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Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers (2000)

Chapter: 3	The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations

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Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

3
The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations

WHILE DEVELOPMENT OCCURS IN A similar fashion for all children, developmental differences are the inevitable result of individual genetic and experiential variations and differing cultural and social contexts. In the past several decades, social scientists who study children have paid greater attention to this diversity in development. The potential of human development interacts with diversity among individuals, available resources, and the goals and preferred interaction patterns of communities in a way that links the biological and the social in the construction of diverse developmental pathways.

Among the many differences with which children present themselves to preschool teachers, we highlight three dimensions of variation that require particular attention on the part of a responsive preschool teacher:

  1. The child’s level of development in the cognitive skills and knowledge of relevance to the preschool classroom,

  2. The child’s social skills and behavior in a classroom context and the familiar norms of interaction with peers and adults, and

  3. The child’s level of physical and motor development.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

These differences are associated with functional characteristics—such as temperament, learning style, and motivation—and from status characteristics—including gender, race, ethnicity, and social class (Gordon and Shipman, 1979).

VARIATION IN COGNITIVE SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE

Children come to preschool with a set of cognitive skills and proficiencies that include language and literacy, reasoning, and general knowledge (Kagan et al., 1995). Although virtually all preschool children by age 3 or so have mastered the basic grammar and phonology and a reasonably large vocabulary for everyday learning and play, there are nevertheless large individual differences in areas that are related to achievement in formal learning settings. They vary widely in their language acquisition and use, their language comprehension, their understanding of number and causation, and their knowledge about the world around them. We review findings in the area of language and literacy, where much research has been done, and in mathematics, where a smaller but growing body of research is available.

Language Development

A major source of variation among children is their rate of language development, a difference that begins in the early months of life. Roe (1974) found that, among 28 infants, the earlier a high rate of babbling occurred, the earlier every subsequent index of language maturity was likely to occur. Some researchers have found a pattern of gender difference in language learning, with girls more advanced in vocabulary learning than boys (Huttenlocher et al., 1991).

Although research has shown the developmental sequence of language learning to be much the same for all children, great variation in the rate of language learning occurs across as well as within languages. Each language has its own areas of complexity and irregularity, leading to slow acquisition, and its own areas of relative ease. Slobin (1985) tested children ages 2 to 4 who were learning one of four languages: English, Italian, Serbo-Croatian,

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

or Turkish. Before age 2, the children learning Turkish were using productively the 16 case inflections required on nouns plus much of the verb morphology, whereas the “absence of a regular and predictable system contributes to the prolonged and confused course of inflectional acquisition in English” (Slobin, 1985:151). In Turkish, inflectional morphemes are stressed, obligatory, regular, and distinct. Children do not have to deal with homonyms, as in “She ate eight cookies,” with irregularities such as “cows, mice, sheep,” with contrasts such as “ring/rang, bring/brought,” or “eat/ate, beat/beat, treat/treated,” or with acceptable options such as “None of these go/goes.” Regardless of the sentence structure heard, the objective case ending enabled the children learning Turkish to identify the receiver of an action correctly 80 percent of the time. The children learning English, who had to rely on sentence structure (as in “The ball hit the boy” versus “The ball hit by the boy”), were 3 1/2 years old before reaching that level of accuracy.

Among children learning English, the range in age at particular stages and in the amount and kinds of language they acquire is very wide. Among the 42 children Hart and Risley (1999) observed longitudinally, the average age of saying the first word was 11 months; the range, however, was 8 to 14 months. The average age at which half of what the children said contained recognizable words was 19 months, with a range of 15 to 30 months. At age 2, the variation was enormous: children produced an average of 338 comprehensible utterances an hour, with a range from 42 to 672; they used 134 different words per hour on average, with a range from 18 to 286. The range in vocabulary size parents reported for their 2-year-olds was 50 to 550 words in another study of several hundred children (Fenson et al., 1994).

