Programs for early childhood or preschool age struggle to offer education of a high quality to the children. Such programs involve a vast range of characteristics in order to answer the purpose. These programmes include structural features that are instituted through the policies and regulations, and process features that are experienced be the children directly. For the most part, the programmes cover a physical environment such as spatial, furnishing and learning materials. Social environment also comprises the preschool programmes, which cover a classroom management as well as emotional and instructional support. The most important, they face a challenge of determining the quality of such programmes and its effect or impact on the features of development of the preschool children in terms of literacy, activity, interaction, language and skill. The level of the experience that children gain while being in preschool make significant contributions to their development of skills in literacy, academic subject, language and competency in their emotional and social life. For this reason, the different educational systems have been developed, which provide the preschool learners with the rich experiences that prepare them for further studying. In addition, the experiences acquired in the preschool thoroughly prepare a child to join the senior classes or school. The development of these programmes is aimed at providing the preschool children with several opportunities in relation to education.
One of the benefits of a high quality preschool education is that it is open for disabled children as well, which is very important. The programmes are useful in protecting such children, thus, reducing the gap of development or recognition that occurs at school entry (Burchinal et al., 2000). In the event of the above constraints, the learner can easily cope with the challenges of education due to the high quality preschool programme. Several studies conducted on this subject indicate a considerable connection between a preschool grounding and further educational advancement.
Several organizations continuously emphasize the importance of the quality of the preschool programmes providing an appropriate language and interaction skills. They also insist that a conducive- preschool environment forms a strong foundation or basis for protection of the children experiencing difficulties in reading or social risks. Conducive environment means that children can learn with fewer difficulties and rely on the proper support of the teachers. They also imply that the quality preschool programmes are aimed at protecting such group of children prone to various risks being deprived of the possibility to get the due language skills in the educational surroundings. The peak of ability of a person to gain knowledge falls on a very tender age, that is why it is essential to a child to be in a conducive for studying learning environment. The early foundation in most cases will determine the future progress of the children. Poor educational background means that children will have difficulties in their future academics. Numerous studies have also shown the strong, positive relations that is intrinsic to children facing economic and social risks as a result of the connection between quality of preschool attended and the development of a child. However, these studies indicated the mixed evidences, which may be caused and explained by establishing the different study methods to evaluate the effects, sample compositions, varying sizes, and the measurements and definitions of a preschool quality (Cunningham, 2010).
Several other researches have also found that preschools offering quality programmes to the children are more likely to achieve a greater, positive impact on the literacy of the children, cognitive or reasoning development and language skill. Preschool quality encompasses a wide range of programme characteristics such as the structural features implemented through the regulations and policies, and direct experiences of children provided via the process features. The process quality or features entail the mechanisms used by the preschool in conveying benefits to the children. It consists of the physical environment including furnishings, space and learning materials, as well as emotional support, management of the class, and instructional support. Extensive studies have been conducted to assess the relationship between various features of a preschool programme quality and the development and outcome of the children (Dickinson et al., 2006).
The result of the studies indicates a significant relationship between a high quality preschool programme and future development of a child. In order for the programme to be effective, it is essential to use all the previous experience known in the system of the education of a child. For this reason, the programme ensures that all the elements consider the possible and available advantages that could provide the learners with a base needed to higher education. The creators of the programmes realized the essence of a high quality preschool programme in the preparation for the further development and education of the children.
However, the connections between the development and a preschool quality tend to remain at the minimal side, with the significant relationships not evident in most of the studies. Similar studies also reflect the differential aspects and impacts of quality programmes in relation to the characteristics of the child such as sex, race and ethnicity, as well as family and home risk factors. The other factors indicate that development and further education of the learner do not mainly depend on the preschool programmes. The moderating effects in most of the studies and high quality programmes have contributed to the successful outcomes among the subgroups that had experienced the delays in development (Early et al., 2007).
