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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers
studies reveal that preschool children’s interests influence the quality of their play and social interaction. She writes that for children between the ages of 3 and 4, “there seems to be an increased coordination of children’s friendship around objects of interest…suggesting that children are increasingly attentive to both the other and the object of exchange over time” (p. 370).
It is clear from the work of Renninger and others that children’s interest and follow-through are related to their problem-solving ability and knowledge, especially in free play contexts. There is also general agreement that interest can be viewed as a disposition that is relevant not only for young children but also for adults, although their motivation differs. The young child is an active, outreaching individual whose interest is related to exploration and acquisition of knowledge of the surrounding environment. These interests are subsequently internalized and are related to the child’s developing intrinsic motivation.
This process is well described in Deci’s theory of self-determination, which holds that interest is a powerful motivator and has effects on subsequent learning and school achievement (Deci and Ryan, 1994)). The work of Renninger, then, demonstrates the significance of interest in social and cognitive functioning in preschool children, especially through play. Deci’s self-determination theory indicates the significance of interest in the development of intrinsic motivation and internalization of interest associated with particular activities. Each of these writers offers a comprehensive view of interest as a significant motivator for ongoing knowledge acquisition.
Culture and Ethnicity
The influence of culture on social and emotional development has long been apparent to anthropologists, but it has now become a widely accepted notion in the field of developmental psychology. Beginning with the classic studies of Margaret Mead and John and Beatrice Whiting of young children and families in the Pacific Islands, Africa, India, and South America as well as in the United States, there is a solid knowledge base on variations around the world in children’s social developmental pathways. We know, for example, that social competence is a culturally de-