Early Childhood Education Models

Various early childhood education and care (ECEC) models have been developed based on the constructivist’s theory. Several of these models are outlined here in an effort to draw conclusions regarding the most appropriate model for use within Adventist early childhood programs. A review of the models and their philosophies will help to firmly establish the need for an Adventist model that will glean from, and yet surpass, the current ECEC models in use around the world.


Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel

Basic Concepts

In the early 1800’s, Johann Pestalozzi taught that children learn through their play. His theory of early childhood education was one of permissiveness, emphasizing pleasant surroundings, self-activity, and physical training for children. Interestingly enough, he saw the value of natural settings with their inherent object lessons (von Marenholtz-Bülow, 1887).

Pestalozzi’s most renowned student, Friedrich Froebel, had similar views, though he took them to a more serious, loftier level. Once called a prophet, Friedrich Froebel created a kindergarten in 1837 as “a garden of children” for early schooling. Froebel's theory of early childhood education was based on four basic ideas: free self expression, creativity, social participation, and motor expression (von Marenholtz-Bülow, 1887). His idealistic view of education was closely related to religion.


Pestalozzi’s aim was to educate the whole child and to maintain equilibrium between the hands, heart and head (Smith, 1997).

The missing component in Pestalozzi’s theory, Froebel believed, was the "spiritual mechanism", the foundation of early learning (von Marenholtz-Bülow, 1887).




Montessori, Maria

Basic Concepts

“Individual activity is the one factor that stimulates and produces development” (Montessori, 1995, p. 8, ¶3). Around this one observation, Dr. Montessori developed her theory and practice, using observation and experimentation as cornerstones for her developing Method (Seldin & Epstein, 2003).

Contrary to popular belief, the colorful manipulative materials found in a Montessori classroom are not the Method; they are tools (St. Giermaine, 2008). The Method is one of independent learning – independent doing. “Competence, independence, willingness to embrace the challenges of change… are the most important building blocks of the Montessori Method” (Montessori Foundation, 2008, p. 29, ¶3). In a Montessori classroom, skill refinement, increasing levels of responsibility, maintaining or restoring order and caring for the classroom environment are all part of the Method and taught through activities relating to “Practical Life” (Montessori Foundation, 2008).

The key to the activities lies in their practicality to real daily life. They are meaningful and purposeful activities that teach real skills and develop independent individuals (Schmidt & Schmidt, 2008a). They are simple activities such as learning how to use a spoon to transfer a set of items from one dish to another; learning how to pour liquid from one container to another; learning to properly wash a table or rinse out a sponge; learning how to polish a shoe or sweep up a spill on the classroom floor; becoming aware of, and learning how to listen to the body’s signals regarding personal needs whether it be a biological break, snack or need for rest; learning to be observant of, and caring for the environment and learning how to care for the other community members through helpful and courteous actions, empathy and altruistic behaviors (Montessori Foundation, 2008).

Practical Life is not the only learning center within a Montessori classroom. Academics are always present and offer opportunities for deeper investigative learning. Beginning with sensorial exercises, the children learn to increase their ability to attend, focus, observe and become aware of their environment and to “consider what comes into their experience” (Montessori Foundation, 2008). Montessorian philosophy strongly emphasizes touch and manipulation of objects for learning, hence there are such materials in each learning center: math and geometry, science, geography, language arts, cultural studies, physical education and the arts (Montessori Foundation, 2008).


Montessori has the only curriculum that has materials for every subject in every main topic from infancy through middle school. The strengths within the Montessori Method are the practical life and sensorial learning strategies. In many ways idealistic, they still provide the organizational skills and work habits necessary for individual and shared success. Because each child creates their own “cycle of work based on” their “individual interests,” the “cycle of self-directed activity” naturally lengthens the child’s attention span and concentration skills (Montessori Foundation, 2008, p. 15, ¶1). Such strategies easily accommodate various learning modalities, personalities and ability levels. Assessment is based on the individual’s ability to master a work project which then leads naturally into a more complex work project.


