Supporting Our Youngest Generation

Four early childhood education scholars gathered for a recent webinar to discuss some of the greatest opportunities and challenges facing early childhood education in America.

Audrey Breen

A collaboration between the UVA School of Education and Human Development and University Advancement’s Office of Engagement, the Supporting Our Youngest Generation webinar featured a discussion on current challenges and opportunities in educational and developmental support for our youngest citizens.

Bob Pianta, dean of the School of Education and Human Development, was joined by Jacqueline Jones, president and CEO of the Foundation for Child Development; Sam Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska; and Amanda Williford, Batten Bicentennial Professor of Early Childhood Education and the associate director for early childhood education at the UVA Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.

Among many insights shared during the discussion, Williford reminded viewers that early childhood education is one of the few national policy issues that shares support across political parties, where there exists unanimous understanding that children’s early development is critical both for their own lifelong learning and the future workforce. However, a set of fallacies currently threatens to reduce the collective support for early childhood education and care.

Williford offered six false dichotomies about early childhood education that are unnecessarily driving divisions among policymakers, practitioners, researchers and education leaders and how to think differently about them.

  1. Childcare versus preschool. Instead of framing early learning in two categories that are often pitted against each other, childcare versus preschool, Williford shared that children need both care and education.
  2. Childcare versus caring for your child at home. Instead of setting childcare outside the home against childcare inside the home, Williford shared that learning occurs both in the classroom and at home.
  3. Play versus learning. While there exists a temptation to categorize play separately from learning, Williford reminded viewers that children are actually learning while they’re playing.
  4. Teacher-directed versus child-directed. For many involved in early childhood education, there are often discussions about teacher-directed activities versus child-directed activities. Williford shared that it is important both for teachers to offer structure and for children to have autonomy and choice.
  5. Academic learning versus social-emotional learning. For many paying close attention to early childhood curricula, it can be tempting to categorize activities or lessons into one of these categories. Williford shared that children learn academic and social-emotional skills at the same time.
  6. Childcare worker versus teacher. In a time where the early childhood workforce is often seen differently from K-12 teachers, Williford offered that educating and stimulating the minds and bodies of a 3-month-old, a 3-year-old and 3rd grader are equally important.


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Research Center or Department

  • Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning