually provide free or hourly rate education programs such as teacher-directed activities for infants and toddlers, or parent-child activities. Some of these centers are independently built and others are affiliated with regular kindergartens. In either case, the teachers in regular kindergartens play an important role in providing the service. These centers may have some branches called early childhood education stations, which are located in local communities. An informal child-care service for children before the age of 3 is the private home care, which is provided by individual families. This kind of service usually has a flexible schedule and the payment can be negotiated.


Supply and Access

A great gap still exists between urban and rural areas in terms of children’s survival and development. Millions of young children continue to need help in obtaining nutritional foods and basic care. Because of the rapid urbanization in the recent years, many farmers have moved into urban areas to find jobs. Some of these workers bring their children with them, but most leave their children in the care of their grandparents or other relatives. In either case, the care and the education for these children have been a great problem. Migrant children may not be able to go to local child-care programs because their parents cannot afford such services. These children may be brought to their parents’ worksite and often cause a safety problem. Children who are left behind with relatives may have more emotional and discipline problems in addition to the lack of parental protection. The number of the children affected by HIV/AIDS has also been increasing in some areas in the recent years. In some urban areas the government has been adopting special policies to help these children and their parents.



Before the mid-1990s, a high percentage of early childhood education programs in China were partially publicly funded, and some were partially supported by workplaces. In either case, parents shared about 40 percent of the cost. However, in the last ten years, the number of public or work site funded kindergartens has been decreasing. In many areas, some of these kindergartens have been sold to private organizations or individuals to become private education programs. In some of these private kindergartens the cost to parents has increased, while the quality of the education has not risen. The number of private early childhood education programs has been increasing steadily in the past ten years and the monitoring of the quality for these programs has been a challenge for local governments.

Further Readings: In Chinese: Chinese Preschool Education Research Association (1999). The collection of important government documents of the People’s Republic of China on early education. Beijing: Beijing Normal University Press; Ministry of Education (2003). Early childhood education programs. Yearbook of China Education. Beijing: People’s Education Press; National Women Federation (2001). Chinese children development guideline, 2001-2010, issued by the State Council; Preschool Education Research Association, ed. (2003). The century Chinese preschool education: 1903-2003. Beijing: Educational Science Press.

Web Site: China at a Glance. Available online at

Xin Zhou


Family and Early Childhood Education in China

China is a country that devotes much attention to the functioning and responsibility of the family. Rearing children is a very important issue for Chinese families. The concepts of “carrying on the ancestral line” and “having offspring as a provider for old age” are characteristics intrinsically linked to Chinese culture and are still valued by most Chinese families today. Chinese families, including parents and grandparents, both in rural and urban areas, would spend all they have and do all they could for their children. Families try the best they can to provide support for their children’s care and education.


The Historical Context

Although the earliest history regarding the cooperation between the family and early childhood education programs may trace back to 1904 when the Qing Dynasty issued the first regulations related to early childhood education programs, the progress in parents’ involvement in children’s educational programs has been slow. Historically, it has been the teacher’s duty to communicate with parents about their child’s progress in early childhood programs, also known as kindergartens. Teachers held conferences or conducted home visits. However, the program usually treated parents as the receiver of the service or of parent education. Parents believed that once their child was sent to a program, the task of educating children was mainly the teacher’s responsibility.

This situation has been changing in the recent years, and there are several reasons for this change. First, the national government and organizations issued a series of documents regarding the issue of parent involvement, including the following:

1) Kindergarten Operation Regulations, issued by the Ministry of Education in 1989. This document devoted a separate chapter to outlining the requirements for the cooperation between the family and the program.

2) China Child Development Outline in the 1990s, issued by the Chinese National Women’s Federation, set a goal for family education. This goal stated that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, 90 percent of the parents who have children under the age of 14 should be able to obtain basic knowledge about child development and care.

3) The national curriculum standard titled “Kindergarten Education Guidelines” issued by the Ministry of Education in 2001 proposed for the first time that respect, equality, and cooperation should be the principle for working with parents.

4) In the document of Innovation in the Primary Education in 2003, the national government established a law and policies for family education. In this innovation, the parent’s important role in family education was pinpointed through the cooperation of the family and the school. The government promised to help to bring coordination between the school and the family into play.

5) Regulations issued by some provincial and local governments have also promoted the change. These regulations propose that parents have the right, as well as the duty, to become involved in their child’s kindergarten education. Parents have the right to know the education program the kindergarten provides, including the policies, the management of the center, the curriculum goals and the implementation of the curriculum.

A second contributing factor has been the program evaluation of kindergartens that began in the early 1990s, which has emphasized cooperation between the family and the program as an important quality indicator and supported the idea that kindergartens should take a more active role in involving parents. Still another important reason for the change is that many parents with only one child have little experience in child rearing, and may feel the need to seek professional help. The kindergarten is a natural place for parents to communicate with trained professionals, or with each other, to obtain information on child care and/or education. Chinese parents’ education has improved in the recent years, particularly in urban areas. Educated urban parents are taking a more active role in their children’s education.


The Current Status of Family and Program Cooperation

Cooperation between the family and the kindergarten includes the following different strategies:

1) At the beginning of each semester, the kindergarten and parent may work together to discuss a plan for the semester. In general, this may start with the parents’ proposals for the kinds of activities they wish the kindergarten could organize. The parents’ proposals may generate discussion between the kindergarten and the parents. Finally a detailed schedule is created for the semester, detailing the time, activities, and support the parents need to provide.

2) The regular information exchange between the teacher and the family includes the following:

• Parents’ conference, which is held once or twice a semester;

• Family-kindergarten contact notebook, which is used once a week by either the teacher or the parent to leave messages for each other;

• A family-kindergarten contact board, where parents may find a message from the teacher or leave a message, where children and their parents’ photographs may show parent’s involvement in the program, etc;

• Some kindergartens in urban areas may also develop websites where they can develop a special section for parents or family education. The section could include more information on issues in which parents may have an interest;

• Home visiting or telephone contacts are also used;

• Short conversations take place when parents send or pick up their children in the kindergarten.

3) Parents are often involved in the educational process by collecting and contributing materials for children’s learning; for instance, making tools or toys, demonstrating their professional skills to children, participating in field trips.

4) Some educational programs or trainings on special topics may be provided for parents.

5) Kindergartens may have special strategies for cooperation with parents who have children with special needs. For example, for children who have autism or are handicapped with cerebral palsy, it would be helpful if the kindergarten would keep in regular contact with their parents. Regular communication would facilitate discussion and educational strategies for the child. Additionally, for children who are from religious families or have special diets, the program would cooperate with their parents and have special arrangements for foods and activities that are adapted to their cultures and special customs.

There are various organizations involved in the issue of cooperation between the family and the program, including the following:

1) The Parent Committee, which is organized at the program level. This committee is responsible for the monitoring of the program as well as the organization of parents’ involvement in activities.

2) The Community Education Coordinating Committee, which is organized at the community level in some urban areas, consisting of parents and community workers. This committee works to provide help in connecting families to programs. For example, the committee can help parents identify children who need special assistance and make arrangements with appropriate programs or supporting organizations.

3) The National Family Education Association and Early Childhood Education Research Association. Both of these national organizations have a branch on family and program cooperation (including the affiliating association at the provincial level). The organizations consist mainly of teachers, education researchers, administrators, women workers, and others. The work of these associations is to probe into the problems of family and kindergarten education.


Problems and Challenges

As regards the position of the family and the kindergarten in their cooperation, both parties firmly believe that the kindergarten should take a leadership role in the cooperation and that it has a responsibility to direct and help parents with their special training and skills. Kindergartens usually do take an active role in the cooperation between the parent and the program and this situation may easily lead to the neglect of parents’ equal partnership and equal rights. In some areas, parents may be given no right to choose programs for their children, to know important relevant facts about the programs, or to negotiate with kindergartens on issues concerning their children. For instance, in some kindergartens, whether the parents like it or not, they are required to participate in certain extracurricular activities. Therefore, the challenge in facilitating cooperation between the family and kindergarten is not only in finding the strategies to encourage parents to be actively involved in their children’s education, but also in developing ways to protect parents’ rights in this potentially unequal relationship.

Further Readings: In Chinese: Beijing Educational Committee (2000). Education guidelines for early childhood education in Beijing; Beijing Government Documents (19962000). Family education programs for young children in Beijing; Ministry of Education (2003). Early childhood education programs. Yearbook of China Education. Beijing: People’s Education Press; Preschool Education Research Association, ed. (2003). The century Chinese preschool education: 1903-2003- Beijing: Educational Science Press.

Web Site: (in Chinese): Chinese Education Research Network: http://www.chinaeducationresearchnetwork.

Lan Gao


Early Childhood Program Quality

Quality in early childhood education may be defined at two levels, the system level and the program level. Current discussion of quality in early childhood education in the Chinese context mainly focuses on quality at the program level, although professionals in the field do believe that the quality at the system level has significant impact on the quality at the program level. In the last five decades, the central government has made important contributions to the quality in early childhood education programs by setting up a quality framework, making program regulations and curriculum guidelines, and improving the training and the status of staff. The provincial and local government is responsible for the monitoring of program quality. The evaluation of the program in most locations mainly focuses on kindergarten, the program for the children aged 3-6, and in some locations on the program for children aged 11/2 — 6.


National Regulations for Program Quality in Early Childhood Education

The central government has played an important role in the regulating of the quality of early childhood education programs over the last five decades. The national regulations have evolved through several versions over time.

Starting in the 1950s, the Ministry of Education has issued several versions of program quality regulations. The earliest effort in establishing the regulation for the quality in early childhood education programs was issued by the Ministry of Education in 1952. Titled Kindergarten Provisional Guidelines, this document was produced with the help of former Soviet Union early childhood education experts. The regulation was composed of eight chapters and forty-three items: The purpose of the program and educational goals; years of provision; leadership and administrations; care and educational principles and curriculum content, enrollment, group size, adult-child ratio and staffing; financing, physical environment and facilities, etc.

The second version of this regulation came out in 1979, titled Urban Kindergarten Provisional Regulation. Comparing to the first version, this regulation gave less attention to overall organizational issues such as finance, leadership, and administration, since these issues had been well settled in the program by that time. However, the discussion of curriculum was expanded from one chapter to three chapters. Play appeared for the first time in the regulation and was treated as children’s fundamental activity and an important means in the education of children. The encouragement of children’s autonomy and creativity in play was emphasized.

The third version of this regulation, issued in 1989 and titled Kindergarten Operation Regulations (Initial Version), clearly specified for the first time the purpose of the regulation as to raise the quality of center-based child care and education. Three years of teacher training or similar qualifications were required for working in early childhood education programs. The qualifications for other staff were also proposed. More specific regulations were made regarding finance, expenditure, and parent’s payment management. A separate chapter was devoted to program-family cooperation. This version of Kindergarten Operation Regulations was finalized in 1996 with minor modifications: the respect and protection of children from abuse, discrimination, physical punishment, and other behavior that is harmful to children was emphasized.


National Curriculum Guideline

The first National Curriculum Guideline came out in 1981, with three main components: (1) Educational goals and children’s developmental characteristics; (2) curriculum areas and objectives; (3) teaching strategies and important issues The eight learning areas were: life skills and habits, physical exercises, moral education, language, science, mathematics, music, visual art. The objectives for these areas were specified for three age-groups in a program.

