e definition of childhood is not limited by
development standards or statistics. It is first and
foremost a dynamic and continuous process that
encompasses an inevitable transformation of the per-
son. It is the job of adults to foster this process in the
most positive way possible (Legendre 1993, 453).
1.2 The importance of
early childhood education
With the social and family changes that have
occurred in recent years, early childhood education
is not limited to the family but encompasses soci-
ety as represented by child care centers, preschools,
and family or home child care. Early childhood
education is fast becoming a specialty distinct
from the psychology and education domains.
More and more it is discussed in newspapers, radio
and television reports, public debates, and confer-
ences and on the Internet. Despite this evolution,
the term education is too often limited to school
learning, as if early childhood education in a child
care center were a less serious business. Too many
people still believe that education outside of a for-
mal school setting consists of keeping children busy
until they are old enough to enter school. Although
erroneous, this concept of early childhood educa-
tion remains deeply anchored in people’s minds.
Hence, it is important to spread knowledge about
activities in early childhood settings, because doing
so directly affects the well-being of children and
influences early learning, which, in turn, forms the
basis of later school success.
If parents are experts on their children, then the
educator is the specialist of early childhood
development within the context of group life.
Even before children enter the “big school”
they are capable of reproducing the essential
behaviors of daily life that determine, in large
part, the autonomy of a person. They learn to
walk, talk, eat, and drink alone, get dressed and
undressed, go to the bathroom, and perform appro-
priate hygiene care such as washing hands and
brushing teeth. Children also learn to manage
some social situations, such as expressing their
Th e o r e t i c a l F r a m e w o rk
needs, making choices, solving problems at their
own level, and respecting the rules of group life.
These skills are, in many cases, learned through
the numerous activities offered in early childhood
educational programs. Through such active expe-
riences, children have the opportunity to develop
in a comprehensive way as they prepare for the
next stage of life.
1.3 Frame of reference:
With the advent of psychological research and
the development of more humane practices dur-
ing the twentieth century, education theorists and
practitioners have come to oppose the traditional,
encyclopedic pedagogy that emphasizes knowl-
edge, technical learning, and direct preparation
for school learning. Rather, they promote a child-
centered pedagogy focused on the whole devel-
opment of children. Even though this approach
was conceived by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the
eighteenth century, it was some 150 years before
the development in Europe of the “New School”
movement associated with Freinet, Montessori, and
Decroly. In North America, the effects of this more
open pedagogy started to be felt only in the 1960s,
becoming more prominent in the 1970s.
Child psychology is a relatively new science.
Piaget, with his cognitive development theory, has
had the most influence on childhood education.
Bettelheim, Freud, Erikson, and Vygotsky, as well
as pediatricians such as Dolto, Brazelton, Dodson,
and Gordon, all influenced, in one way or another,
the concepts of child-centered education and active
learning, upon which many educational programs
today are based. Other proven programs include the
Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) pro-
gram from the National Association for the Educa-
tion of Young Children (NAEYC), the Bank Street
Model (Developmental Interaction Approach), and
the High/Scope program. Several components of the
New School are inherent to the Jouer c’est magique
(Play is magical) program created for child care ser-
vices by the Quebec government.
The framework proposed here focuses on the
true needs of children while fostering their whole
development. Because children learn better when