greater utilization of nonparental child care, for example, have dramatically altered the daily life experiences of infants and toddlers by introducing a greater variety of adult relationships and earlier exposure to organized peer group activities, particularly with same-age playmates. The proliferation of early childhood enrichment activities and intense competition for admission to prestigious preschool programs for children from affluent families have increased performance demands within a relatively narrow range of competencies at increasingly younger ages; and the considerable amount of time that toddlers and preschoolers spend watching television and playing with video games have transformed the nature of imagination and play during the preschool years.

The lessons from these examples are clear. Culture is not a static phenomenon. It is sustained, challenged, or modified over time. Culture is also not a neutral construct. It draws much of its influence from the conviction that its values and practices are inherently right and preferable to those of others. In a pluralistic and rapidly changing society like the United States, culture is a highly charged and constantly moving target that is difficult to investigate in an objective manner. Numerous examples of its influence on early childhood development are included throughout this report, but much further work remains to be done. However, unlike research in the neurobiology of early childhood development, studies of the relation between competence and culture are heavily infused with values and personal beliefs. The extent to which both the capacity and the resolve to learn more about this critical relation are strengthened will determine the ability to understand the rich diversity of human cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development, beginning in the earliest years of life.

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