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An explosion of research over the past several decades offers much to learn about what is needed to support optimal development for young children. This entry first reviews the major understandings about development that inform and define early childhood education. It then describes key elements of high-quality early childhood education programs.

How Young Children Learn

From developmental psychology we have learned that active experiences are the trigger that enables children to organize their brains to support the challenges they meet. What this means is that during the early years of life, young children make sense of new concepts and ideas through active engagement with materials, ideas, and relationships. What adults often refer to as play—block play, dramatic play, singing, dancing, painting, drawing, and so forth—is really the ...

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