The range of language abilities confronting preschool teachers is wider the younger the children in the classroom. Significantly delayed language occurs in a relatively large number of 2-year-olds, with a progressively smaller proportion of children affected across the preschool years (Whitehurst and Fischel, 1994). For example, in one study, between 9 and 17 percent of 2-year-olds (varying with socioeconomic status) met a criterion for expressive delay of fewer than 30 words and no word combinations at 24 months (Rescorla, 1989). By 36 months, estimated preva

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

lence of specific and secondary delay dropped to between 3 and 8 percent (Silva, 1980; Stevenson and Richman, 1976). The longitudinal study by Silva (1980) indicates that the prevalence of secondary and specific forms of developmental language delay dropped by another 60 percent between ages 3 and 5. This would indicate a prevalence of between 1 and 3 percent at age 5.

Approaches to Language Learning

Children differ in how they approach the task of learning language. Bates et al., (1988) describe a continuum ranging from children who approach language holistically, acquiring whole sentences in chunks (“Leave me alone,” “I want some more”), to children who take an analytical approach, learning one word at a time. Children who approach language analytically are described as having a referential bias (Nelson, 1973); they acquire large initial vocabularies of object labels (or of verbs if they are learning Korean or Chinese, languages in which verbs occur in salient positions at the beginnings and ends of sentences, where nouns occur in English (see Choi and Bowerman, 1991; Tardiff, 1996). Children with a holistic approach are described as less interested in objects than in social interaction, such that they acquire larger initial vocabularies of expressions and action words (Nelson, 1973).

Children also differ in the extent to which they are risk-takers (Peters, 1983). Some children appear to prefer to listen: there may be a prolonged “silent period” followed by starting to talk at a skill level comparable to that of children who have been practicing speaking for months (Saville-Troike, 1988). Other children begin exploring the effects of words heedless of accuracy and inflection. Nelson (1973) found talkativeness positively associated with all aspects of learning to talk when children were 2 years old. Talkativeness has been found positively associated with larger expressive vocabularies and faster vocabulary growth rates at age 3 (Hart and Risley, 1999), and with use of more sophisticated syntax at age 4 and 5 (Landon and Sommers, 1979). Talkativeness is important, because the language children display influences communicative interactions with caregivers (Hart and Risley, 1999; Oller et al., 1995).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×
Sources of Language Differences

Culture. Children learn language in the process of becoming members of a culture (Schieffelin and Ochs, 1986; Tomasello, 1992), and cultural practices are likely to be the chief determinant both of the amount and kinds of language children learn and of the environmental support provided for language learning (Schieffelin and Ochs, 1983). American families differ greatly in how much talking customarily goes on (Hart and Risley, 1995), and cultures differ in how much talking is acceptable on the part of little children (Schieffelin and Eisenberg, 1984). Heath (1989) and Schieffelin and Eisenberg (1984) describe cultures in which children are expected to learn from listening to the adult conversations going on around them, speaking only when asked to do so, so that the children’s contributions will be relevant, well formed, and both sharing the conversational topic and contributing new information.

There is ample evidence that cultural influences in terms of language affect children’s thinking, problem solving, and interpersonal interactions. For example, studies have shown that Japanese children excel in mathematics compared with U.S. children. One of the reasons for this may reside in the transparent nature of the base 10 counting system in the Japanese language. Similar differences might be found in classification because of different criteria and labels available. For example, Navaho-speaking children have more difficulty than English-speaking children classifying by color, but excel in classifying by shape, reflecting the presence of shape-dependent morphemes in their language.

Ochs (1986) notes the increasing number of cross-cultural studies showing that societies differ in language-socializing procedures, resulting in variation in language development associated with cultural context. “Prompting a child what to say appears widespread, but procedures described as facilitating language acquisition in studies of interactions between American middle-class parents and their children—fine-tuning, simplified, stressed speech, asking leading questions, expanding children’s utterances—are not characteristic in non-Western cultures” (Ochs, 1986:6). Studies by Pye (1986) and Schieffelin and Ochs (1983)

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

also suggest that the environmental support provided by American middle-class parents reflects the demands of a technological society in which a cultural priority is preparing children for academic achievement and managerial and professional occupations (Hart and Risley, 1995).

However, Fernald and Morikawa (1993) compared the interactions of 30 middle-class American parents to those of 30 monolingual wives of affiliates of Japanese companies visiting in America. All the parents, given identical sets of toys and video-taped in 10 to 15 minutes of toy play during home visits, were found to fine-tune their speech to the skill levels of their children. The American parents talked with their 6-, 12-, and 19-month-old children primarily about objects (naming them), and the Japanese parents talked primarily about social relations (polite verbal routines accompanying the exchange of objects, encouraging positive actions on toys: “pat it gently”). The major influence on the language children learn is the culture’s socialization practices, which aim to establish and maintain the “language learning games” of the culture (Tomasello, 1992).

