History: A braid of missions from five perspectives

Head Start

When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “The War on Poverty” in 1964, no one could have imagined the growth of the profession of early educators. The following year a committee including sociologists, psychologists, and pediatricians gathered to determine how to help bridge the achievement gap for the children in poverty from a socioeconomic perspective. Five months later Project Head Start began as an eight-week summer program under the assumption that helping children with health, nutrition, dental, and mental health in addition to academics might place them on equal playing fields.

By 1969, Head Start was transferred from the Department of Economics  into the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare by the Richard M. Nixon administration. The Director of the Office of Child Development, Edward Zigler, came from Yale University as director of the Child Study Center. Each successive presidential administration continued the expansion of Head Start and federal dollars to sustain it until by 1998 it operated as full-day and full-year services. ( Today, Head Start claims

Council for Exceptional Children

Quite earlier and yet simultaneous to the development of Head Start, The Council for Exceptional Children was formed in 1922 in New York City.  Later in the 1950’s chapters, federations, branches and specializations followed in this fellowship seeking to assist special needs learners.  The impact of the researchers in this field assisted sweeping changes to what is known about young children.

Since the mid-seventies, when research began unfolding with the young child in mind, groups in private settings and those partnering with the National Association for the Education of the Young Child, were forming task force and discussion groups to advance the movement. At that time, discussions took place for how to inform the public and create a profession who cared about the early years of development. The gaps in services, state and federal investment and teacher pay were huge. Early on a vision was crafted with teachers in mind.  The hope was for full implementation of instruction at the preschool and parent levels so that early learning could become a part of the K-12 system.

Public Education

As momentum grew in the late 1990’s, trusts were formed to build coalitions.  The Pew Center led in a well-designed transformative process to assure that known research was put into an action plan. Pre-K Now became an intentional outreach to state governments in the hopes of transforming public education to include at least four-year-old children if not three-year-olds as well. They formed a plan to get the culture thinking and talking about the research, changing the path of policy and mobilizing advocates and philanthropists.  Beginning with solid implementation of state funded preschool programs in Oklahoma, Georgia, and New York, it was the hope that demonstrated program success would pressure other states to join the movement.

Child Care 

Since 1987 Federal and State initiatives have converged to provide assistance to parents for quality child care. The emphasis . Their strategic initiative includes a mission to ensure a nation that supports development and learning of all children.  They are about policies and partnerships for access. They regulate the licensing that protects children yet only about half of the facilities in the country are licensed.  Accreditation is another process through which programs can have a peer-reviewed center who has adhered to a self study process aligning to a higher level of specific standards

Every week nearly 11 million children under age 5 are placed in a child care setting for an average of 35 hours per week [from the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral information].  While the federal  block grant funding states for child care has not been renewed since 1996, the NACCRR works with 600 state and local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies to help families have access to quality and affordable child care.

Theology of the Child Movement

Religious institutions pick up some of the child care, some for reasons of quality assurance and ministry and others for reasons of financial stability for their church. As children’s ministries look for ways to implement the scriptural text of Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs 22:6, questions of child theology have risen.  Marcia Bunge wrote a seminal text on the Child in Christian Thought tracing the religious thinking over the centuries on the development of children. The Triennial Children’s Spirituality Conference sought researchers who could provide insight into the ways in which children come to acknowledge their creator.  Interestingly the United Kingdom advance the thinking of spiritual formation by making a public mandate in 1988 that all education systems in the UK provide for the spiritual growth of children.  The terms spiritual, faith, religious, moral, character and value development, and worldview all apply differently.  Theology of the child centers on Christ’s bringing a child on to his lap and likening the kingdom of heaven to that of a child.   Theology impacts practice and current interest in the spiritual development of children has followed the cultural interest in the research on their development.


CEES continues to investigate practical ways to provide spiritual enhancement to children.  As part of the research on worldview development and a brief investigation of ways that children express their worldview, insights into spiritual emphasis have been gained and will continue to be researched and shared.  Workshops and webinars are forthcoming to advance this interest for teachers in faith-based programs and communities.  Practical instructional videos are available for teacher’s discussions and curricula building.