Great Beginnings with Early Childhood Education

by Patricia A. Crawford

A teacher helps preschoolers prepare a healthy snack for the group. As they navigate a simple recipe, use measuring cups, and mix liquid and solid ingredients, the children engage in meaningful lessons related to reading, math, and science, while also learning important social skills.

Third graders measure the growth of plants being kept under different conditions. Their teacher guides them as the children collect data, document findings, and hypothesize why certain plants have grown more quickly than others. They are using hands-on-learning experience to meet curricular standards.

Policymakers consider the importance of making preschool education available to all children. They strategize ways to increase quality care and academic gains, while keeping costs reasonable for families in the local area.

Each of these vignettes provide a snapshot of the varied and significant types of work in which early childhood educators engage. Though the contexts, settings, and procedures are different in each, they all highlight the efforts of professionals who are working on behalf of children, families, and educational systems. Each of these professionals needs to have the type of academic background that will prepare them to take on these roles and fulfill their responsibilities in a competent, caring, and passionate manner.

At its core, early childhood education is a field devoted to helping young children—typically birth through around age 9—reach their potential through high-quality care and a relevant, rigorous, and developmentally appropriate form of education. These programs not only impact children in their early years, but also have the potential to impact learning and life opportunities for years to come. Thus, early childhood education has been highlighted as a priority area at both national and state levels.  

The University of Pittsburgh has a long and distinguished history in its work related to early childhood education. Today, Pitt continues its tradition of excellence in this area through research and rich academic offerings. Faculty engage in research related to the curriculum, strategies, and materials that support learning in early childhood, with a concentrated emphasis on understanding social issues impacting children locally and around the world.

Pitt offers several academic programs in early childhood education:

  • Teacher Certification: In conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Pitt offers two certification programs, CASE and primary plus, for those who wish to teach young children. Both programs include in-depth coursework and extensive field experiences in preschool and elementary settings.
  • CASE (Combined Accelerated Studies in Education): Undergraduates can apply for the CASE program, in which students complete an undergraduate degree in applied developmental psychology and a master's degree in instruction and learning.  Students can then apply to PDE for certification in teaching preK-4, as well as preK-8 special education.
  • Primary Plus Program: Post-baccalaureate students can choose the primary plus option, which offers a one year certificate of advanced study leading to preK-4 teacher certification.
  • Master of Education (MEd): Pitt offers a master's of education program in early childhood education. Students in this program hail from varied backgrounds and take courses in advanced pedagogy, family and community relationships, research, and other specialized areas. Program graduates work in a full range of positions, including teachers in public and private settings, directors of childcare centers, policymakers, and instructors in teacher education programs.

There has never been a more important time to work in the field of early childhood education. Pitt's programs offer a host of opportunities for students to both enter the field and to deepen their experience in the profession through the research being done by various faculty members.