However, such studies are not to be relied upon because of various factors. Inconsistencies may arise in the relevant studies because of several reasons such as design of the study in detecting developmental effects, characteristic of the participants involved in the study, and definition and measurement of the quality and outcomes. Contradictions that occurs due to the study designs arise when a study measures the parameters of the quality and development at the same time. These studies tend to result into positive relationships, which may not necessarily be accurate in the interpretation of the concurrent associations. The results from studies assessing the associations of preschool program qualities and development of the children take into consideration the characteristics of the participants of the study. Studies conducted in the past incorporated children who were economically disadvantaged, and targeted to get into the programs of prekindergarten. Recent research and studies alongside with a subsequent expansion and growth of the preschool facilities has encouraged the incorporation of participants or children coming from diverse racial or ethnic and economic backgrounds (Cunningham, 2010).
Similar studies on the associations of developmental changes of the quality preschool programs also utilize different measures in evaluating the outcome and quality on the magnitude of the program associations. These developmental measures include direct assessments or ratings of the abilities and skills of a teacher that are useful for learning of the preschool children in terms of language, reasoning, cognitive, social-emotional and academic success. Different studies have also reported varying of measurements of the preschool quality.
Teachers, administrators, policy makers, and parents in describing the characteristics of prekindergarten programmes use the term of preschool quality. There are two known types of preschool programme qualities, namely, structural and process qualities. Structural qualities encompass those features of the programme that are targeted at financing and regulation, and include the professional training of the teachers and their personal level of education, ratio and size of the class, service programmes for families and parents, curriculum types, and several other structural features associated with the developmental outcome of the students. The level of education of the teacher would be relevant in the way he or she can be helpful in implementation of the preschool programmes. In the event, the teacher with the task of implementing of the programmes that h a low educational level would not be appropriate for the job. On the other hand, the type of curriculum determines the impact of the programs on the development of the children. The recommended curriculums at this level are those which are student centered. Curriculums, which are not student centered, may not be effective in implementing the high quality preschool programmes. In addition, the high quality programs work well in schools where there is proper regulation of the class size and number. Crowded classes with insufficient supporting materials would make the programmes ineffective, and, hence, would not produce the expected outcomes (Early et al., 2007).
A literacy environment quality entails the social relations and the surroundins that the children directly encounter while participating in various classroom activities. Social relations would comprise the other students and teachers. The available, supporting staff also covers the area of social relations, which children experience while being at school. On the other hand, there is a physical learning environment, which means the learning materials. Learning materials can include books, classrooms, playing toys, charts, drawings, and other relevant materials at this level of education. These global quality programmes can be described as one containing features of the potential to improve the positive development of a child providing the safe environments, appropriate learning activities, and interactions with teachers, parents and fellow children (Hoff, 2006). As much as global quality proves to impact the literacy development of preschool children, advanced research needs to be focused on the specific quality indicators connected to language and reasoning skills, activities and interactions. There is limited research on the quality of the preschool programme and the literacy environment. Most studies dealing with the relationship between development of the child and quality of the school focus on the quality measures of one dimension, ranging from high quality to low quality. These studies do not explore the quality aspects that are strongly connected to the development of a child, as well as evaluation of specific quality factor that protect the children facing economic and social risks. This study seeks to examine the instructional practice, classroom environment and the impact of these features on development and support of the progression of the children. It is aimed at examining the association or influence of the factors of preschool qualities on the development of the language-reasoning skills of the children, their activities and interactions, using the Early Childhood Ratting Scale-Revised (ECERS-R) to assess the preschool programmes and ensure that they meet the needs of the student according to the standards (Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 2005).
The study is focused on the prekindergarten schools with convenient and representative sample sizes from diverse cultural, racial and economic backgrounds. Data collection was done by an observational survey using the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised (ECERS-R; Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 2005). The use of the scale has been reported for over two decades. It evaluates different subsections that are in line with the objectives of the study. They include such areas as Language and Reasoning, Activities, Interaction, Space and Furnishings, Programme Structure, Personal Care Routine, and Parents and Staff. There are 470 indicators equivalent to 43 items that are rated in a format of a seven-point scale. The descriptors for scoring the variables ranged from 1 (Inadequate), 3 (Minimal), 5 (Good), to 7 (Excellent).
