Curriculum theorist Elliot Eisner (1993) wrote, “Clearly, there are few issues that are more central to the experience that students have in schools than the content of the curriculum and the ways in which it is mediated” (p. 38). Such is the case regarding curriculum designed specifically for young children. Understanding, discussing, implementing, and assessing curriculums, regardless of age or grade level, are matters of theoretical complexity as well as immense practical utility. The theoretical complexity is derived from the multiple ways in which scholars and practitioners define, and therefore understand and discuss, curriculum. On the other hand, determining curricular content and deciding upon how it will be mediated in a classroom are pragmatic considerations. Perspectives on what students should learn and how such learning should be carried out are inseparable from historical and cultural contexts, as well as learning theories, theories of development, and educational philosophies. Hence, curriculum in general and early childhood curriculum in particular are topics of extreme importance, complicated by a multiplicity of formulations, purposes, and guiding principles.

Flinders and Thornton’s (2017) references to key figures in The Curriculum Studies Reader provides evidence of common ground between early childhood curriculum and the field of curriculum studies. However, early childhood curriculum has a number of attributes unique to the care and education of young children. Further, the study and practice of early childhood education has its own distinct history that has evolved disjointedly – though not completely disconnected from – compulsory schooling (Moss, 2013). Developmental psychology and to a lesser extent anthropology and sociology have been central to the formation of early childhood education, while education theory has provided the seeds for educating older students.

Some consider early education to be a precursor to compulsory schooling, viewing the preparation of young children for future educational endeavors as the chief aim of early childhood curriculum. The very names “preschool” and “prekindergarten” suggest such a view. Others fear curriculum pushdown (Hatch, 2002), seeking instead to preserve unique qualities of early educational experiences through curriculum that embodies developmentally appropriate practices. More recently some scholars have strived to mediate balance or even synthesize guidelines for developmentally and culturally meaningful curriculum with the demands of readying young children for compulsory schooling (Brown, Feger, & Mowry, 2019). In addition, utilizing wide-ranging disciplinary and conceptual orientations extending beyond developmental theories, reconceptualists broaden and deepen conversations about early childhood curriculum (File, 2011).