Socioeconomic Status. A significant association between children’s performance on cognitive tasks and parent income and years of education is well documented (see Gottfried, 1984; Neisser et al., 1996; Stipek and Ryan, 1997), both within and across cultural groups. Parents with the advantages of education are reported to interact with their infants in ways relevant to mainstream schooling. They prompt their infants to respond to books and pictures, ask questions that promote organizing knowledge into names and categories (Schieffelin and Ochs, 1983), and arrange for children to have materials, uninterrupted time, and adult support for exploratory play that challenges them to initiate actions and combine and modify them in order to achieve a goal (Bruner, 1974). Duncan et al. (1994) demonstrated that the effect of poverty is partially mediated by the home environment. One-third of the variance in age 5 IQ scores that was associated with income was eliminated when measures of the home learning environment, family social support, maternal depression, and active behavioral coping were included in the model. The extent to which poverty is related to quality of the home environment depends on the de-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

gree of poverty: Garrett et al. (1994) found that as the income-to-needs ratio increased, the quality of the home environment increased. Moreover, the severity of the impact of socioeconomic status (SES) on the child’s development appears to be highly responsive to the number of risk factors that characterize the home environment; poverty alone would predict an impact far smaller than poverty in the context of a single-parent home with low parental education and maternal depression (Sameroff, 1989).

Implications

The preschool period is a time when the environment in which children develop can contribute to large differences in language and literacy skills. Before children can actually read, they generally acquire some sense of the purposes and mechanics of the reading enterprise. For some children, opportunities to learn about reading are many, and for others, they are few (McCormick and Mason, 1986). Those who can identify letters and are familiar with the concept and purpose of print are considered “reading ready” (National Research Council, 1998). Reading readiness at school entry is highly correlated with reading ability in the primary grades (Hammill and McNutt, 1980; Scarborough, 1998).

The National Center for Education Statistics recently published the results of a survey of America’s kindergarten class of 1998–99 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000). The survey recorded the number of first-time-to-kindergarten children with literacy skills that are prerequisites to learning to read: knowing that print reads left to right, knowing where to go when a line of print ends, and knowing where the story ends. The results: 37 percent of first-time kindergartners could do all three of these skills, but 18 percent could do none of the three (Table 3–1). As they enter kindergarten, 66 percent of children recognize their letters, 29 percent recognize beginning sounds in words, and 17 percent recognize ending sounds (Table 3–2).

Several factors, including gender and age, affect test results. Girls perform better than boys in the test, and the age of the student at first entry matters. The latter variable in particular suggests that normal developmental processes are at work in the development of literacy skills. But environmental factors are clearly

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–1 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by Print Familiarity Scores, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

Characteristic

0 Skills

1 Skill

2 Skills

3 Skills

Total

18

21

24

37

Child’s Sex

Male

20

20

23

37

Female

17

21

25

38

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

11

17

22

50

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

13

18

24

45

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

17

20

24

38

Born May-Aug. 1993

22

22

24

32

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

27

25

22

26

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

32

28

24

17

High school diploma or equivalent

23

23

24

30

Some college, including vocational/technical

17

20

24

39

Bachelor’s degree or higher

8

14

23

56

Family Type

Single mother

26

24

24

25

Single father

22

25

24

29

Two parent

16

19

24

41

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

32

27

22

19

Never utilized AFDC

17

19

24

40

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

26

22

24

28

English

18

20

24

38

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

14

18

24

45

Black, non-Hispanic

29

26

24

21

Asian

15

19

22

43

Hispanic

24

23

26

27

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

30

27

19

23

American Indian/Alaska Native

38

27

18

17

More than one race, non-Hispanic

18

23

24

35

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Characteristic

0 Skills

1 Skill

2 Skills

3 Skills

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

12

17

24

47

Black, non-Hispanic

27

25

25

23

Asian

14

17

22

46

Hispanic

22

22

25

31

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

26

26

25

22

Black, non-Hispanic

40

30

20

11

Asian

22

36

23

19

Hispanic

32

26

27

15

NOTES: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners who were assessed in English (approximately 19 percent of Asian children and approximately 30 percent of Hispanic children were not assessed). Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 5).

relevant as well: when the survey data are arrayed according to family characteristics, maternal education, poverty (as measured by welfare receipt), family type, and race/ethnicity are all shown to be correlated with literacy skills.