In the same year, the Ministry of Health also issued the National Care and Education Guideline for Children under Three. The guideline includes (1) The principles for the care and education of children under 3; (2) infant and toddler neuropsychological development milestones; (3) education in the daily routine; (4) infant and toddler language development; (5) infant and toddler motor development; (6) infant and toddler cognitive development; (7) infant and toddler interaction with adults and peers; and (8) teacher-directed activities for infants and toddlers. Education goals and teaching strategies were included within each learning area in the document.

The second National Curriculum Guideline was issued in 2001. (see the curriculum entry below for details). This guideline has been thought of as an important milestone for the reform of early childhood education, since the guideline reflects important changes in the understanding of the importance of education for young children, and in recognizing the place of children in the process of education in Chinese early childhood education history. One important change is that early childhood education has been treated as an important component of the basic education system in the nation, a foundation phase for formal schooling and the system of lifelong education. Another important change is that the child is treated as an independent person and an active participant in the process of education. Children’s rights in play, education and development, children’s needs, interests, and autonomy should be respected.


National Program Hygiene and Health Regulations

These regulations first came out in 1980, produced by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. In 1985 the regulation was revised and issued by the Ministry of Health. The regulation includes daily routines; food preparation; physical exercise; health checks for children and staff; hygiene and disinfection; disease prevention and safety.


National Regulation on Group Size and Staffing

The Ministry of Education issued a regulation for group size and staffing in full-day programs and boarding schools in 1987. Child programs in China are generally grouped by age, although mixed age classes do exist. Three age-groups were specified: the junior class (3-4 years old), middle class (4-5 years old) and the senior class (5-6 years old). The group size for each age should range from 20-25, 26-30, and 30-35 respectively. For each class, staffing is to include 2-2.5 teachers and 0.8-1 teacher assistants. The overall adult-child ratio is 1:6-1: 7 for a full-day program, 1:4-1: 5 for a boarding school.

In 1996, the National Regulations for the Qualification of Program Directors was issued. Directors are required to have at least three years of professional training, two to three years of child-center working experience and a title of first class teacher. The responsibilities of a director and the posting requirements are also specified.


Program Physical Design Regulation

The Program Architectural Design Regulation was issued by the Ministry of Environment Protection and the Ministry of Education in 1987. It proposed standards for the location, amount of inside and outside space, the room space required for different functions, such as classroom, bedroom, restroom, kitchen, etc.; the structure and quality of the building structure (availability of sunlight, lighting, sound insulation, water supply system, room temperature and air quality, electricity facilities). The space required for a classroom must be no less than 60 m2, and the calculation formula for the space of the playground in a center is M2 = 180 + 20 (N — 1), where N = the number of the classes in the program).


The Quality Control and Monitoring System

The quality of a program is monitored by provincial/city governments. The monitoring system includes two components: (1)inspector system; (2) program evaluation and ranking system. The inspector system has been set up by the Ministry of Education and organized by the provincial education committee. The professional and visiting inspectors in each city are supposed to inspect all programs once in a cycle of three years. The inspector group is usually composed of local teaching and research coordinators, center directors, experienced teachers, or other early childhood education professionals. Trainings are usually provided for the participating inspectors before the inspection visit.

The program evaluation and ranking system in most of the provinces was started in early 1990s. The evaluation is operated by the provincial and city education committee and under the leadership of the Office of Educational Monitoring and Guidance in the provincial and city education committee. Each province has developed a program quality standard and evaluation indicators based on the regulations issued by the central government and the local economic situation. Local standards, or lower quality standards may be set up by the local governments. Program quality is monitored more regularly in urban than in rural areas. In some rural areas the program may have never been evaluated at all. The most challenging quality issue in these areas is the lack of qualified teachers and physical environments that may not be able to meet the minimum requirement for children’s safety and health.

The provincial quality standard is usually composed of the following indicators:

1. Physical environments and facilities, which include overall center space, classroom space, playground space, surrounding environment, classroom and playground facilities, teaching and learning materials.

2. Staff qualifications and professional development, which includes qualifications and position requirements for all staff members, adult-child ratio, teacher in-service training.

3. Program administration and management, which includes center size, group size, staff recruitment, program goals and department objectives, the establishing of program administration committee and staff participating in center policy decisions, program management regulation, rules and position responsibilities, program and department working plan and final report, regular evaluation, records keeping, finance management, the center’s cooperation with the family and community.

4. Child care and education, which includes the establishing of children’s records, regular health checking and disease prevention, hygiene and disinfection, safety, nutrition, daily routine, curriculum goals, content, organization, setting and learning materials, teacher-child interaction, child development outcomes, research projects and publications.

For the assessment of child development outcomes, children are observed in the classroom for their physical and emotional development, social interaction, initiative, curiosity and learning interests, and self-help skills and habits. The evaluation is not compulsory and the program must apply in advance for the evaluation. The procedure of the evaluation starts from the program’s self-study of the evaluation indicators. After the self-study and self-improvement, the program applies to local education commission for the evaluation site visit. The evaluation group is usually composed of six to eight professionals including city and district administrators, teaching and research coordinators, experienced center directors, and teachers. The site visit usually takes two to three days. The program quality evaluation results in a total score and a ranking system. The ranking system is usually organized as follows: Provincial/city demonstration program, provincial/city first class program, provincial/city second class program, etc. Based on the score of the evaluation, the program is awarded a rank for the quality of the center. Centers with a higher rank can set a higher fee to be paid by parents for children’s enrollment. The programs that received a ranking need to be reevaluated in two to three years. At present, data are not available for the percentage of the programs in different ranks.


Current Issues and Challenges

The importance of the quality at the system level needs to be emphasized. Universal and equitable access to education for all children has been a common goal for all the nations in the world. China has been making such an effort in the sector of compulsory education, but not yet in early childhood education. In the past decades, the early childhood programs in urban areas received more government financial support than did the programs in rural areas. In rural areas, both the quantity and the quality of the program have lagged behind and there are no programs at all in some remote and undeveloped areas. Education equity in early childhood education is a great challenge for the nation.

Another problem is that research on program evaluation is rare. Longitudinal studies are needed in identifying important contributors to the quality of an early childhood program, so the research information can be used as a solid base for the development of government policies, regulations, and the establishment of quality indicators. Child assessment measures and program observation scales need to be developed; efforts have been made in adapting some measures (such as the measure similar to ECERS) into the Chinese context.

Although the overall adult-child ratio in many programs is as high as 1:6, the actual adult-child ratio in the classroom is quite low. This is due to the substantial number of the adults who do not actually work in the classroom, and the fact that the three adults assigned to a class sometimes cannot all be present in the classroom for the whole day. The actual adult-child ratio may be as low as 1:30 at certain times during the day. This is a quality problem we need to solve.

Further Readings: Chinese Preschool Education Research Association (1999). The collection of important government documents of the People’s Republic of China on early education. Beijing: Beijing Normal University Press; Jiangsu Education Commission (1996). Indicators for the evaluation of a modern kindergarten; Preschool Education Research Association, ed. (2003). The century Chinese preschool education: 1903-2003. Beijing: Educational Science Press.

Xin Zhou


Curriculum in Chinese Preschool Education


Preschool education in China refers to the education for children from 3 to 6 (or 7) years of age, although in recent years it has been extended to include the education for children before age 3. Preschool education is considered an integral part of the basic education and the foundation for children’s later school education, but it is not a part of compulsory education. The institute that provides education and care to young children for this age period in China is called You Er Yuan (kindergarten). (The English translation of both You Zhi Yuan [see below] and You Er Yuan is kindergarten. The term You Zhi Yuan was changed to You Er Yuan when the Communist Party took power in 1949) The 2002 statistics indicate that there were 118,000 kindergartens nationwide with a total enrollment of 20,360,000 children.


The Social Historical Context and Early Education Curriculum Development

In 2003, China celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the first Chinese educational institute for young children. During the economic reform in the late Qing Dynasty, the first institute for young children was opened within an elementary school in Wu Chang in “Guang Xu Year of Twenty-nine” (1903 A.D.), called Mong Yang Yuan, meaning a public place where children were enlightened and cared for. In the same year, the provincial official Zhang Zhi-Dong, under whose jurisdiction the first Mong Yang Yuan was established, proposed the “Statute of Mong Yang Yuan and Family Education,” which was made official by the Emperor Guang Xu in 1904. The first public establishment of an educational institute for young children, and the first relevant statute signified the beginning of a specialized education for the youngest age-group of its citizens in China. Before then, young children were cared for and sometimes educated at home. The development of Chinese early education and curriculum over the past century can be viewed in three periods.


Chinese curriculum: 1903-1918. The first period was from 1903 to 1918, during which the first early education institute, Mong Yang Yuan; was established and the first government statute was issued by the Qing Dynasty government. Although the initial Mong Yang Yuan adopted a Japanese model, including hiring teachers from Japan, the Statute of Mong Yang Yuan and Family Education specified Mong Yang Yuan to be housed in the social welfare institute for widows and the trained widows to serve as staff. After the Republic of China was established in 1911, the Education Ministry of the transitioning government issued another statute that included Mong Yang Yuan in the nation’s education system, but it did not grant it independent education institute status. Mong Yang Yuan was affiliated within the women’s normal school, or normal college instead of a social welfare institute. The curriculum included the following:

• Conversation on social conventions and physical objects

• Behavior and manners

• Reading

• Arithmetic

• Manual skills using Friedrich Froebel-inspired teaching materials

• Music and song

• Play


Chinese curriculum: 1919-1949. The second period was from 1919 to 1949. During these thirty years, China went through two civil wars (1927 to 1937 and 1946 to 1949), and the Second World War (1937-1945). Besides its war resisting Japan’s invasion, China endured constant political struggles and military conflicts between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party. During this period, the majority of China was under the government lead by the Nationalists, along with regions gradually lost to Japan’s invasion, and some regions lost to the Communists.

A “School System Reform Plan” was issued as an education reform order in 1912. It abandoned the Japanese model and adopted the model from the United States for the nation’s school system, called the “Six (elementary years)-Three (Junior High years)-Three (High School years)” system. The reform order started to use the name You Zhi Yuan (kindergarten) for children under 6, which was defined as an independent education institute for the first time in the Chinese history. The Ministry of Education enacted the first “You Zhi Yuan Regulations” in 1939 (revised in 1943) that defined specific goals for kindergarten education. The Ministry of Education also issued and revised the “Kindergarten Curriculum Standard” between 1932 and 1936. The Standard stated four education goals for children under 6 were as follows:

1. Promote children’s physical and mental health.

2. Strive for the happiness children deserve.

3. Foster basic good habits for life including both physical and behavioral domains.

4. Support families in raising young children, and seek improvement in family education.

The curriculum standard described the curriculum content and the minimum objectives to be achieved in the following areas: music, story and rhyme, play, social knowledge, work, and rest.

During this second period various curriculum models were developed. For example, a kindergarten founded by Chen He-Qing, who studied John Dewey in the United States, developed a curriculum that based its content on the natural and social environment of young children. He implemented a “Wholeness Pedagogy” that included five kinds of activities: health, social, science, arts, and language. The contents in the five areas were organized in “units” based on the nature and society. Another curriculum model, the “Action Curriculum” was developed by Zhang Xue Men. Zhang believed that curriculum was experience, and the curriculum was to prepare the experience children liked and were capable of doing. The curriculum models during that time were influenced by the Western educators such as Froebel, Maria Montessori, and Dewey. Nevertheless, they were also intentional experiments and explorations of developing education models appropriate for Chinese children.

