Education and Media in Early Childhood

Diana Lang; Nick Cone; Stephanie Loalada; Laura Overstreet; Martha Lally; Suzanne Valentine-French; and Jamie Skow


High-quality childcare programs can enhance a child’s social skills and can provide rich learning experiences. However, poor quality childcare can have negative consequences for young children in particular. What determines the quality of childcare? One very important consideration is the teacher/child ratio. States specify the maximum number of children that can be supervised by one teacher. In general, the younger the children, the more teachers required for a given number of children. A lower teacher-to-child ratio should afford teachers to have more involvement with the children and less stress so teacher interactions can be more relaxed, stimulating, and positive.

The physical environment of high-quality childcare should be colorful, stimulating, clean, developmentally-appropriate, and safe. The philosophy of the organization and the curriculum available should be child-centered, positive, and stimulating. Providers should be trained in early childhood education as well. A majority of states do not require training for their childcare providers. All childcare providers should provide a warm, loving relationship to children and possess knowledge of child development to address children’s social, emotional, and cognitive needs in an effective way. By working toward improving the quality of childcare and increasing family-friendly workplace policies, such as more flexible scheduling and perhaps childcare facilities at places of employment, we can accommodate families with younger children and relieve parents of the stress sometimes associated with managing work and family life.


Providing universal preschool has become an important lobbying point for federal, state, and local leaders throughout our country. To set criteria for designation as a high quality preschool, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) identifies 10 standards.[1] These include:

  • Positive relationships among all children and adults are promoted.
  • A curriculum that supports learning and development in social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive areas.
  • Teaching approaches that are developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate.
  • Assessment of children’s progress to provide information on learning and development.
  • The health and nutrition of children are promoted, while they are protected from illness and injury.
  • Teachers possess the educational qualifications, knowledge, and commitment to promote children’s learning.
  • Collaborative relationships with families are established and maintained.
  • Relationships with agencies and institutions in the children’s communities are established to support the program’s goals.
  • Indoor and outdoor physical environments are safe and well-maintained.
  • Leadership and management personnel are well qualified, effective, and maintain licensure status with the applicable state agency.

Primary caregivers should review preschool programs using the NAEYC criteria as a guide and template for asking questions that will assist them in choosing the best program for their child. Selecting the right preschool is also difficult because there are so many types of preschools available. Zachry (2013) identified Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, High Scope, Parent Co-Ops, and Bank Street as types of preschool programs that focus on children learning through discovery. Teachers act as guides and create activities based on the child’s developmental level.[2]

Head Start

Photo of children in a class being read to by a teacher.
Head Start students learning in class. (Image Source: HHS gov via Wikimedia Commons)

For children who live in poverty, Head Start has been providing preschool education since 1965 when it was begun by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his war on poverty. In 2013, research revealed that Head Start served nearly one million children and annually costs approximately 7.5 billion dollars.[3]

However, concerns about the effectiveness of Head Start have been ongoing since the program began. Armor (2015) reviewed existing research on Head Start and found there were no lasting gains, and the average child in Head Start had not learned more than children who did not receive preschool education.[4]

A recent report dated July 2015 evaluating the effectiveness of Head Start comes from the What Works Clearinghouse. The What Works Clearinghouse identifies research that provides reliable evidence of the effectiveness of programs and practices in education and is managed by the Institute of Education Services for the United States Department of Education. After reviewing 90 studies on the effectiveness of Head Start, only one study was deemed scientifically acceptable and this study showed disappointing results.[5] This study showed that 3 and 4-year-old children in Head Start received “potentially positive effects” on general reading achievement, but no noticeable effects on math achievement and social-emotional development.

Nonexperimental designs are a significant problem in determining the effectiveness of Head Start programs because a control group is needed to show group differences that would demonstrate educational benefits. Because of ethical reasons, low-income children are usually provided with some type of preschool programming in an alternative setting. Additionally, head Start programs are different depending on the location, and these differences include the length of the day or qualification of the teachers. Lastly, testing young children is difficult and strongly dependent on their language skills and comfort level with an evaluator.[6]

Children and Media

Media is more present in children’s lives than in the past. Research has consistently shown that too much television or use of electronic devices adversely affects children’s behavior, health, and achievement.[7][8] Young children are less able to focus on active, hands-on play while the television is on, and background TV can negatively affect cognitive and language development as well as be linked to attention problems later in childhood.[9][10]

  1. National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2016). The 10 NAEYC program standards.
  2. Zachry, A. (2013). 6 Types of Preschool Programs. Retrieved from - preschool/preparing/types-of-preschool-programs/
  3. United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). Head start program facts fiscal year 2013. Retrieved from
  4. Armor, D. J. (2015). Head start or false start. USA Today Magazine. Retrieved from
  5. Barshay, J. (2015). Report: Scant scientific evidence for Head Start programs’ effectiveness. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from programs-effectiveness
  6. Barshay, J. (2015). Report: Scant scientific evidence for Head Start programs’ effectiveness. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from programs-effectiveness
  7. Gentile, D. A., & Walsh, D. A. (2002). A normative study of family media habits. Applied Developmental Psychology, 23, 157-178.
  8. Robinson, T. N., Wilde, M. L., & Navracruz, L. C. (2001). Effects of reducing children’s television and video game use on aggressive behavior: a randomized controlled trial. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 155, 17-23.
  9. Schmidt, M.E., Pempek, T. A., & Kirkorian, H. L. (2008). The effects of background television on the toy play behavior of very young children. Child Development, 79, 1137-1151.
  10. Courage, M. L., Murphy, A. N., & Goulding, S. (2010). When the television is on: The impact of infant-directed video on 6- and 18-month-olds’ attention during toy play and on parent-infant interaction. Infant Behavior and Development, 33, 176-188.


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Individual and Family Development, Health, and Well-being Copyright © 2022 by Diana Lang; Nick Cone; Stephanie Loalada; Laura Overstreet; Martha Lally; Suzanne Valentine-French; and Jamie Skow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.