social competence during direct instruction than during play, but direct instruction may be efficient at building a knowledge base. Organized storytelling may help develop attention span as well as vocabulary, but vocabulary is made active when children engage—as in child-initiated instruction or in interaction with older peers.

While understanding of teaching and learning in the preschool years has broadened considerably, increasing knowledge suggests just how challenging is the task of the preschool teacher. There are no magic bullets, no right curriculum or best pedagogy. We know that children can learn a great deal in the care of an adult who is tuned into the child’s current level of development and his or her developmental challenges. We know that when carefully supported or scaffolded, children can be happily engaged in relatively complex thinking and problem solving. Sensitivity to individual children’s current competence may be one reason for the links between developmental outcomes, positive caregiver behaviors, and formal professional education that is observed in empirical research. In the next two chapters, we turn to the tasks of assessing young children’s development and of professional development that prepares those who take on the multifaceted, complex job of preschool teacher.



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