During the same period, some regions of China were under the Communist Party and its army’s control. Although the material conditions for these regions were scarce, there were boarding child-care centers organized for children whose parents fought in the wars. Many of these child-care agencies, called Bao Yu Yuan (A place of protection and education), became famous kindergartens after 1949 when they moved to the big cities.


Chinese curriculum 1950-1954. The third period started in 1950 right after the Chinese Communist Party became the governing power in the nation. Between 1951 and 1954, several important government regulations and curriculum outlines regarding You Er Yuan (kindergarten) were enacted. They included the “Kindergarten Provisional Regulation,” the “Kindergarten Provisional Teaching Outline,” and “the Kindergarten Education Guide (Initial Version).” These documents clearly defined the goals, content, and principles of the preschool education. They went on to describe the age characteristics and educational focus for each of the three age classes: the junior class (3-4 years old), middle class (4-5 years old), and the senior class (5-6 years old). The Teaching Outline specifically defined the teaching plans for different classes such as weekly lessons and the number of assignments in each of the six subject areas. It also laid out the daily schedules for half-day and all-day programs. The six subject areas were physical education, language, knowing the environment, arts and crafts, music, and arithmetic. The lengths of lessons for each age-group were also specified, from fifteen minutes per session for the junior class to twenty-five minutes for the senior class. The Teaching Outline emphasized that education for young children should pay attention to their age characteristics, and that teaching needed to be systematic. These documents were developed under the theories and direct guide of educators from the Soviet Union. The changes in the curriculum content and pedagogy model comparing to those before 1949 reflected these influences. The governmental statutes set up a national curriculum model with clearly defined educational objectives, content, and pedagogy. The Ministry of Education and the central government not only enacted the regulation and the curriculum outline, they enforced the implementation nationwide as well. Over the next thirty years, until the 1980s, Chinese preschool education became an established system with a unified program setup and curriculum model. The number of kindergartens increased from 1,300 centers with a total enrollment of 130,000 children in 1949, to 170,400 centers enrolling a total of 11,507,700 children in 1980. It should be mentioned that from 1966 to 1976, the regular preschool education and curriculum development were interrupted because of the political chaos caused by the “Cultural Revolution,” which affected every aspect of the Chinese society.

In sum, the development of the first eighty years of Chinese preschool education and its curricula were intertwined with economic reform and social changes. Despite political struggles and wars, the Chinese government and educators strived to establish and develop specialized education for its young citizens. The curriculum content and pedagogy integrated theoretical and practical influences from the outside world, especially from American progressive education and education in the Soviet Union.


The Current Curriculum Status: Reform in Progress

The Chinese preschool education curriculum has been undergoing changes since the 1980s as a part of education reform related to the national economic reform. The milestones are two important government regulations: Kindergarten Operation Regulations by the National Education Commission, (third version in 1989 and revised in 1996), and Kindergarten Education Guideline (Provisional) by the Ministry of Education in 2001. The former defines the national program standards for kindergarten; the latter defines the national curriculum standards.


Current curriculum guidelines. The current curriculum guideline has four sections: Preamble, Education Content and Requirements, Organization and Implementation, and Education Evaluation. It states that kindergarten education is an important component of the basic education, and the foundation for a child’s later school experiences and lifelong education. It requires kindergarten to serve the following functions: create the best conditions for children’s development in cooperation with the families, communities, and elementary schools; provide young children with a rich environment and experience that meets their needs; follow the natural laws of development and learning of young children using play as the basic activity media; and provide both education and care. In the preamble it states for the first time that kindergarten should respect children’s integrity and rights.

There are five curriculum domains: Health, Language, Society, Science, and Arts. Each domain contains the objectives, content and requirements, and key guiding points. For example, in the section of Language, the following five objectives are described:

1) Be willing to converse with people, in the proper manner.

2) Listen and be attentive in a conversation, and understand daily usage of the language

3) Be able to express oneself clearly

4) Be interested in listening to stories and reading picture books

5) Be able to speak and understand mandarin.

In the “content and requirements,” the Guideline further elaborates the content needed to achieve the objectives. For example, one item states, “Provide a mandarin language environment. Help children become familiar, understanding and speaking mandarin. Children in the minority regions should be helped to learn their ethnic language as well.” Under Language, the “key guiding points” describe concepts from the language development perspective to guide the curriculum planning. For example, “Young children’s language develops in close relationships with their development of emotional, experiential, thinking and social interactive competences. Therefore, language development should be integrated into other domains of education in order to enrich children’s experience, so as to create conditions that promote language development.”

The Organization and Implementation section describes underlying principles of curriculum implementation. For example, in the item “The selection of education content,” it provides three “principles” in addition to what is stated in the Content section. The principles assert that the content should “Be appropriate to the children’s current level, yet challenging; meet the children’s current needs, yet promote long-term development; related to the children’s immediate life experience and interest, yet help them to expand their experience and knowing.” The section also describes the principles of organizing the daily schedule, working with families, and access to community resources.

The Education Evaluation section provides the underlying principles rather than concrete evaluation approaches and instruments. For example, item 7 states the key criteria for evaluation. They are: whether the education plan and the activity objectives are based on an understanding of the children currently enrolled; whether the content, method, strategy, and environmental setting motivate children to learn; whether the educational process provides the children with useful learning experiences and is appropriate to their developmental needs; whether the content and requirements pay attention to individual needs as well as group needs so every child feels successful and develops; whether the teacher’s guidance promotes children’s active and effective learning.


The current national education guideline. The current national education guideline reflects a drastic shift in the government’s point of view, especially in terms of the focus of education, the curriculum content, and implementation. The guideline no longer prescribes specific weekly plans and “assignments” for each of the curriculum subject areas. It pays more attention to the areas of development rather than knowledge and skills in subject areas. Children and their developmental needs are acknowledged and serve as the base for curriculum planning. However, the current guideline only provides overall education objectives and general principles. It expects the local governments to further develop their interpretations and guides, and the individual kindergartens to decide their own curriculum under the guiding principles.


Flexibility in curriculum. The general curriculum guidelines defined by the government leave a great deal of flexibility for kindergartens in different regions, cities, and communities to develop a curriculum that fits the children they serve. There has been a great variety in ways individual kindergartens develop and implement curriculum. Meanwhile, a growing number of curriculum resources have been published. Many of these resources may be titled as a specific curriculum, for example, “Constructive Curriculum,” and the activities in different curriculum books may overlap.

Another factor that contributed to the emergence of a great variety of curriculum models is the allowance of privately owned kindergartens as part of the economic reform under way since the late 1980s. Some kindergartens adopted curriculum models such as Montessori, models based on the Multiple Intelligences, etc. There is a greater autonomy for individual kindergartens, especially those privately owned to create their own curriculum model, as long as it complies with the governmental regulations and guidelines.


Current Issues and Challenges

The recent education reform and new governmental statutes brought opportunities for the development of the Chinese preschool curriculum. It brought challenges as well. Individual kindergartens and teachers who used to operate under a clearly and specifically prescribed curriculum can feel lost when they are expected to develop their own curriculum following abstract principles. The teachers and school administrators are not equipped in their knowledge and skill to undertake such a task without extensive professional development. One trend is to encourage individual kindergartens to develop a “kindergarten-based curriculum.” However, what this means is not clear either theoretically or in practical terms. The focus on children’s developmental needs rather than subject knowledge learning indicates a shift toward child-centeredness in the preschool curriculum. Yet parents and the teachers are concerned about how well the children are prepared when they go to elementary school since it is common that elementary schools expect the children to be prepared academically. Furthermore, many concepts and theories that originated in Western cultures have been introduced into the field of Chinese preschool education as resources for the ongoing reform. How such contemporary thinking and practices are examined in their own contexts, how they are authentically interpreted and adapted, but not copied into the Chinese culture, remains a challenge.

Further Readings: In Chinese: Ministry of Education (2002). Kindergarten education guideline. In The Basic Education Division of The Ministry of Education, ed., The interpretation of kindergarten education guideline (provisional). Nanjing: Jiangsu Education Press; National Education Commission (1996). The kindergarten operation regulation. In Chinese Preschool Education Research Association (1999). The collection of important government documents of the People’s Republic of China on early education. Beijing: Beijing Normal University Press; Preschool Education Research Association, ed. (2003). The century of Chinese preschool education: 1903-2003. Beijing: Educational Science Press; Zhu, J. (2003). Kindergarten curriculum. Shanghai: East China Normal University Press.

Wei Li-Chen


Play in the Chinese Context

Play is an important process that differentiates preschool education from primary school education. In China, play is regarded as the activity in which children may make fun freely. While playing, children are usually joyful, excited, and roused. They are absorbed in the imagined situation, with rapt attention, initiative, and creativity brought into full play. It is so often that young children want to put off mealtime again and again in order to continue playing, and even finally end up in sleeping beside their toys. So it is evident that play has great charm to children. They are immersed in the freedom and happiness of play and just play for play, without other aims, without considering other things (for example, reality, reward, or a particular reason to play, etc.). Play is the most important thing in children’s lives, and makes a decisive contribution to children’s physical and psychological development.


The Value of Play for Children’s Development

Play meets children’s needs for physical activity, cognitive activity, and social interaction. Children will continuously repeat all kinds of body movements such as running and jumping in play, thus the blood circulation and the development of bone and muscle can be promoted, and the needs of physical movement can be met. By playing with peers, children may accumulate the experience of social interaction; learn to solve problems by means of declining modestly, discussion, cooperation, or taking turns. They can also undergo different feelings, such as happiness, delight, sadness, or frustration, thus their emotional and social development can be promoted.

The surveys we have done indicate that the children with problems in personality and social development are usually those who are not interested in play or don’t know how to play. Researchers and educators have increasingly paid attention to the value of play in children’s healthy mental development. Various kinds of toys (blocks, ball, Chinese chess, dolls, etc.) and materials (water, sand, paper, paint, etc.) used in play can bring children various perceptual stimulations and intellectual challenges, thus arousing their interest in exploration and their desire for knowledge. In the course of repeated play and explorations, their needs for cognitive development are met.

Children learn through play. It is very difficult to ask young children just to sit and listen in the class, but interesting and funny play can deeply engage them. In relaxing and free play, children may explore actively and find out things and phenomena in which they themselves are interested. Free play not only meets children’s desire to play but also increases their ability to learn while playing. Play is the principle learning approach for preschool children, and also the most enjoyable one.


The Place of Play in the Early Childhood Education Curriculum

Although theoretically play is regarded as a valuable and important activity for children’s development and learning by Chinese professionals, this may not be evident in the actual practices found in Chinese kindergartens. For some teachers, less value is attached to play than to teacher-directed teaching and learning activities. Although the Kindergarten Education Guideline (Provisional) issued by the Ministry of Education in 2001 makes clear that “Play is the basic activity in kindergarten”, in actual classroom practice, we may see phenomena such as “lessons are more valued than play” and “teaching games with a set of teaching objectives are preferred to the free play initiated by children themselves.” In the current kindergarten curriculum, play is more likely to appear in the following three forms:

1. As a leisure, free activity separated from teaching and learning activities. In this way play is treated as a means to meet the needs of children’s social and emotional development, but the value of play to children’s cognitive development is neglected. In such play, teachers do not provide much support or provide appropriate materials for learning.

