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Reaching the youngest hearts and minds: Interviews with diocesan leaders regarding catholic early childhood education

Early childhood is a critically formative stage of human development and the educational experiences of children at this young age impact their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical competencies. In the U.S., early childhood education has grown dramatically since the 1960s, both in federal and state dollars invested and in terms of overall enrollment. However, despite what is known about early childhood education in general, the picture of whether and how the Catholic education sector--particularly diocesan schools and parishes--is serving early childhood needs remains unclear. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to begin mapping the landscape of Catholic early childhood education in several dioceses across the United States. A qualitative interview protocol guided interviews with 15 (arch) diocesan administrators about their current practices regarding Catholic preschool education. Findings are grouped according to the major thematic issues covered, including issues such as curriculum, teacher qualifications, accreditation, finances, enrollment, marketing, and Catholic identity. Whereas early childhood education shows great variability in form, content, and delivery both within and across dioceses, this sample indicated an overall increase in enrollment over the previous five years, as well as a strong insistence that early childhood is an important lever for both child and family faith formation. Early childhood programming must be considered a strategically significant component of the Catholic educational enterprise. (author abstract)
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