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Th 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: Democratic pedagogy 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