2. In overlap with the learning of specific knowledge. Under this condition the playful element of play is neglected and children’s interest in learning cannot be maintained. As a result, play and learning (work) stand in opposition to one another. The idea of using play to provide an attractive situation for children’s learning is not bad, but the challenge is how to create a playful situation for children’s learning.

3. In integration with learning. This is the most ideal situation. That is, children do need free play, but teachers can also find opportunities in free play to facilitate children’s learning by providing materials or scaffolding. If play is used in children’s learning activities, then play should be really fun and engaging and children should participate in play actively.


The Types of Play

The two main types of play in Chinese early childhood programs are free play and play with rules.


Free play. This is the kind of play where children enjoy the freedom and happiness in choosing and deciding what to play, how to play, and with whom to play. Types of free play generally include role-play, construction play, and acting play. Role-play is the kind of play where children imagine and pretend, taking their living experience as the source. Construction play aims at creating something by using different kinds of constructing materials. While in acting play, children usually act the roles that are from fairy tales or story plots. This kind of play and other similar play activities such as “acting with flannel pieces,” “puppet play,” and “shadow play with story characters” are popularly used in language and literature activities in Chinese early childhood education programs. In the context of free play teachers in kindergartens usually leave children an acting corner called a “little stage” where all kinds of stage props are available for children to use and take roles freely. During the whole course of acting, teachers don’t intervene or even pay attention to the children.


Play with rules. The second type of play involves a game with rules, which usually requires the participation of a group of children. Teachers usually take advantage of such games to bring children’s interest in learning into play, or just use this kind of game as a means to teach knowledge. Therefore these are also called teaching games, which include quiz games, music games, and sports games. Teaching games are often created by teachers to reach their teaching objectives. Each game consists of its objectives, steps, and, of course, rules. The quiz game combines the purpose of developing children’s cognitive abilities with the fun of a game, which enables children to exercise their skills and develop their intelligence. Puzzle games, maze games, and riddles are the typical examples of a quiz game. The sports game is used to develop children’s basic movements. Many originated as Chinese traditional folk games; for example, “Hawk Catch Chickens,” “Throw Handkerchief,” “Bake Sesame Seed Cakes” (all are chasing games with certain rules). A music game is used mainly to enhance children’s musical perceptive ability, accompanied by music or songs.


The Organization of Play in Early Childhood Education Programs

The play environment in early childhood education programs includes two settings: indoors and outdoors. The outdoor play environment mainly includes some large equipment for children to climb on and play, a sand box, and in some centers a water pool. A place with a natural lawn or covered with cement or plastic boards is for children to run, jump, walk, or ride a bike. A certain amount of outdoor space containing basic safety measures is required by government regulation.

The indoor play environment includes the following several areas:

1. those usually set up in the classroom, such as the house area, block area, and art area;

2. in addition to the classroom, many kindergartens in urban areas have special rooms for specific kinds of play or activities, such as a chess playroom, computer room, or music activity room. Children in each class usually take turns to go to these activity rooms during the week;

3. vacant place in the sleeping room (for napping) is sometimes used as additional play space. Some activities may be set up there. Chinese teachers are also encouraged to make toys or help children to make toys with a variety of materials such as packing boxes, bottles of soft drinks, etc.

Generally speaking, the typical playtimes occur in several segments during the day.

1. One hour of morning exercise, when children mostly play some traditional folk sports games outside, such as ball games, rope skipping, walking on stilts, etc.;

2. Thirty to fifty minutes of free play after the circle time, when children choose freely the play area or materials they prefer. Role-play such as house or hospital are popular themes for children’s play;

3. Thirty to fifty minutes of free play in the afternoon, after the nap and the snack, when small manipulative toys or games are usually provided. Outdoor play may also be provided later in the afternoon.

The teacher’s role in children’s play is mainly to support and facilitate. The extent to which teachers actually do facilitate children’s play depends on their training and working experience with young children. Generally speaking, many teachers regard the observation of children’s play as a very difficult task. Without an understanding of children’s play behavior it is difficult to facilitate children’s play in an appropriate way. Therefore, training in observation and facilitating skills for children’s play should be emphasized in teacher training programs.

Ideally, the teacher’s role in children’s play can be basically described in the following way. Teachers need to observe children’s play behavior carefully and try to identify their problems and needs through their play. They may join children’s play by taking either the role of a teacher or one of the roles identified by the children in their play. Teachers may facilitate children’s play by setting up or changing the play setting, through provision of materials, and by taking roles or providing direct modeling or suggestions.


Current Issues and Trends

Most of the studies of play that have been done in China are observational studies, most of which have provided descriptive reports on the characteristics of children’s play activities. The unique value of play to children’s development cannot be fully recognized as research methods are limited to descriptions.

The low position of play in the curriculum in some classrooms is embarrassing. The value of play to children’s development has been accepted by most of the professionals in the field, yet in real practice that value has not been translated into teaching practice. The position of play in the curriculum has also been caught between parents’ high expectations for children’s academic learning and the teacher’s desire to respect children’s right to play. Frustrated by the contradiction between theory and the practice, researchers have found it perhaps not enough to limit study only to the field of play. Only by focusing on both play and the curriculum can we do the justice to the educational value of play in early childhood education programs.

Chinese researchers and educators have paid close attention to the following questions: how to make use of play effectively to facilitate children’s development; how to arouse children’s enthusiasm and initiative in the learning process; how to find the source of the curriculum from children’s life and play; how to make the teaching and learning activity more joyful like play; and how to integrate play with children’s learning and teaching activities. Many Chinese early childhood education professionals are convinced that early childhood education programs should not only facilitate children’s development and learning, but also provide a happy life environment for young children’s childhood.

Further Readings: In Chinese: Feng, X. X. (December 2004). The position of play in the reform of Chinese kindergarten curriculum. A lecture in the Second National Conference on the Relationship between Play, Curriculum and Teaching. Xiamen, Guangdong; Liu, Y. (2004). Children’s play: A fundamental theory. Beijing: Beijing Normal University; Ministry of Education (2002). Kindergarten education guideline. In The Basic Education Division of The Ministry of Education, ed., The interpretation of Kindergarten Education Guideline (Provisional). Nanjing: Jiangsu Education Press.

Xueqin Qiu


Creativity, Music, and Visual Art Curricula in China

In China, research on young children’s creativity started about twenty years ago. Before the mid-1980s, Chinese early childhood educators paid less attention to children’s creativity, and much of their attention was on the training of skills. In art activities, teaching was focused on how to help children learn to make a product. It was not important whether children were developing creativity. However, this situation has been changing in the past two decades. Many educators have begun to pay attention to the development of children’s creativity and its effects on the harmonious development of personality.


New Curriculum Goals in the Arts

The Kindergarten Education Guideline (Provisional) issued by the Chinese government in 2001 specified the goals of development of children’s creativity in art education for young children. The guideline stated that creative artworks and art activities are significant ways for young children to express their emotions and show their cognitive abilities. Teachers should guide children to get in touch with the beautiful things in their lives and environments. With guidance, children can enrich their experiences and aesthetic perception. Teachers should support children’s ways of expression that are rich in character and creation. They should provide chances for children to express themselves freely in their activities, and be encouraged to express their emotions, understandings, and imaginations bravely by using different art forms. Each child’s ideas and creations should be respected. Their unique aesthetic feelings and ways to represent should be appreciated and accepted. Finally, the happiness children exhibit when they create should be shared. In practice, the Chinese art education curriculum generally includes two parts: music and visual art.


Music Curriculum in China

Music is an important part of the social and cultural life of human beings. It is also indispensable in the development, learning, and lives of young children. Music education has taken an important place in the 5000 years of education in China, especially in the history of early childhood education.


Beginnings of music education in china. In the Zhou dynasty (1006 b.c.-476 b.c.), the mastery of six arts was required for all ancient scholars. The six arts included: rituals, music, archery, charioteering, reading/writing, and arithmetic. Among these, rituals and music were the most important, because the ancient Chinese believed that music was the thing wise men liked, and music could guide people to be nice. It was also believed that people’s hearts could be deeply touched and social customs transformed by music. Because of these beliefs, ancient empires set up a special institution for music education.


Changes in music education. In more contemporary times, the development of music education for young children was influenced by changes in people’s values for music. From the 1920s to the 1970s, people understood music as a kind of skill that must be learned, and a method to convey ideas. Music education for young children was mainly concerned with how to help children receive musical education happily and effectively. This continues to be a part of China’s goals in music education today.

The traditional music education in early childhood education programs generally included singing, moving to musical rhythms, moving to musical feelings, playing percussion instruments, and musical appreciation. The curriculum was carried out through these formal activities. Music education was also provided in less formal formats, such as sing-and-movement play or games.

Children were attracted by the musical activities and got involved in them happily. For example, a traditional children’s game, “Drop the handkerchief” begins with all the children sitting in a circle and singing. One child walks around the circle and drops a handkerchief anonymously behind a sitting child. The sitting child must notice the handkerchief, pick it up, and catch the circling child before he or she makes an entire lap and reaches the sitting child’s place again. If sitting child does not reach the circling child, the sitting child will have to change roles and begin circling.


New trends. During the 1980s and 1990s, while the traditions described above were still practiced, the educators started to pay more attention to the effect of music education on children’s musical and creative ability. This new trend was the result of the impact from many western philosophical, educational, and psychological theories introduced in 1980s. The early childhood music education now includes more creative activities, such as the following examples:

• Making new words for a familiar song

• Creating movements to match the given songs and tunes

• Creating different rhythms, movements, and instrumental-performing schemes for given songs and tunes

• Expressing feeling and understanding of the music freely by action images, visual art images, and language images

• Expressing the experience and emotions of daily life freely by action images, voice images, and music images.

To bring up children’s aesthetic and creative awareness and ability, teachers are now expected to create a free, relaxing, and informal environment for learning. The musical materials teachers provide for children to play and explore should be easily understood by the children. Teachers are expected to respect every child for her/his ideas and efforts. Teachers are also to avoid, by all means, circumstances where children become unhappy or lose self-confidence.


Current conceptions of music education. In the last few years, Chinese educators have finally agreed that only on the basis of understanding children can teachers support and promote child development effectively. This has prompted Chinese educators to pay closer attention to the role of the teacher in musical education. For example, a series of researches has been done recently on the educational influence of music activities on the development of children’s musical ability.

Besides developing children’s musical ability and fostering children’s sensitivity to musical beauty, music education is considered a significant means of facilitating the harmonious and healthy development of children. Music education is believed to foster a positive mental state in young children when they are emotionally involved positively in activities. By encouraging positive thinking, music also facilitates harmony that individuals can achieve between body and mind, the individual and others, and the individual and the environment. By feeling, experiencing, and expressing beauty in music education activities, children can reach harmony in their physical and psychological development. The educational activities that emphasize mechanical drill and installation may cause unharmonious development and should be avoided.