The main weakness within the Montessori Method lies in its flexible application. Each school and teacher is able to blend the Montessori Method with their own unique personality and interpretation (Montessori Foundation, 2008). As a result, the Montessori philosophical base is also applied flexibly and no two Montessori schools are alike. Even though the Montessori Foundation provides an accreditation process, each school varies in the level of quality which is offered. There is also a certification process for Montessori teachers, but many teachers at the early childhood level lack certification.


Reggio Emilia

Basic Concepts

The Reggio Emilia approach to teaching young children places great value on experiential learning, problem solving and relationships (Reggio Emilia Approach, 2008; Edwards, 2002). Unlike traditional preschool programs, the Reggio concept of project-based learning is not pre-planned, thematic, or trans-disciplinary.  The teacher is a facilitator of learning, providing support and materials for the projects which are directed by the understanding and learning of the children, a concept recently termed “emergent curriculum” because the curriculum emerges based on the interests of the children (Baxter & Petty, 2008).

One of the most important components of the Reggio approach is the teacher’s ability to listen to the children, deduct wherein their interests lie, provide for the emerging learning possibilities and document the entire process (Walsh & Petty, 2007). This documentation, in the form of portfolios, memory books and products resulting from projects, provides descriptive information about the development of the children both individually and as a peer group (Walsh & Petty, 2007; Edwards, 2002).


The signal strength of the Reggio approach is in the ability to use the environment as a teacher, using both long-term and short-term projects for group as well as individualized learning opportunities (Edwards, 2002). Reggio was also the originator of the child’s portfolio for assessment purposes. Coupled with extensive documentation, such an environment offers abundant opportunities for further research into child development and group navigational behaviors.


Reggio Emilia is an approach to early childhood education rather than a formal model such as the Waldorf and Montessori which have defined methods, teacher certification standards and accreditation protocols (Edwards, 2002). Formal teacher education is not required and pre-service training is meager, but staff development through trainings and conferences are promoted (Reggio Emilia Approach, 2008). In addition, the emergent style of learning has often produced chaotic classrooms for many schools with many not understanding how to implement this style of learning. These tend to be weaknesses in the approach as its acceptance has grown. Still, hundreds of early childhood programs around the world have been based on or inspired by the Reggio approach (Edwards, 2002).



Basic Concepts

Waldorf schools were started by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, which is the philosophical foundation of Waldorf schools and teacher training sites (Anthroposophy, 2008). Anthroposophy asserts that spiritual worlds can be intellectually contacted through a series of unfolding, developmental stages (Anthroposophy, 2008). Consistent with the tenets of anthroposophy, Waldorf schools view children as in a continuous process of becoming, evolving in freedom toward increased self-knowledge (Ward, 2001).

The child’s spiritual development is greatly valued and encouraged through the use of storytelling, fairytales, myths, legends, fantasy and imagination as a means of stimulating the children’s play (Walsh & Petty, 2007; Lenart, 2003; Shell, N.D.).


At the preschool level, Waldorf schools use simple toys made of natural materials rather than commercial characters or plastic toys (Lenart, 2003). Waldorf schools attempt to develop the child’s physical body and will (also called freedom) through the various arts and creative, hands-on activities rather than academics (Baxter & Petty, 2008).


Waldorf is not a true early childhood philosophy or educational model but rather a spiritual philosophy that has been utilized as a “visible… application” of Steiner’s anthroposophical vision (Anthroposophy, 2008). What makes the Waldorf philosophy and model untenable for Christian early childhood educators and parents is the spiritual teachings of the “evolution of consciousness”, mixing rational thought with intuition and clairvoyance and requiring a series of reincarnations  (Anthroposophy, 2008). The most disturbing is the belief in Lucifer as a spirit of light who “motivates creativity and imagination” and Ahriman as a “dark spirit” who “stimulates intellectuality and technology” with “the Christ being” as “a spiritual entity who stands between and harmonizes the two extremes” (Anthroposophy, 2008).

