Early Childhood Education

What is early childhood education?

Early childhood education refers to a student’s education from birth through age eight. The term encompasses an array of educational services including child care, preschool, kindergarten, and the early elementary grades. These services may be provided in the home, in a community center, or in school.

Why does it matter?

You don’t have to attend school in Illinois until you’re 6 years old, but we know that students need a strong educational foundation to be successful later and an early start is crucial. A recent study showed that children from lower-income families will be exposed to 30 million fewer words by age 4 than children from higher-income families and that this gap continues to grow as children get older. Our best opportunity to close the achievement gap is to close it early. Research shows that students who attend quality pre-K are:

  • More likely to graduate high school and go on to college
  • More likely to be employed and have higher earnings
  • Less likely to be on public assistance
  • Less likely be involved in criminal activity
  • Less likely to smoke when they get older

With returns like these, we cannot afford not to invest in our youngest students.

What is Advance Illinois doing?

  • We serve on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment Steering Committee, which oversees the piloting of the research-based, developmentally appropriate observation tool for young children called KIDS. It is designed to identify gaps in school readiness and improve instruction for Illinois’ youngest learners.
  • We supported Illinois’ decision to become the first state in the nation to require bilingual education for English learners in preschool.
  • We spotlighted the dwindling access to early childhood education in Illinois and why this matters in our report, The State We’re In: 2016.


The Kindergarten Readiness Stakeholder Committee, convened by the Illinois State Board of Education, has issued recommendations for creating a statewide, research-based kindergarten assessment process to provide schools and educational leaders with age-appropriate information about children’s developing knowledge and skills in A New Beginning: The Illinois Kindergarten Individual Development Survey

Voices for Illinois Children’s Great at Eight initiative focuses on promoting policies and messages that create an alignment of the education, health, and community service systems for children from birth to age eight.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is one of the nation’s leading voices on early childhood education.

The Ounce of Prevention Fund pursues the goal that all American children—particularly those born into poverty—have quality early childhood experiences in the crucial first five years of life.