Music curriculum in practice. In kindergartens, there are usually planned group musical activities two times a week. But in most cases, musical activities are integrated into curriculum themes and daily routines. In language activities, scientific explorations, free playtime, or waiting for meals, music or songs will be played according to the atmosphere. A piano or an organ is required in every classroom in early childhood education programs in most of the areas in the nation. Art education such as singing, dancing, and instrument playing is emphasized in teacher training programs, so teachers are able to play instruments in the classroom.

According to the Kindergarten Education Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education, the goals of the early childhood music education are to develop children’s aesthetic perceptual ability for music, to enrich their aesthetic emotion, and to nourish their aesthetic awareness and creative ability. Teachers can achieve these goals through beautiful and fun musical activities.


Visual Arts Curriculum

In visual art activities, people possess the following essential abilities:

• To perceive and imagine the visual figures

• To see and understand visual models

• To master excellent technical skills

• To be creative

For young children, visual art may reflect their sensitive experience, their insight, and their ability to represent and create the beauty.


Aims and objectives of visual art curriculum. As described in the excerpt below, the Kindergarten Education Guideline, issued by the Ministry of Education in 2002, advances the following aims for children’s creative visual art curriculum.

to experience the beauty in the environment, life and arts; to be fond of arts activities and freely express own feelings and experience; to be able to participate in the art representational activities through individual child’s own way

The objectives for creative visual art curriculum are as follows:

1. To foster children’s sensitivity and experience for beauty by exercising the key elements of visual images. Practice in lines, shapes, colors, etc., gives children initial experiences with these elements. Through understanding the elements of visual images, children develop the ability to appreciate the beauty of nature, social life, and artworks.

2. To develop children’s interest in visual art. Children should be stimulated to express their ideas and feelings, and to represent and create beauty by means of visual, creative art activities.

3. To develop coordination and flexibility of children’s fine muscle, and help them to learn to use art tools and materials.

The contents of the children’s creative visual art curriculum include drawing, handicraft, and visual art appreciation.

Understanding children’s creative acts. To some degree, children are born to act in creative ways. The ways they act are unique and are different from those of adults. Children usually treat painting as an activity of play and a perceptual activity for beauty. They feel happy through free scrawl and creation. In their spontaneous play, children constantly have new experiences and feelings.

Children’s aesthetic interests and spontaneous abilities should be valued, and their creative ability should be encouraged. However, the development of children’s art ability is the result of learning, not the result of maturity. Through creating and experiencing art, this ability can and should be learned. Visual art education should treat children as active learners. Teachers may use many methods to bring children’s full potential into play, to develop their creative ability, and to help them reach the goal of self-realization.


Theories in visual art education. Art education at the kindergarten level focuses on the children’s lives. Children can see and touch the shapes, colors, and materials in the classroom. These are applied when children imagine them as themes and images in art activities. Teachers often suggest themes for activities that introduce key elements for sculpture. Children participate in these art activities in a free and playful way. They make sculptures by drawing, playing with mud, and decoratively designing. A variety of materials are provided for designing, such as cardboard, iron wire, pieces of bamboo, wood, recyclable junk, tins, etc. We believe that simultaneous use of both hands and brain arouses children’s independent and creative instinct.

These principles and methods are different from those of traditional visual art education, which emphasized modeling and imitation. The basic principle of modern childhood visual art education is to encourage the spirit of free creativity. Teachers choose methods that are appropriate for children and engage them to express themselves through activities with paint or sculpture. In planning activities, teachers consider the children’s interest, the children’s developmental level, and the basic elements of image design. Teachers guide children to start from basic expression of images, which gradually leads to free creation. Children may use activities in design to imagine a kind of play or perceptual activity for beauty. Children are expected to complete unique works through their own thought and action.

Furthermore, the new visual art education emphasizes children’s own observation of and experience with artistic works to help them understand the use of shape, space, color, and material. In children’s art creation, beauty is the center and also the starting point. Visual art education aims to encourage children’s perception of beauty. Children are encouraged to create new conceptions through design.


Learning through process and play. When children practice creating new designs, their experiences are enriched. When children draw or make crafts, they reflect while they are working, and their plans constantly change. The pleasure children get from creating is not judged or altered by an idea of “well-done work” or successful product. The core philosophy of art education for young children is that learning occurs through the development of the child’s creative instinct, and the process of exploration and creation.

Children may need to learn some necessary skills in art education and these skills can be connected to their play in art activities. This will eventually lead to conscious and planned representation. If children can constantly explore new themes and methods, the ways they represent and express themselves will be enriched. Children will then be able to follow their inner creative desire, and to freely explore different kinds of creative ideas in art activities. As a result, children develop creative dispositions and personalities.


Current issues in art curriculum. Chinese scholars and educators have worked together to develop a comprehensive art curriculum in recent years. They have combined three types of art curriculum—literature, music, and visual art—into one curriculum theme. These three types of art are integrated to stimulate and support each other. The activity in a curriculum theme may start with any one of the arts.


How It Looks: An Integrated Curriculum

A class may start with a literature activity. The teacher lets 3- or 4-year-old children appreciate a poem titled Star, which is dubbed in with the music Traumerei by Schumann. From this activity, children’s rich experiences and emotions could deepen as both music and visual art are related to the activity. The teacher encourages the children to sing the song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in a soft and happy voice. This activity is then followed by a visual art activity. Children are asked to paint pictures of A Starry Night.

Similarly, the theme could start from a music activity. The rhythm and melody may spark off children’s passion in the creation of literature and visual art. In a visual art activity, the form and structure children perceived may be transferred to a musical creation or literary activities. Children may want to create music to represent a picture they have appreciated. A picture may make it easier for children to understand a piece of music, and the emotion experienced from the music and picture may be transferred to comprehend a fairy tale, relating back to literature.


Moving Forward in Practice

There are still many problems in art education remaining to be studied in terms of fostering creativity. In practice, teachers often oversimplify “creativity” into “being different from others.” As a result, children’s understandings of the basic elements and skills of art might be neglected. Educators need to improve the relationship between theory and practice so that teachers begin scaffolding children’s development of art skills, and their artistic and aesthetic feelings.

Further Readings: Lou, B.S., and M. R. Tu eds. (1997). The study of children’s comprehensive artistic education. Beijing: Beijing Normal University; Ministry of Education (2002). Kindergarten education guideline. In The Basic Education Division of The Ministry of Education, ed., The Interpretation of Kindergarten Education Guideline (Provisional). Nanjing: Jiangsu Education Press; Preschool Education Research Association, ed. (2003). The century Chinese preschool education: 1903-2003- Beijing: Educational Science Press; Xu, Z. Y. (1996). Music education for young children. Beijing: People s Education Press.

Yunfei Ji and Meiru Tu


Social and Emotional “Curriculum” in China

The development of a Chinese social and emotional ‘curriculum’ in early childhood education has been closely related to the social and political change in the country over the past decades. Shortly following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the main purpose of early child education in China was defined as to “foster children’s development in social dispositions such as patriotism, honesty, braveness, cooperativeness, friendship and proper social behaviors.” Unfortunately the whole early child education system deteriorated along with the social turbulence that occurred from the middle of the 1960s to the late 1970s. Social and emotional education for young children was distorted and defined narrowly as ideology and morality education. Young children were asked to recite the national leader’s quotations and political slogans, just as adults did at that time.

It was not until 1979, when the social reform and open society policy began, that early child education returned to normal. The subsequent national program regulations defined the education of young children’s social and emotional development as “political and moral education.” The contents of this curriculum were interpreted specifically into Five Loves—to love the country, to love the people, to love labor, to love science, and to love public properties. In classroom practice teachers tended to substitute moral education for the education of social cognition, behavioral habits, social behavioral skills, and social emotion. They attempted to reach their educational goals through such routine teaching methods as establishing model children and enforcing discipline.


Educational Objectives for Social and Emotional Curriculum

After the mid-1980s, with the introduction of educational theories and practices from Western countries and the publishing of a series of studies conducted by some Chinese scholars, the concept of social and emotional development became accepted by the professionals in the field. Thereafter, practitioners realized that there were shortcomings in the social and emotional education for young children. Young children’s social and emotional education was for the first time set forth as an independent subject along with health, science, language, and arts in Kindergarten Education Guideline (provisional), issued by the Ministry of Education in 2001.

Social and emotional development for young children was interpreted in detail in this national curriculum guideline. It emphasizes the development of children’s self-esteem, self-confidence, the disposition of caring for others, and friendship. These goals are further elaborated into five operational objectives. Children are to (1) be encouraged to engage in play and other beneficial activities happily and confidently; (2) be willing to interact with others in a polite, decent, and friendly manner; (3) be able to tell right from wrong on the basis of social norms of behavior; (4) be responsible and try their best to do what they can do; and (5) love their parents, teachers, and peers, and love their hometowns and the country.

Besides the five objectives, the Kindergarten Education Guideline (Provisional) also proposes specific recommendations for social and emotional education for young in four curriculum areas. For example, in health education, the teachers are required to keep children adjusted to the program with steady emotion and to help children feel safe and happy. In science education, children are encouraged to play and work together with their peers and to communicate with each other naturally. In language education, teachers are required to foster in children the ability to listen to others carefully, and to teach the children to talk with others politely.

For early childhood education teachers to realize all the social and emotional objectives in education, the Guideline specifically requires that the teacher should do the following:

1. Encourage children to engage in play and various activities and to experience the enjoyment of playing with peers;

2. Encourage children to interact with teachers and peers, and foster children’s positive and friendly attitudes toward others;

3. Teach children some basic social skills such as learning to share with others, to take turns, to negotiate with others, and to be nice to others;

4. Provide opportunities for each child to show their strength and experience the feeling of success, thus to reinforce their self-respect and self-confidence;

5. Give children opportunities to explore freely, to support their autonomy in choosing and planning their activities, and encourage them to work hard to carry out their own plans;

6. Help children to understand and obey basic social rules in daily life and activities;

7. Teach children to take good care of toys, books, and other materials in the classroom, and learn to clean up after the activities.


Current Classroom Practice for Social and Emotional Development

Since the enactment of the Kindergarten Education Guideline, children’s social and emotional education in China has been developing quickly. In educational practice, early childhood teachers are currently required to follow five principles in designing and organizing educational activities: (1) to establish specific objectives for the activity; (2) to adapt activities to children’s life and experience; (3) to engage children in some kinds of activities to learn social skills; (4) to involve all children in the activity; and (5) to help children learn in an integrated way. The objectives of social and emotional learning may be accomplished through teacher-directed learning activities, in play and games, in field trips, in daily routines, or by some other social practice. Teaching methods may include explanation, conversation, discussion, demonstration, empathy training, and role- play. Social and emotional education for young children may take place in the program or through program-family cooperation. The effects of this education for social and emotional development are to be evaluated through observation, conversation, measurement, questionnaire, projection, or situation testing.

At present, education for social and emotional development has received much attention in China, with significant progress made in this field during the last decade. Early childhood teachers have generally accepted four conceptions regarding a social and emotional “curriculum.” First, social and emotional development and education should be an integrative area that involves all other daily teaching and learning activities. Second, social and emotional education is different from the teaching of specific knowledge or a skill; it will take persistent efforts over a long period of time to see effects. Particularly for the learning of social attitudes and social emotion, children learn by their own experience as that is accumulated in their practical life and activities, it is not the result of teachers’ direct teaching. Third, teachers and parents are the most important models in children’s social learning. Imitation is an important way of social learning for children. Teachers’ and parents’ behavior affect children in direct and indirect ways. So adults should consciously do what they expect the children to do. Fourth, effective social and emotional education could not be achieved in early childhood education programs alone, it needs the cooperation of the family and even the whole society.