Young children are considered to be a combination of earthly and cosmic beings that are still “united with angelic and other spiritual beings” (Trostli, 1998). These cosmic beings, as developing human beings, fulfill the “impulses” and “work of the angels, the archangels and even higher spiritual beings,” hence, the heavy emphasis on fantasy and imaginative teaching and play (Trostli, 1998).


High Scope

Basic Concepts

The mission of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation is “to lift lives through education” (Epstein, 2010). Consistent with this mission, HighScope has developed an early childhood educational approach that is firmly based in research and experiential practices. Adhering to the guidelines of developmentally appropriate-based early childhood programs, HighScope moves beyond these best practices to incorporate a unique feature which differentiates them from all other early learning methods.

The unique feature of HighScope is the daily practice of the “plan-do-review sequence” (Epstein, 2010). This very important, and intensely researched aspect, includes a small-group meeting during which several children will sit with the teacher to discuss plans for their work time. Work time plans typically consist of an articulated desire to engage in a specific activity including the materials and friends with whom the children will interact. Once each child has decided upon a plan, the actual work time commences and continues for up to an hour. At the conclusion of work time, the children again meet with their teacher to discuss, or review, their work time activities.

The benefits to the process of “plan-do-review” are found in the children’s learned ability to plan ahead and then to reflect, two very important lifelong skills. Learning these skills has also been shown to significantly improve developmental progress and problem solving as the children initiate the learning process by making choices, follow through with those choices and make decisions to redirect efforts and plans as necessary (Epstein, 1993 & 2003).

Since its inception in 1970, HighScope has launched itself into the national and international early childhood educational realm through its highly controversial longitudinal study, the Perry Preschool Project. The HighScope Perry Preschool Project longitudinal study results have created a plethora of debate regarding early childhood programs, academics for young children and the role of the government in the education and care of young children. In this study, the authors outlined the benefits of a high quality preschool program for African-American, low-income children who were at risk “retarded intellectual functioning and eventual school failure” (Olsen, 1999; Preschool California and Children Now, 2004).

Despite controversy over the generalization of the Perry Preschool Project results (Olsen, 1999; Elkind, 1987), this detailed study has impacted state, federal and international educational expectations for young children. For HighScope, the study results have initiated the adoption and refinement of several effective teaching and learning practices within the HighScope approach, targeting all young learners, not just low-income children at risk for academic failure.


The teaching and learning practices are the strength of the HighScope educational approach. The curriculum is defined, emergent with child interests and developmentally based. Parent-teacher conferences and annual home visits are a requirement for effective curriculum implementation. Child-based outcomes are assessed through comprehensive observations that take place over several weeks or months rather than during one-time sessions (Epstein, 2010). In addition, the curriculum standards and assessment protocol have been aligned with national standards, and appear to be compatible with the early learning standards of local school districts and state departments of education (Epstein, 2010).

The HighScope approach has two final strengths not seen in other early childhood educational models. First, the teachers are highly trained and certified. Training is administered in a variety of methods in order to accommodate the diverse needs of early childhood professionals currently working in early childhood programs. Second, HighScope firmly believes that when their research-proven model is implemented in an early childhood program, its reliability must be validated through an accreditation process known as the Preschool Program Quality Assessment (Epstein, 2010). These two aspects are intended to control the quality and integrity of the HighScope approach; a combined mechanism which other methods have yet to replicate.




Traditional, American Preschool

Basic Concepts

In 2003, Larry Prochner from the University of Alberta, Canada described American early childhood preschool programs as a “fragmented… patchwork… and a non-system” (p. 267, ¶2). The traditional American preschool program is repeatedly referred to as low in quality when compared to preschool programs in other countries (Cleveland & Colley, 2003). The reasons are multitudinous ranging from lack of government funding and under-educated teachers to diverse regulatory policies (Cleveland & Colley, 2003; Prochner, 2003). In an effort to accommodate their demographic clientele, early childhood providers have been offering educational philosophies ranging from play-based programs to academically-focused programs with many trying to find a balance by offering a combination of the two. As a result, publishers and curriculum companies have responded by providing a myriad of curriculum philosophies and resources.