The study entailed evaluation of an ECERS-R observation evaluation as a requirement of the course Psychology of Early Childhood. The study was carried out on March 21st, 2012, in a Pre-K classroom, in Lincoln School in New Britain, CT. This observation is focused on three scales, Language-Reasoning, Activities, and Interaction. Participants included 21 students between ages of two to five-years-old. This group of students was from diverse backgrounds, including White, African-American, and Hispanic origin. The staff presented during the study included one head teacher and two assistant teachers.
Table 1 shows the ratings based on the observations. Language-Reasoning consists of four subscales: Books and pictures, Encouraging children to communicate, Using language to develop reasoning skills, and Informal use of language. According to the observations, the author believed that all qualifications were met in this area, and rated them with excellent (7). In this Pre-K classroom, there was an assigned center for reading providing students with a variety of books. The teacher, Ms. Thurston, also read stories to the children. The teacher would ask questions and relate the stories to the children as she read. On the free play of the children, four of them played with the books, looking at the pictures and showing to each other. This classroom presented pictures of different subjects at the eye level of the children. In the subscale, the staff and children had constant communication in order to encourage the children to communicate easily. The author observed one particular student who was shy and low in interacting and communicating to the fellow students. The teacher during the free play tried to communicate with that student, and encouraged her to communicate, play and interact with other children by explaining what she was making with clay.
As for using language to develop reasoning skills, the author noticed a group of children playing bingo. This game reinforced their vocabulary and knowledge of numbers. For instance, the teacher picked a number and asked them to repeat it then match that number on their bingo cards. In the subscale informal use of language, students were assigned to different centers in the classroom. The staff walked around in order to supervise and communicate individually with the children and inquire them in what activity they were involved in. For instance, one of the teachers asked a girl what she was making with sand. The girl answered: “A big house”. The teacher continued communicating and interacting with the girl about the house and inquiring whether she was going to add windows, doors, and a chimney.
A variety of activities were also observed at Lincoln School. The author assigned a rating of seven (7) to all the subscales under activities except Sand and Water that were rated five (5) and Nature and Science rated six (6). Under refined motor skills, the author noticed that all the materials and tools used by the children were labeled and well organized. For example, the attention was paid to how all the utensils used in the cooking center were labeled and stored in their rightful places. Art work including painting and drawings made by the students were displayed all over the classroom walls. They also had 3D art articles with their names on made by using a clay, and snowmen made of the foam balls. The teacher played music to the children after a story had been read. The students had the chance of singing and dancing to the music separately for the girls and boys.
Blocks had an assigned center, where the students had the opportunity to play with different types and sizes, for instance, the coloured plastic and wooden blocks, etc. In this classroom, there was a corner assigned as the sand center with a sand table. The table contained sand tools such as shovels and small buckets among the others. The subscale was rated with a five, as there was no area designated for water play, either indoors or outdoors. In this classroom, the staff had assigned a theater center for the children to dramatize and change their character into anything they desired. This theater included dress up clothes and puppets. In Science/ Nature subscale, there were a group of books with different themes on nature, animals, and plants. Pictures were also displayed in the classroom that was related to weather. Math/ Number subscale was reflected within the entire classroom. Numbers were everywhere including the date, the blocks, the game they played together (Bingo). Two children were using the computer with headphones. The use of computers allowed the children to reinforce their knowledge and be able to properly use a computer. This classroom was multicultural; the teachers encouraged the students to play, sing, and dance together despite their ethnic backgrounds. The supervision of gross motor, the general supervision and discipline were well guided. The teachers talked to the children about their activities of interest and promoted an excellent level of discipline in which the students, at the sound of the whistle, knew how to translate the signals to the words “Stop”, “Look”, and “Listen”.
Table 2 shows the ratings for the Early Learning Programme (ELP). On March 22nd, 2012, the author visited a preschool programme in New Britain, CT. The number of students present at the time of the observation was ten. Similar to Lincoln School, this programme was diverse in their student admission. The author rated the ELP with an excellent in all subscales because it covered many areas and activities within an hour of observation that were required in the ECERS-R scale. The following aspects were observed in the language-reasoning scale: many books with different topics were accessible to the children, pictures and art works of the children were displayed throughout the classroom. There was also effective communication between staff and students, as well as between staff and parents. The teacher made the children talk about pets at home and their experiences with them. There were four staff members responsible for the talk with the children in the preschool. One of the staff members played a game with three students in which counting was necessary; she counted with them and also showed them how to count in Spanish.