The four conceptions mentioned above are generally embodied in Chinese early childhood education. However, since social and emotional development in young children’s education has just attracted attention for a short period of time and because the traditional Chinese educational philosophy still has a strong influence, there are still some challenges that need attention in the future. For example, the majority of Chinese parents and some early childhood teachers usually overemphasize academic preparation. Social and emotional development is often overlooked and distorted. Some teachers and parents may misunderstand and simplify social and emotional education by applying simple strategies such as talking or punishment. Other problems include the lack of sufficient playtime and play space for children in some programs, which may have negative impact on children’s behavior and social and emotional development. There is much work to be done in these areas.

Further Readings: In Chinese: Liu, J. B. (1999). Teacher-child interaction, what I saw in the kindergarten. Nanjing: Nanjing Normal University Press; Ministry of Education (1952). Temporary Regulations for Kindergarten Education (Draft); Ministry of Education (1979). Regulations for Urban Kindergarten Education (Draft); Ministry of Education (2002). Kindergarten education guideline. In The Basic Education Division of The Ministry of Education ed., The interpretation of Kindergarten Education Guideline (Provisional). Nanjing: Jiangsu Education Press; Wang, Z. Y. (1992). Children’s socialization and education. Beijing: People s Educational Press; Yang, L. Z., and W. J. Wu (2000). Children’s social development and education. Liaoning: Liaoning Normal University Press; Zhang, W. X. (1999). Children’s social development. Beijing: Beijing Normal University Press.

Jingbo Liu


Literacy in Early Childhood Education in China

Early literacy in the Chinese context focuses mainly on the development of basic reading and writing skills such as the understanding of the relationship between written and spoken language; the ability to recognize Chinese phonemic system Pinyin and some simple Chinese characters; the cultivation of an interest and a positive attitude for reading; the coordination between the hand and the eye and the development of fine motor skills, and so on. At present, it has been well accepted by the professionals that the early literacy education should start right after the child’s birth. Since spoken language is the basis for the development of reading and writing skills, the development of spoken language becomes the first stage of early literacy education. Also, the cultivation of an interest and a positive attitude for reading is the central task for early literacy education. Through the rich experience of shared reading with adults children can have the opportunity to contact with books, learn the language, and grasp some basic ideas in reading and print.

The phenomenon of script is in nature a phenomenon of culture. The Chinese language, as an ideograph with its special characters, has countless ties and a harmonized connection with the Chinese culture. The implied meaning and the pattern of Chinese characters are imbued with the prototype of the Chinese people’s human nature. The language conveys the messages of the history and the culture. With its character of pattern and meaning, Chinese has long been called the fossil of history and culture. And this characteristic of Chinese could definitely bring the atmosphere of culture, learning, and experience to children’s early literacy beyond just cognitive and language training.

On the one hand, Chinese reading and writing research follows the cognitive psychology tradition, which focuses on information processing such as the storage of Chinese characters, the meaning extracted, the regulation effect of pictophonetic characters, the recognition of Chinese characters as influenced by the Chinese character pattern, the basic unit and the process of Chinese recognition, and so on. On the other hand, researchers have been making an effort to work from the cultural and psychological aspects of Chinese characters. They try to explore the culture and psychological archetypes in Chinese characters themselves and the cultural and psychological meaning in their patterns and structure.


The Historical Context in Early Literacy Education

As early as the 1920s, a Chinese early childhood education pioneer Heqin Chen proposed that young children should have the chance to learn written language through the activity of reading picture book stories, to recognize Chinese characters by drawing a picture, and to recognize Chinese characters that are used often in daily life. In 1960, based on the positive results of the study of children’s early reading, the Ministry of Education issued a document to require early childhood education programs (kindergarten) to teach Chinese phonetics and characters. A variety of teaching methods and materials were recommended in the document, such as play, rhyme, story, music, movement, pictures, flannel pieces, puzzles, slides, etc. However, the implementation of the early reading education in Chinese early childhood education programs was short-lived because of negative results that soon appeared when the children entered the elementary school. Many first graders who had been taught early reading in kindergartens were found to acquire incorrect pronunciations for the phonetics and to be applying incorrect instructions for the strokes in Chinese characters. Kindergarten teachers were blamed for the lack of the ability to speak standard Chinese and to provide a quality teaching in early literacy learning. Therefore, early literacy education completely disappeared from the classroom soon after early 1960s. Although some scholars did studies of early literacy in the 1980s and 1990s, the official reestablishment of literacy education in the kindergarten came in the year of 2001, forty years after the abandonment of the teaching of the reading of Chinese characters in the kindergarten classroom.


Goals and Curriculum in Early Literacy Education

The goals for early literacy education are to foster children’s interests in children’s literature; to help children develop their ability to listen to others; to allow them to express their ideas; and to provide the opportunity to engage in early reading and writing activities. Specifically, literacy education should do the following:

1. Foster children’s interests and positive attitudes in books, reading, and writing. Children should be interested in listening to the stories read by adults and be interested in the recognition and reading of Chinese characters.

2. Help young children to acquire some initial reading and writing skills. Specifically, this includes the following:

(a) to help children understand the structure of a book, which means that children should know the book cover, the page, and the title on the book cover;

(b) to learn the basic skills of how to hold a book, look over a book, and read a book. For instance, children should know how to read a book from page to page, and how to read line by line from left to right;

(c) to recognize the people and the objects in a book. For example, they should be able to understand the basic ideas of a picture book and be able to tell the main content;

(d) to recognize and read some common Chinese characters in the book, have an initial sense of the structure of Chinese characters, and be able to write some simple Chinese words.

3. Help children to develop interests in recognizing some simple signs and written symbols presented in their daily life and environment;

4. Help children to develop good reading habits, such as taking good care of books and not to tear or fold book pages. Children should learn to pay attention while they are reading and keep their eyes at an appropriate distance from the book. Also, children should be helped to learn the skill of pointing to the words while they are reading the story.

5. Help children to develop the ability to appreciate literacy works. Adults should read literature aloud to children. While reading books, children should enjoy the richness and elegance of literary expression, and therefore deepen their experience and understanding in the literacy works.

In the classroom, children may participate in various reading and writing activities. Picture books are displayed on the shelf in most of the kindergarten classrooms in urban areas. Children may choose to read a book during playtime, before or after the lunch, or at the end of the day, when children are waiting for their parents to pick them up. Teachers may read a book to the whole class or to a group of children during the day. Particular books may be recommended for children for the specific themes they are doing. Children are sometimes encouraged to make their own books, etc. Very often, children are encouraged to act out the stories they have read.


Current Issues and Challenges

The development of early literacy education in China faces five main problems:

1. Early literacy education in some kindergartens may be oversimplified as simply the learning of Chinese characters. Thus reading becomes just a tool for the learning of characters, and the number of characters children can read is pursued as the major objective of early literacy education. This trend sometimes may be encouraged by parents eager to prepare their children for the elementary school.

2. Reading activity may be treated only as a tool for children to acquire information and knowledge. In this case the important purpose of fostering children’s reading interest and reading ability in early literacy education can sometimes be neglected.

3. High quality picture books for young children are extremely rare, and there is an especially great need for those functional reading materials that parents and children of different ages could share through reading. In recent years, some good English children’s books have been translated and published in China, but these still cannot meet the need.

4. Parents lack effective education in understanding how important it is to help their children to read early or how to help children to learn to read. Besides, people in urban areas in general would like to spend money on books, but the time spent actually reading with children has been decreasing in the recent years.

5. Community libraries are almost nonexistent in many communities and it is hard to find good books for young children in most of the libraries in China. Social organizations for reading are not fully developed, due in part to funding shortages, and reading societies and interest groups are extremely rare. The year 2004 was the fortieth anniversary of the “World Literacy Day,” but even now China has not become a member state of this association.

As a result of these factors and unfavorable conditions for learning to read early, many Chinese children do not learn to read until they enter into the elementary school. Particularly for the children who live in rural areas or live in urban areas with their migrant parents reading begins much later than for the children in urban areas, since books are not even available in many of those families. Projects have been undertaken in urban areas to ask for book donations for those children who live in rural areas. To provide those children with early literacy education is an urgent mission as well as a great challenge for Chinese educators as well as for the whole of Chinese society.

Further Readings: In Chinese: Preschool Education Research Association, ed. (2003). The century Chinese preschool education: 1903-2003- Beijing: Educational Science Press; Meng, X. Z., and H. Shu (1999). The study of Chinese children’s reading disabilities. Psychological Development and Education 4, 54-56; Shu, H. (2002). The input and recognition of the components of Chinese characters by the children who were in different reading levels. Acta Psychologica Sinica 2, 133-136.

Web Sites: http://www.chinaeducationandresearchnetwork; http://www.chinaliteracyonline.

Lan Gao


Care and Education in China for Children under 3

Traditionally, Chinese families tended to have multiple children, many of whom lived with extended family members. During those years, children under the age of 3 often stayed home and were cared for by their mother, grandparents, older siblings, or a nanny. Beginning in the 1950s, women were encouraged to join the workforce for economic independence and in order to gain equal status to men. As a result, babies whose care was not provided by extended family members were usually cared for by child-care services provided by their mother’s employer. This care was available for children before they could be enrolled in kindergarten at the age of 3. Babies might start going to such care as soon as the mother’s fifty-six-day maternity leave was over. During the 1950s and 1960s, the development of such child care increased rapidly. Since many of these child-care centers were sponsored by workplaces, that is, factories and farm communes, the centers’ hours were flexible to meet the mothers’ working schedule. The care might be during the day, at night, on a boarding basis (day and night), or seasonal in rural areas, for example. It was common in some workplaces to provide nursing mothers a “nursing break” so they could go to the on-site child-care center to nurse or visit their babies. Sometimes the urban families might have paid individuals such as a neighbor or a baby-sitter to look after the baby. Regardless of whether or not the baby was looked after at home, or outside of home in an individual or group setting, the attention was focused on the baby’s care rather than education.

Group child care has undergone many changes in the past twenty years. Since 1979, due to the great pressure from a continuing and rapidly increasing population, the Chinese government started enforcing the “only child” policy, which allows one child per family. As a result, government policies granted families benefits, especially mothers who promised to have only one child. One of the benefits, for example, was to allow the mother to stay home with the baby for one year, still being paid with a regular salary. This initiative greatly reduced the need of on-site child care. However, how this benefit is exercised now is less clear, because in recent years many formerly state-owned businesses have become privatized, and many private enterprises have been developed. In either of these situations, governmental policy may not have the same power it once had to enforce this benefit.


Types of Education and Care

There are several types of care and education arrangements for children under the age of 3. Many children before the age of 2 are cared for at home. The care providers can be the mother, grandparents, or a paid individual such as a live-in nanny or a daytime baby-sitter. The paid individuals are usually young women from poor rural areas. There are a couple of changes in group care. One is an extension of kindergarten, the preschool education setting that enrolls children above the age of 3. Many kindergartens start to enroll 2-year-old children in toddler class, while some others enroll children as young as 11/2 years old. Another type of care for children before the age of 3, which has gained popularity in recent years, is called a “Private Baby-Sitting Station.” This care is usually a private business and enrollment may be as small as four babies or as large as eighty. The fee is negotiable and parents like this option for its low cost and convenience. When the child is 2 years old, the parents typically send her/him to kindergarten. However, some of these “Baby-Sitting Stations,” especially those in the outskirts of the city, may not be regulated at all.


