There’s more evidence that when children have positive experiences from infancy through third grade, it sets them on a path to achieve better outcomes later in school, work and health.

“Having those strong experiences at that young age allows students to really begin to get excited about learning and to have the skills they need to be more successful as they move through the educational system and their lives,” said Janet D. Williams, dean of the School of Education and Professional Licensure at Walden University’s Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership.

The skills and knowledge necessary to providing an excellent learning experience for young students, however, are not immediately acquired, Williams said. Ensuring success in the classroom means staying on top of the latest pedagogy and developing new skills to meet the challenges of a shifting student population. As a result, degree programs for early education are increasingly in demand for teachers looking to hone their craft.

“The field changes. We learn more about the brain and early development. We come up with better techniques,” said Tina Marshall-Bradley, an academic coordinator at Walden’s Riley College of Education and Leadership. “Most educators you talk to will tell you that they have their best years of teaching while they’re engaged in an advanced degree program.”

“Research shows that families engaged in their children’s learning can have an immediate and positive impact on their development.”

Embracing diversity

Changing American demographics means the classrooms of today look a lot different than those of decade’s past.

According to recent projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, 44 percent of American children are members of minority groups. By 2050, the number will jump to 62 percent. Those changes impact linguistic diversity in schools. “English Learners,” according to the U.S. Department of Education, are the fastest-growing student population in the country.

Diversity is an advantage in schools, Marshall-Bradley said, but teachers need to know how to harness it to create a quality learning environment. Modern education degree programs, she said, equip teachers with the skills to make sure every child’s unique aspects, including their culture, language and abilities are respected and celebrated.

“You can’t just teach one way. You have to know enough about your students’ cultures and their values so you can link all of that as an educator and truly have meaningful experiences with all children,” Marshall-Bradley said.

Focus on family

Research shows that families engaged in their children’s learning can have an immediate and positive impact on their development. Many families, however, might not feel at home in early education settings depending on their values and prior experiences. It’s important, therefore, for teachers to learn how to create opportunities tailored to each family’s unique needs.

Some families, for example, might not feel comfortable reading a book to young children in the classroom, but would welcome the opportunity to help serve snacks. Other families might shy away from a field trip, yet feel incredibly valued when helping clean the classroom. Careful attention to what family preferences for engagement are is critical to creating a climate of family involvement.

In many aspects of early education, Williams said, avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach is crucial. That requires a great deal of time, energy and care, she said, but dedicated teachers who receive the most up to date training in a state of the art degree program are up to the task. “Educators should love knowledge, love education and love continuing their learning. First and foremost, they should love to support each individual student so they flourish now and into the future,” Williams said.