The average, traditional American preschool teacher adheres to the child development theories of Piaget and Erikson and follows a rather simplistic, teacher-directed daily routine. The curriculum is typically developed into monthly, thematic units based on esoteric topics presumably of interest to the majority of young children, designed to be presented in a developmentally appropriate manner but often lacking depth and real educational value (Katz & Chard, 1989 as cited in Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998, p. 28 ¶2). Montessorian influences are apparent in that traditional preschools have incorporated child sized furniture, learning centers and miniaturized tools and equipment (Seldin & Epstein, 2003). “Play is a child’s work” and “play as learning” are constant buzz words meant to instill confidence in the clientele as they observe the program’s daily rituals. 

In the past ten years, traditional American preschool programs have been challenged to prove the merit of their play-based programs. One result has been an overemphasis on the teaching of academics to younger and younger children. At the federal level, in 1998, Congress required all Head Start grantees to start collecting data on child outcomes. Consequently, the Head Start Bureau developed the Head Start Outcomes Framework. In 2002, President Bush announced Good Start, Grow Smart, a national early childhood initiative that encouraged states to develop voluntary early learning guidelines on literacy, language, and pre-reading skills. The Early Childhood Educator Professional Development program is the only teaching quality provision of the No Child Left Behind act that applies explicitly to early learning educators. This grant money is for partnerships that provide high-quality professional development to early childhood educators working with children from birth through kindergarten entry who come from low-income families in high-need communities. In addition, the Early Reading First program provides grant money awarded directly to early learning programs and targeted for children from low-income families, professional development and research-based curriculum and assessments.

At both the federal and state level, early learning standards are now a part of the national standards-based educational climate (Kauerz & McMaken, 2004). Many states have developed quality rating systems in an effort to identify programs with teachers and child learning outcomes that meet state standards. As of 2004, forty-three states had a universal pre-kindergarten law of some kind, but funding has hindered implementation.

Fortunately for young children, educational and brain research does not support the practice of early academics. From all these research studies, Dr. Rebecca Marcon, a developmental psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of North Florida, has concluded: “Children's later school success appears to be enhanced by more active, child-initiated learning experiences. Their long-term progress may be slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduce formalized learning experiences too early for most children's developmental status. Pushing children too soon may actually backfire when children move into the later elementary school grades and are required to think more independently and take on greater responsibility for their own learning process” (Marcon, 2002, p. Discussion, ¶Final paragraph).


The main strength of the traditional, American preschool program is in its adaptability. With new research constantly available, American early childhood professionals are slowly adopting new ways of working with and teaching young children. Philosophical approaches are broadening, partly as a result of governmental requirements to accommodate ability and cultural diversity; partly because of conservative ideologies integrating the child’s spiritual learning domain.


Regardless of the educational philosophy, the weakness of the traditional, American preschool program lies in the corporate care mentality which dominates the classroom environment: all are simultaneously taught the same concepts, follow the same routines, given individualized help if needed and measured in comparison to each other – behaviorally as well as academically. Success is measured in the child’s ability to sit still, follow directions, recite, write and often read required material (NCREL, 2004).


Seventh-day Adventist Early Childhood Education and Care Programs

Basic Concepts

Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children. Godliness--godlikeness--is the goal to be reached. Before the student there is opened a path of continual progress. He has an object to achieve, a standard to attain, that includes everything good, and pure, and noble. He will advance as fast and as far as possible in every branch of true knowledge… (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 18, ¶4).