Parents’ Awareness of Education for Children before Three

The adults who take care of children under the age of 3 focus most of their attention on the child’s physical needs. The child’s needs for emotional and cognitive development are sometimes met in nurturing spontaneous interactions or self-initiated explorations. Some parents, especially well-educated mothers, have started to pay attention to the educational needs of children at this young age. These parents actively seek out scientific resources that address how to rear and educate children under the age of 3, and they learn how to understand and respect the needs of their children. If the family’s financial resources allow, some mothers even leave their job to stay home with the baby. This indicates that parents’ values reflected in the education of young children are changing, specifically related to the first couple of years of children’s lives. Their parenting is becoming more thoughtful and intentional.

Furthermore, when children started to enter the Toddler class in kindergarten, some parents become actively involved in the kindergarten. For example, they attend activities organized for both parents and their children; they organize “Parents Salon,” they exchange information through the Internet, collect and provide resources for the school, write for the bulletin board, and so forth.


Resources for Parents

There are a variety of services for parents of children under the age of 3. For example, in some cities, there are agencies that organize group activities for both parents and the babies on the weekends. This type of service is sometimes referred to as an “Early Education Center” and it charges a fee for participation in its educational program. However, some parents are anxious about how to get their children “ahead.” These parents may be tempted to use some commercially motivated “educational materials” claiming to know how to produce a child prodigy. These parents would start with training in reading, arithmetic, reciting Chinese classics, second language, and so forth for children under the age of 3. There are also programs that provide formal trainings for children under the age of 3.



In 1956, several ministries (Education, Health) of the central government decided that care services for children before the age of 3 belonged under the jurisdiction of the local health administrations and the central government. In contrast, kindergartens, the education settings for children between the ages of 3 and 6, remained under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. In 1980, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education jointly issued a health regulation for children 0-3 (and 3-6), which defined specific regulations in group settings regarding daily schedules, nutrition, physical exercise, health screening, sanitation and quarantine, disease prevention and safety, parent communication, and so on. In the same year, the Bureau of Women and Young Children under the Ministry of Health issued a program regulation specifically for children under the age of 3. It required that group settings for children under 3 needed to use age as the guideline: less than 10 months old (Nursing Group), 10-18 months (Little Group), 19-24 months (Middle Group). The group size for children in these three groups range between fifteen and eighteen children. Groups of 2-year-old children are called the “Older Group” and might have twenty to twenty-five children per group. For the younger groups the adult-child ratio is 1:5-6, and for the older group it is 1:6-8.

In 1981, the Bureau of Women and Young Children of the Ministry of Health issued another important statute, “Education Guideline for Children before Three (Provisional).” This statute, for the first time, elaborated the educational objectives for children under the age of 3. It stated that the educational goal is to build a healthy, intelligent, and moral foundation for the new generation. Therefore, the educational task is to promote young children’s development in physical, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic areas. The following education principles should be applied: use individualized education as a base, and integrate group activity into the daily routine; keep a balance between quiet and active activities, and indoor and outdoor activities; pay attention to both physical and behavioral development. The choice of educational content and method should be based on children’s psychological, neurological, and physical developments. Likewise, education should be integrated through daily routines so that children can develop healthy habits in eating, sleeping, dressing, washing, and toileting. Their language development, cognitive competence, and social interactive competence with children or adults are to be enhanced. The activities and assignments of language, physical education, arithmetic, music, and arts and crafts can be implemented for the Older Group, that is, the 2-year-olds. They may have four to six lessons per week, and each lesson may last from five to ten minutes.


Trends in Development

Some recent government documents indicate development trends in the care and education for children under the age of 3. For example, the National Women’s Federation proposed the “Chinese Children Development Outline” in 2001. This document, issued by the state council, suggests developing the education for children under the age of 3 and completing and improving the regulatory system for such education during the period from 2001 to 2010. Some local governments made regional plans to achieve better service for these children. For example, Shanghai Municipal Government requires that 95 percent of the parents and caregivers receive scientific guidance on child rearing by 2007.


Teacher Training

In responding to the demand for specialized care personnel for children under the age of 3, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection developed and published a national vocational curriculum and certificate for Yu Yin Yuan, meaning “caregiver for infant/toddler” in 2003. It requires that people who provide care and education for children 0-3 must have such training and be certified. Even with this directive, there is still a lack of experienced and well-trained teachers in the all-day group settings for children under the age of 3. Although there are more diverse types of services due to more relaxed government policy on private business, the professional qualification of people in privately owned agencies for children under the age of 3 varies greatly. Sometimes the content of so-called “educational programming” tends to be commercialized rather than educational. There are more and more curriculum models for children under the age of 3, but there is a lack of research and assessment in terms of their appropriateness. Many parents, grandparents, and caregivers who are involved with children under the age of 3 still lack an understanding of scientific knowledge and appropriate practice.

At the government level, the Ministry of Health’s distinctive role has diminished since the 1990s. In some regions, such as Shanghai, the leadership has been transferred to a joint effort by the Department of Education, the Women’s Federation, the Birth Control Commission, and the Health Department. However, in many regions the regulatory and directive responsibilities and roles toward education and care for children under the age of 3, in group or at home, have not been clearly defined among the government agencies.



The last point of concern is the rural areas. In all respects, the education and care for children under the age of 3 in rural areas has lagged behind, and not much attention, public or private, has been given to it. However, a recent report on a UNICEF project, “Early Childhood Care and Development Project” (ECCD) did identify some international and national joint efforts. One of the objectives of the five-year project was to have “70-80% of the parents of 0- to 3-year-olds in project areas receive parenting training.” Six project provinces were in poor rural areas in western China. Various project activities, such as parenting information dissemination and community parent-child educational activity stations, were reported.

Further Readings: In Chinese: Chinese National Women’s Federation (2001). China child development outline. Beijing: The State Council of China; Department of Labor and Social Protection (2003). Yu Yin Yuan vocational training certificate and curriculum. Beijing: China Women’s Publication; Preschool Education Research Association, ed. (2003). The century Chinese preschool education: 1903-2003. Beijing: Educational Science Press; In English: Zhou, X., and L. Gao (2005). A report on the site visit for ECCD project. Reports to UNICEF and the Ministry of Education.

Bisheng Lou and Wei Li-Chen


Early Childhood Special Education in China


As a populous nation, the People’s Republic of China is home to a large number of persons with disabilities, as well as young children with special needs. In 1987 there were over 2.4 million children with disabilities from birth to six years of age in the following five categories in mainland China: physically disabled, visually impaired, hearing and/or speech impaired, mentally retarded, and mentally disordered.

In China, the origins of systematic early childhood special education can be traced back to the 1980s, when several hearing and speech training classes for hearing impaired infants, toddlers, and preschoolers were established in rehabilitation centers and hospitals. Since then, early childhood special education in China has developed relatively slowly in comparison to the development of special education in the compulsory education sector. In recent years, compulsory education has been a priority in China, consisting of six years of elementary education and three years of junior high school education for all children. Several policies and strategies have been applied to promote the educational service for children with special needs within this system. For example, the government provides financial support for educating children with special needs; curriculum standards have been established and special textbooks have been produced. In addition, special administrators in local governments have been assigned to facilitate the children’s education. However, all these policies and strategies applied in compulsory education have not yet been applied to early childhood education.

At present, the information on the system of special education for young children in the nation is quite limited. In some urban areas, such as in Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjing, there are several kinds of placements for young children with disabilities. First, these children may be placed in specific classes in special schools. For example, Shanghai School for the Blind and Low Vision is the first school to provide programs for young children. Since then, schools in Qingdao, Guangzhou, Beijing, and Chengdu have established programs for visually impaired young children. Now, both hearing impaired and mentally retarded preschoolers can enroll into specific programs in many special schools. Second, some rehabilitation centers run by the government civil administration organizations provide special services for infants and preschoolers with mental retardation, physical handicaps, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and autism. Third, in recent years, some early childhood education programs have opened their doors to children with disabilities. The young children with special needs can enroll in regular programs and study in regular classes. The trend of inclusion, or “learning in the regular classroom,” a term used in a Chinese context, is gradually becoming a supporting force in China’s system of early childhood special education. Fourth, in some communities a home-visiting service is provided for the young children with disabilities who stay at home. The home-visiting service delivery program in China is basically child-focused. That is, the home visitors focus primarily on enhancing the child’s development, while providing some guidance to the parents.

In sum, the development of early childhood special education in China is relatively slow when compared to the faster development of special education in the sector of compulsory education. However, in recent years, much more attention has been paid to the needs of infants and preschoolers with disabilities.



In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the government passed three important statutes regarding education for children with special needs. These statutes include: the Compulsory Education Act (1986), the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities (1990), and the Five-Year Plan for the Disabled (1991). Since then, special education for children has developed rapidly in China. Although these laws focus primarily on school-aged children, in recent years, there has been an increase in attention to the needs of young children with special needs.


The Social Context of Special Education

Special education in China refers to the education provided for children with special needs in special schools, such as schools for the visually disabled, hearing disabled and mentally retarded children; in special classes in ordinary primary and secondary schools; or in regular school classrooms. Special education specifically aims at the physically and mentally disabled children who require special services. In 1951, the government issued a document called The Act on the Reform of School Systems, which stipulated that special schools should be established for school-aged children who were deaf or blind. Since then, special education has formally become a necessary component in China’s national education system. But for a long time, neither special schools nor general early childhood education programs accepted children with disabilities under the age of 6.

Since the 1990s, the development of special education in China has entered a new phase. On the one hand, China established concrete laws and policies that focused on persons with special needs. In order to promote the development of special education, the People’s Congress passed the Law of Compulsory

Education, the Social Security Law for Disabled Persons. These laws aim to protect disabled persons, ensuring their political and educational rights. As a result, special education is an important part of China’s formal education system. At the same time, social attitudes toward children and adults with disabilities have changed significantly. For example, the number of special schools and institutions for children with disabilities has been increasing rapidly. Besides the schools for children with visual or hearing impairment, schools for mentally retarded children have been built all over the nation. In some provinces, rehabilitation centers, welfare homes, and day-care centers for disabled persons have been established for persons with different kinds of disabilities. Children receive different kinds of support in these schools and institutions, aimed at improving their cognitive and social skills and helping them gain a sense of self-reliance and confidence to socialize. Furthermore, these facilities help provide a more comprehensive system of special education. Presently, the central government is planning to construct a network for the education of children with disabilities, with special schools as the backbone of this network. The supporting force of this program includes special classes in general schools, as well as regular classes with children with disabilities. All these programs should follow the general guidelines, which are to enable each student to develop morally, intellectually, and physically. At the same time, the education provided should adapt to the children’s unique characteristics and their special needs.


The System of Early Childhood Special Education

Current programs for young children with disabilities in China include (1) special classes in regular early childhood education programs, called kindergarten; (2) special classes for preschoolers in special schools such as schools for the visually disabled, hearing disabled, and mentally retarded children; (3) programs for children with relatively minor handicaps in ordinary kindergarten classes.


