Continuity among Early Childhood Programs: Issues and Strategies from an International View. (Teaching Strategies)

Article excerpt

While children's development is continuous, the same cannot always be said about their early childhood programs; young children can experience discontinuity due to gaps, overlaps, or mismatches when they move from one program to another (Barbour & Seefeldt, 1993). This issue of continuity among early childhood programs has been a longstanding concern. For example, the theme of the 1908 yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education was kindergarten continuity. Continuity affects educators, parents, administrators, policymakers, and young children, and is a concern around the world. My recent visits to early childhood programs in several Pacific Rim countries and the discussions I had with early childhood educators there reinforced my understanding of the importance and pervasiveness of this issue. (Most of the examples used in this article are from Pacific Rim countries.)

Continuity between early childhood programs is a complex issue, affecting children and families as well as the programs themselves (Pianta & Cox, 1999; Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta, & Cox, 2000). Continuity can be defined as "the way and degree to which one program relates to and builds on another for the benefit of the children" (Mayfield, 2001, p. 416). It includes philosophical, curricular, developmental, physical, organizational, and administrative continuities. Continuity is an ongoing process, not a series of isolated events. Thus, strategies to foster continuity need to be addressed by multiple groups over time and across settings, including nursery schools, child care centers, kindergartens, and primary classrooms--from the first early childhood program a child experiences through the primary grades. Educators, administrators, parents, and policymakers must recognize the importance of and need for effective strategies to provide smooth and successful continuity between early childhood programs for young children.

Philosophical Continuity

Philosophical continuity is foundational and refers to underlying philosophies of early childhood programs, including the purpose of early education, concepts of childhood, and methods for teaching children. In most Pacific Rim countries, debates exist over the merits of a child-centered vs. an academically oriented philosophy. The desire to apply developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs sometimes conflicts with pressure from parents, policymakers, administrators, and educators to have a more academic focus, thereby making the preschool and kindergarten more like the primary grades. For example, in Taiwan it is not unusual for 4- and 5-year-olds to have academic homework and attend private "cram schools" in the evenings or on weekends for extra instruction in academic subjects such as English or computer skills (see, for example, Childhood Education, Volume 77, pages 360-366). In North America, early childhood educators often must explain their programs' philosophies to parents, administrators, policymakers, and other educators. In Indonesia, the Preschool Education Association and the Kindergarten Teachers' Alliance have sponsored inservice activities with the Ministry of Education to foster such communication and discussion (Thomas, 1992).

Educators with differing philosophies can still be advocates for such causes as providing more playspaces in urban schools, recognizing children's rights, or celebrating the National Child/Children's Day or Week of the Classroom Teacher (see for more information on the latter). Other advocacy strategies can include publishing newsletters on topics of interest to early childhood educators and/or families, writing materials for publication in local community newspapers or parents' magazines, and developing media service announcements. On an international level, the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) and the Organisation Mondiale pour l'Education Prescolaire/World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP) have undertaken a project to develop global guidelines for early childhood programs (ACEI/OMEP, 1999). …