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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers
music lessons or sports practice (Huntsinger et al., 1998). The children may enter school well practiced in coping with new environments, readily accepting unfamiliar adults as sources of knowledge and help.
The social organization of the family and community in which non-middle-class, non-European-American children are raised may lend themselves to different experiences and expectations. Chisholm (1981) found fear of strangers continuing well past age 2 among children in American Indian extended families living in sheep-herding camps on the Navajo reservation. She noted that some children “might never meet an actual stranger until they went away to school at age 5” (Chisholm, 1981:11). In the extended families of Hispanic cultures, adults are described as especially nurturing and protective (Durrett et al., 1975; Zuniga, 1992). The children meet fewer people but have close relationships with more people. Like Navajo children, the children are described as shy and often as having difficulty adapting to school (Field and Widmayer, 1981).
Tharp (1989) described the extended families in which many Hawaiian children are regularly cared for by siblings, and bands of children organize for themselves activities in which learning is collaborative, mediated through peer assistance. On entering school, the children sought interaction with other children rather than attending to teacher instruction (Gallimore et al., 1974). Modifications in the social organization of the classroom, which allowed for peer-assisted learning and for children to shape their activities, in addition to adaptations in instructional practices designed to be more compatible with Native Hawaiian culture, resulted in marked academic improvement in primary grade children’s performance (Vogt et al., 1987). These researchers advocated for selective accommodation of the classroom to children’s natal culture. In the Hawaiian study, the classroom environment was only minimally similar to children’s home contexts. “The only compelling similarities are the absence of direct adult regulation or scaffolding of performances, and the opportunity for children to engage in shared activities, organized more or less as the children prefer” (Weisner et al., 1988:344). Selective accommodation of the classroom environment to cultural preferences may be sufficient to enable children to make the transition