Through such words of inspiration and encouragement Ellen G. White dealt keenly with both the temporal and spiritual development of the young child. Author, speaker and mother of four boys, two of whom died in childhood, she motivated parents and teachers to strive for excellence in character, learning and daily habits (Noorbergen, 1972).

In- an era where children were to be seen and not heard, Mrs. White showed an experiential and intuitive understanding for their developmental needs. “As soon as a child is capable of forming an idea, his education should begin” (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 26, ¶2), she wrote.  “[F]or then the mind is the most impressible, and the lessons given are remembered (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 26, ¶3).” She believed that young children should be neither pampered and indulged nor ignored and deprived. She advocated for a balance in the careful instruction of young children by loving and attentive adults (White, 1877).

Solomon wrote, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6; White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 38, ¶2). Mrs. White understood these words to mean “it is by degrees that the character is formed, and that the soul is trained to put forth effort and energy proportionate to the task which is to be accomplished” (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 37, ¶2).

In writing to parents and teachers, she said: “No work ever undertaken by man requires greater care and skill than the proper training and education of youth and children” (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 39, ¶1). “True education is not the forcing of instruction on an unready and unreceptive mind” (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 41, ¶2). “True education… has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers” (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 13, ¶1). Such harmonious development is found in the study of God’s law, the Bible, nature, service to others and “useful occupation” (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 21, ¶3).  Hence, the “first object of education is to direct our minds” and those of our children to God’s revelation of Himself (Matthew 6:22; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 16, ¶4). 

In dozens of books and hundreds of letters, Mrs. White detailed how parents and teachers were to accomplish their high calling. She wrote instructions dealing with the home life, classroom environment, discipline, training and teaching methods.

In the years since her death, the counsel from Mrs. White has repeatedly been validated through research. The techniques she recommended over a hundred years ago have become known as “best practices” within the early childhood community.

For instance, when teaching young children, Mrs. White (1903/2002, Ed.; 1954/2002, CG), recommended the use of methods such as:

·         Attention to individual development and personal interests (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 232, ¶2)

·         Memory work and independent thought (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 511, ¶4; White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 230, ¶2)

·         Physical, practical work and hands-on activities (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 220, ¶2 & pp. 207-209 & 212-213)

·         Thorough, multi-disciplinary, well-rounded training (White, 1903/2002, Ed. p. 232, ¶4)

·         Hymns and Scripture songs (White, 1954/2002, CG, pp. 523-524)

·         Bible and mission stories (White, 1954/2002, CG, pp. 514-515)

·         Prayer and reflection (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 254)

·         Nature object lessons and studies in the various aspects of nature (White, 1954/2002, CG, pp. 46-59 & pp. 534-536)

·         Solid, valuable knowledge (White, 1954/2002, CG, p 193)

·         Simplicity and effectiveness (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 107, ¶2 and p. 233, ¶1)

·         Illustration (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 514, ¶3; (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 233, ¶1)

·         Enthusiasm and dignity (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 233, ¶2 & 279, ¶1)

·         Well-planned lessons with a distinct goal (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 233, ¶4)

·         Mastery learning (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 234, ¶1)

·         Parental involvement (White, 1903/2002, Ed., pp. 283-286).

As another example, one area of constant struggle for early childhood teachers is that of discipline. Mrs. White wrote that parents and teachers should reflect the character of Christ by:

·         Encouraging confidence and strengthen a sense of honor (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 289, ¶3)

·         Blending authority and affection (White, 1952/1980, AH, p. 198, ¶1)

·         Acting from firm rules, never from impulse or passion (White, 1952/2002, AH, p. 198, ¶1)

·         Erring on the side of mercy (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 293, ¶2)

·         Dedicating time and attention to individual children (White, 1990, 7 MR, p. 11, ¶1 & 2)

·         Teaching habits of carefulness and respect (White, 1993, 7 MR, p. 11, ¶1)

·         Avoiding coldness or harshness, faultfinding or censure (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 291, 4)