Curriculum. In China, teachers play an important role in planning the activities for young children with disabilities. Many special educators believe that curriculum has to be developed by each special class teacher, who then adapts to the conditions of the community, the young children’s needs, abilities and aptitudes, etc. Yet there are no national curriculum standards for the education of children with special needs. Usually, the curriculum is planned with a focus on the training of children’s independent living skills and basic academic skills, while the moral, cultural, intellectual, physical, and compensatory mental education are also included. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) should be developed for each young child with special needs as a supplement to the common curriculum. In order to develop the potentials of each young child with special needs, the success of IEP depends on the cooperation among the professionals and parents.

Although every teacher who teaches in an early childhood special education program has been required to develop IEP programs for individual children, it is not an easy task for many teachers and there is still a great need to raise the quality of instruction for young children with various conditions.


Current Issues and Challenges

There are a lot of issues and controversies in early childhood special education in China. The first problem is the assessment and referral system for the children with special needs. The enrollment of a child with special needs into the special education program is determined on the basis of an assessment and placement procedure. However, a standard assessment and referral procedure for the parents of young children has not been established, and the process for the identification of a child who needs special help is usually quite slow. As a result, a high percentage of young children with disabilities may not be able to get into the screening process on time. In urban areas, kindergarten teachers are usually sensitive, and sometimes may be oversensitive, to children who may have learning and communicating problems and are able to refer them to hospitals for testing. The second problem is the lack of appropriate assessment tools for the identification of young children with special needs. Tests developed in the western countries, such as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, Standfor-Binet tests, have been used to detect and identify disabilities. Although the assessment of cognitive and social functions by using these tools is a good starting point, the assessment of a child with mental disabilities requires a more comprehensive assessment for a wide range of skills. Third, teacher training for special education is still a great and urgent problem. Many educators who are working with young children with special needs have not received any pre- or in-service special training.

Further Readings: Chen, D. Z. (2001). Early childhood special education. Beijing: Beijing Normal University Press; Chen, Y. Y. (1997). Integrated education reform in China: Theories and practices. Beijing: Xin Hua Press; Tang, S., and X. X. Feng, eds. (2003). The centenary Chinese preschool education: 1903-2003. Beijing: Education and Science Press; Xu, Y., and Y. Y. Si, eds. (1990). Symposia of special education on mentally retarded children. Hangzhou: Zhejiang Education Press Co; Zhang, F. J., and H. Y. Ma eds. (2000). History of special education. East China Normal University Press.

Wen Qian


Early Childhood Teacher Education in China

Yinghua girl’s school, founded by an American Methodist church in Suzhou, Jiangsu province in 1889, was the first educational institution that offered vocational training for Chinese preschool teachers. In the following years a number of women’s schools and colleges were established by missionaries from the United States and other foreign countries, and quite a number of independent teacher training colleges began to set up training programs for preschool teachers. The training offered by these missionary schools and colleges had a strong religious component in the curriculum, and artistic education was also emphasized.

The first teacher training institute run by the Chinese was a women’s school, which was set up by Hubei Preschool in 1903. This institute recruited and trained young women aged 15-35 to be preschool teachers. However, it was soon closed because of the official ban on women’s schools at the time. With the emergence of private women’s schools, some nursemaid training programs were also set up.

For example, Yanshi Women’s School in Tianjin with its nursemaid-training class was quite well known at that time. These private institutes usually hired Japanese teachers or sent teachers to Japan to be trained in child care. The curriculum in these programs typically includes courses in child care, music, and gymnastics, games, handicrafts, English, child psychology, pedagogy, arithmetic, physiology, and chemistry.

From the 1910s to 1930s, teacher training programs were set up in many private normal schools (schools to provide teacher training at the secondary education level) or universities in the cities of Beijing, Tianjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Xiamen, and Nanjing. The government issued the Women’s Normal School Regulation in 1907, which officially lifted the ban on women’s schools. For the first time in Chinese history, education for preschool teachers was treated as a formal part of the teacher education system.

The first public normal school for preschool teachers in China was established in Jiangxi province in 1940 by Heqin Chen (1892-1982). Mr. Chen had studied with John Dewey at Columbia University in the United States and was the founder of early childhood education in China. In 1943, this school was upgraded to become a national normal school, which was supported by the central government. In 1946, Heqin Chen established the second normal school in Shanghai. These two modern normal schools have been regarded as milestones in the history of teacher education for young children in China.

Over the past century, and especially since the founding of People’s Republic of China in 1949, an educational system for preschool teachers has been established in China to meet different needs in basic education. This educational system consists of independent teacher training institutions as the core, supplemented by other educational organizations. Currently, preschool teacher education in China is composed of two parts: preservice education and in-service training.


Preservice Teacher Education

Preservice preparation takes place at both the secondary school and higher education levels.


Programs in secondary education. These programs are offered in three different settings: independent normal schools, regular normal schools, and vocational senior high schools.

Independent normal schools. An independent normal school for preschool teachers provides a four-year or three-year full-time education for female students (male students occasionally) graduated from junior high schools. By the middle of the 1990s, such schools had become major educational institutions for the training of preschool teachers. The curriculum planning in these schools has been guided by the central government. The Ministry of Education has issued a series of versions of the Guidelines for the Curriculum Plan for Normal Schools for Preschool Teachers (1956, 1980, 1985, and 1995), which provides guidance in the curriculum planning, including goals and objectives, curriculum content and components, and the implementation procedures. The typical curriculum for these programs includes required courses, elective courses, practicum and extracurricular activities. Courses offered in those programs are basically composed of two parts. One part includes the basic courses in high school education; the other part includes the courses in teacher training, such as child care, child psychology, introduction to early childhood education, language, mathematics, science, music, and visual art education for young children. Artistic skill training in these schools has been also emphasized, such as singing, dancing, and piano playing.

In the recent years, the number of such independent normal schools for preschool teachers has been decreasing gradually and some of these schools have merged with the preschool education programs in the university, due to the raising of qualification standards for preschool teachers in urban areas. In some urban areas this standard has risen to at least an associate bachelor’s degree. However, the teacher qualification in rural areas is much lower.

Programs in regular normal schools. Because of the shortage of independent normal schools for preschool teachers, starting in 1951 the Chinese government stipulated that all regular normal schools (schools for the training of primary school teachers) should set up training programs for preschool teachers. Such programs recruit graduates from junior high schools. The curriculum in these programs is similar to normal schools for preschool teachers.

Programs in vocational senior high schools. In the 1980s, the number of programs for preschool teachers in vocational senior high schools increased substantially to meet the increasing demand for preschool teachers. Students graduated from junior high schools were admitted for two to four years of training. Data indicate that in the year 2000 about 152,900 preschool teachers out of the total 900,000 had been trained by these programs nationwide. The majority of the preschool teachers currently working in rural China were trained in such programs.


Higher Education for Preschool Teachers. There are three levels of preschool- related preparation at the college and university level: associate bachelor’s programs, bachelor’s programs, and postgraduate programs.

Associate bachelor’s program. Two types of institutes provide such programs: independent colleges for preschool teachers and departments in normal universities (universities provide the bachelor’s or a higher level of teacher training). These programs admit students who graduated from senior high schools or normal schools for preschool teachers, or those with equivalent educational background. These programs last for two years.

Bachelor’s programs. The Departments of Early Childhood Education at Nanjing and Beijing Normal Universities started this program in the early 1950s. The program ceased operations between 1966 and 1977 during the Cultural Revolution, and restarted in 1978. East China Normal University and a number of other normal universities established early childhood education programs in early 1980s. The students who want to enroll in these programs have to take the national college entry examination and get a score that meets the requirement set by the university. These programs are four years in duration.

Programs for early childhood education increased rapidly in 1990s. Typical training in this program is composed of courses in the field of child development; theories in early childhood education; children’s development and education in the area of language, mathematics, science, visual art, and music. Student teaching and thesis writing are required. Many new courses have been offered through bachelor programs in recent years, such as education research methodology, preschool curriculum development, child nutrition, information technology and early childhood education, and remediation for children’s abnormal behavior. Graduates from these programs used to work in normal schools for preschool teachers as instructors prior to the mid-1990s. However, in recent years many graduates have started to work as teachers of young children in urban areas, because of the decreasing number of normal schools for preschool teachers and the higher standards for teacher qualifications in the cities.

Postgraduate programs. In the mid-1980s Nanjing Normal University and Beijing Normal University started to offer master’s programs in early childhood education. The first doctoral program in early childhood education started in Nanjing Normal University in the mid-1990s and now a doctoral program is offered in several universities. People with postgraduate degrees in early childhood education usually work as professionals at universities or research institutes, although some of them have worked in early childhood education programs as directors or teachers and research coordinators.


Continuing Education

Continuing education for preschool teachers operates at two levels: secondary education and higher education.


Secondary continuing education. Secondary continuing education, both degreed and nondegreed, has been offered to preschool teachers who did not receive formal training in early childhood education. Programs at this level include the following:

Certificate programs. In these programs teachers are able to get training to meet a minimum requirement for the teacher position. The training is usually composed of nine core courses such as child psychology, early childhood education pedagogy, child hygiene, language, mathematics, science, music, visual art, and physical education for young children.

Part-time programs. These offer in-service teacher training equivalent to that of secondary education at normal school. Such programs may offer either fulltime or part-time training, night school, correspondence courses, or self-study examinations organized by the provincial government.

Specific theme-based training classes. Usually offered by universities, normal school for preschool teachers, provincial or municipal teacher training centers for preschool teachers, or some private educational organizations or individuals.

Center-based workshops. These workshops provide preschool teachers an opportunity to learn from colleagues. Teachers may also learn to do reflective teaching by participating in action research projects in the center that is able to provide such an opportunity.


Continuing Higher Education. Continuing education for preschool teachers at the higher education level includes the following degree and nondegree programs:

Degree education. Continuing degree education is similar to regular degree education, including programs at the associate bachelor’s, bachelor’s, and master’s levels. The associate bachelor’s program may offer one of the following options: a two-year full-time program, a three-year correspondence program, an evening school program, or an examination for self-study learners. The bachelor’s program may take four years of study for high school graduates or an additional two years of study after preparation at the associate bachelor’s level. Preschool teachers may also pursue master’s or doctorial study, mostly done on a part-time basis.

Nondegree education. Nondegree education for preschool teachers is provided through training classes, teaching-related researches, academic workshops, conferences, or nondegree graduate courses. Recently a new type of nondegree education is to take certain graduate courses to earn a certificate. In addition, preschool teachers’ professional development in China is also benefited from educational exchanges between China and international organizations as well as other countries. A variety of international educational exchanges, such as delegations and study tours have contributed greatly to the development of preschool teacher education in China in recent two decades.

In sum, teacher education for preschool teachers has made great progress in the past two decades in mainland China, particularly in urban areas. However, there is a gap between the urban and rural areas in terms of teacher qualification and teacher education. Policies and financial resources should be used to provide support for the development of teacher training in rural areas.

Further Readings: Jiangsu Provincial Education Department (2002). Collection of documents for the enforcement of teacher’s qualification in Jiangsu Province; Preschool Education Research Association, ed. (2003). The century of Chinese preschool education: 1903-2003. Beijing: Educational Science Press; Tang, S., and S. H. Zhong, eds. (2000). The history of Chinese early childhood education. Beijing: People s Education Press.

Jingbo Liu