In the activity scale, there was a series of activities that had been observed. Fine motor skills were evident throughout the classroom; materials were all organized and accessible to the children. All the shelves and cabinets were labeled. The author even noticed the teacher bringing books and placing them on the shelf for the students. On the play time, a group gathered in the art center and began to draw whatever they desired. A girl drew her mother and the head teacher. All the previous art works of the children were displayed on the walls. The classroom had a CD player available for music and had music instruments free to be used. The students had the opportunity to play with blocks on their free play time. The children even tried to create a tower that was high enough without the tower collapsing. Previously, the students had played in their sand table center. The table had sand tools stored under the table for the use. This information was made available by one of the teachers in the classroom. The author also observed children playing with puppets, talking to each other as if they were the puppets and imagining stories. The children also played a board game with one of the teachers while parents arrived to pick up their children. In the Nature/ Science subscale, the author observed plants around the room, little flower pots with the attempt to grow grass. There was a classroom pet (beta fish) in which the author witnessed the children taking turns to feed the fish. The board game played by the students had to do with numbers. The personal information of the children was displayed which included their birthdays and a family tree.
The classroom had one computer accessible to all children, with different learning programmes for the pupils to learn and play with fellow students. However, it was not used at the time of the observation. The classroom promoted a diverse environment by having children from different backgrounds playing with each other. The author even noticed some Spanish and Polish conversations between mother and daughter. The teachers assisted the kids in using the different tools like working ones, kitchen utensils and grocery shopping materials in an appropriate manner. In general, the supervision was well guided allowing students to work independently but also keeping safety rules in check. At one point, the children started getting rough in their puppet game and so the teacher intervened in order to show them how to play with the puppets and gave them ideas on what to do. The level of discipline in the classroom was excellent; when the teacher was reading a book the children had to raise their hand to speak. The author also noticed the children getting a little bit noisy and the teacher let them know that there were interfering with other children, who were trying to play other games.
Preschool learning age is an essential one and it demands a proper foundation for the preschoolers. The above information explores the experience of the author in the two different schools which were similar to each other. The dynamism of each learning center was unique and adequate for instructional processes and purposes. Both of them were following a protocol and a proper curriculum, which is a necessary element in the implementation of any preschool programme. The teachers used the most effective ways to connect classroom activities with student daily life experiences. This was through encouraging the learners to relate the class activities with the home activities or playground ones. This makes learning to get easier for the preschoolers as they could identify the relationships between class lessons and their life experiences. In addition, the learning expectations of the teacher were focused on academic disciplines (math, language, arts) and social expectations (interactions between the students and teachers, respect to others). These are some of the factors which are key determinants of the impacts of the preschool programmes on the development of the children. It is clear from the above discussion and studies that the type of curriculum, level of education of the teacher, and connection of the classroom activities with the daily life experiences results in the positive outcomes (Cunningham, 2010).
Evaluation of the environment is necessary in understanding the influence of the environmental features in literacy and social developmental potential of the preschool children. Proper and positive environment will ensure that the learners would gain an advancement due to the preschool programmes. A negative learning environment means that there will be obstacles while implementing the programmes, hence, negative results. Assessment of the quality of the preschool programmes and the environment is essential in improving literacy skills at school entry. Research also indicates that a strong basis or foundation of quality programmes, activities, and literacy developments can prepare students for future successful careers (Campbell et al., 2002). This increases the need to put the priority of the development and future of the students at the topmost position. The high quality programmes and environment that encourage literacy and language development, can also serve to reduce the challenges that the students might face in the early stages of their growing, thus promoting the development of successful and fluent readers and writers. It is also necessary to put into consideration not only the practice of literacy programmes and quality environment, but also incorporate essential books, experimenting opportunities in a stimulating and a print rich environment. Other notable features with potential benefits include knowledgeable teachers on language skills, meaningful learning choices, and a conducive learning environment with a risk taking, supportive and caring staff.