·         Not indulging self-indulgence or petting praise (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 37, ¶1 and p. 178, ¶1 & 2)

·         Not excusing or tolerating tantrums (White, 1990, 7 MR, p. 11, ¶3)

·         Being just and reasonable (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 287, ¶2)

·         Protecting children from harm (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 460, ¶2; p. 272, ¶3)

·         Lovingly denying children those things that are harmful or would cause injury (White, 1948, 4T, p. 140, ¶3; p. 141, ¶1)

·         Never raising the voice or hand before prayer (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 254)

·         Asking for God’s blessing on the seeds sown in each child’s heart (White, 1954/2002, CG, pp. 200-203; pp. 204-208).

The goal, of course, is to raise godly children who are independent “thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought” (White, 1990, 7 MR, p. 12, ¶2; White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 17, ¶3); children who are “strong to think and to act;” “masters and not slaves of circumstances;” “who possess breadth of mind, clearness of thought, and the courage of their convictions” (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 18, ¶1). At the heart of Mrs. White’s philosophy is the idea of lovingly caring for another’s child. Thus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has established and operated schools based on council received from Mrs. White in the book Education (1903/2002). In a chapter describing the training of the children of Israel upon their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, she outlines the recipe for true education. In abbreviated form, their education consisted of labor, study and meditation (p. 34, ¶1). They were given the oracles of God in order to study His character (p. 34, ¶3; p. 35, ¶1 & 4) and learn obedience (p. 36, ¶1). Through the Divinely appointed economy, they were to learn the value of united labor, service (p. 37, ¶3 & 4) and worship (p. 38, ¶4). Daily activities and habits of health all centered on their willing followership and discipline (p. 38, ¶1 & 2; p. 37, ¶5). The organized manner in which they lived, traveled and worshiped infiltrated every aspect of their lives (p. 39, ¶3). Through songs and routines they affixed lessons within their minds and those of their children (p. 39, ¶2).

If, in their early childhood, children are perseveringly and patiently trained in the right way, they will not form wrong habits” (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 200, ¶4). The parents or teachers who give no attention to the small actions that are not right establish those habits in the youth” (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 201, ¶3); habits that will be carried with them throughout life (White, 1954/2002, CG, p. 200, ¶4 ).


The development of the Seventh-day Adventist educational model for early childhood education has its foundation in a Biblical context with counsel provided by Ellen White concerning the upbringing and purposeful training of the young child. Three scriptural verses on which this philosophy leans upon gives instruction to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, King James Version), teach the words of Holy Script “diligently unto thy children” (Deuteronomy 6:7), and to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). To these admonitions, White adds that “True education… has to do with the whole being… It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers” (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 13, ¶1). Such harmonious development is found in the study of God’s law, the Bible, nature, service to others and “useful occupation” (White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 21, ¶3).  Hence, the “first object of education is to direct our minds” and those of our children to God’s revelation of Himself (Matthew 6:22; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; White, 1903/2002, Ed., p. 16, ¶4).

The Adventist church has a well developed educational system that is highly respected around the world. The well developed philosophy of education is found in the book Education, by Ellen G. White. This provides guidance and purpose in developing policies, procedures, guidelines, curriculum, teacher preparation programs, professional development and certification, program standards and accreditation – all the standardized expectations for ECEC programs and ECEC teachers.

Educational methods are also outlined in the writings of Mrs. White as well as in the Holy Bible. How those methods are practiced, of course, can be more eclectic and incorporate aspects of other ECE models; but being eclectic in our practical application of Adventist methods does not change our foundational philosophy.


The Adventist church is currently in the process of formalizing an organizational structure as it relates to Adventist ECEC programs. A firm business and community service foundation is being developed through the drafting of policies, guidelines, curriculum standards and employee standards, professional development, professional certification and program accreditation.

Speaking appointments are typically scheduled 12 months in advance. To schedule a speaking appointment with Dr. Gillan Byrne, please use the email link or call (479) 216-9771.


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