Through what mechanisms do demographic characteristics operate? Research and survey data suggest that families from lower-SES groups provide a similar array of language experiences as families in higher-SES groups, but the quantity of verbal interaction, and thus the vocabulary of the child, is much more limited (Hart and Risley, 1995). Moreover, language-rich environments are typically associated with activities like book reading, which by itself has a relatively modest predictive value (National Research Council, 1998). The NCES data indicate that mother’s education level is positively correlated with the number of books and music recordings in the home, that single-parent families and those receiving welfare have fewer books and recordings, and that these parents read and tell stories less often to their children (Tables 3–3 and 3–4). The relationship is not as strong for song singing or arts and crafts projects, however (Table 3–5).

As we indicated in the previous chapter, recent theories have

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–2 Percentage of First-Time Kindergartners Passing Each Reading Proficiency Level, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

Characteristic

Letter Recognition

Beginning Sounds

Ending Sounds

Sight Words

Words in Context

Total

66

29

17

2

1

Child’s Sex

Male

62

26

15

3

1

Female

70

32

19

2

1

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

76

38

24

5

2

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

73

36

22

4

2

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

67

31

17

2

1

Born May-Aug. 1993

60

23

13

1

1

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

56

20

11

1

1

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

38

9

4

*

*

High school diploma or equivalent

57

20

11

1

*

Some college, including vocational/technical

69

30

17

2

1

Bachelor’s degree or higher

86

50

32

6

2

Family Type

Single mother

53

18

10

1

*

Single father

58

21

11

2

1

Two parent

70

33

19

3

1

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

41

11

5

1

*

Never utilized AFDC

69

31

18

4

1

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

49

20

12

3

2

English

67

30

17

2

1

Child’s race/ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

73

34

20

3

1

Black, non-Hispanic

55

19

10

1

*

Asian

79

43

29

9

5

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Characteristic

Letter Recognition

Beginning Sounds

Ending Sounds

Sight Words

Words in Context

Hispanic

49

19

10

1

1

Hawaiian Native/ Pacific Islander

55

24

14

2

1

American Indian/ Alaska Native

34

11

6

*

*

More than one race, non-Hispanic

61

27

16

4

2

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

75

36

21

3

1

Black, non-Hispanic

59

22

12

1

1

Asian

82

47

32

10

5

Hispanic

55

23

13

1

1

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

47

12

6

*

*

Black, non-Hispanic

37

7

3

*

*

Asian

60

20

9

1

1

Hispanic

29

6

3

*

*

NOTES: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners who were assessed in English (approximately 19 percent of Asian children and approximately 30 percent of Hispanic children were not assessed). Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

*less than 0.5 percent.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 6).

emphasized the influence of relationships and interactions with caregivers other than parents on children’s development. Research on children during the school years that measures SES as a group risk factor (measured at the school level) suggests that it has a large, significant impact on reading ability, mediating the effect of SES as an individual risk factor (Bryk and Raudenbush, 1992). Children who come from low-SES families but are in schools with students from higher-SES families are at less risk than those in low-SES schools. A plausible interpretation of these data is that schools with large populations of low-SES students are more likely to be substandard schools (National Research

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–3 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by Numbers of Books and Children’s Records, Audiotapes, or CDs in the Home, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

Number of Children’s Books in Child’s Home

Characteristic

<26

26–50

51–100

101+

Total

26

28

29

17

Child’s Sex

Male

27

28

28

16

Female

25

28

29

17

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

18

25

33

24

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

25

28

29

18

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

26

28

29

17

Born May-Aug. 1993

27

29

28

17

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

30

28

27

15

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

62

24

10

4

High school diploma or equivalent

31

32

26

11

Some college, including vocational/technical

17

31

33

19

Bachelor’s degree or higher

7

22

40

31

Family Type

Single mother

40

30

21

10

Single father

37

30

22

10

Two parent

21

28

32

19

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

52

27

14

7

Never utilized AFDC

23

28

31

18

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

65

25

7

3

English

20

29

32

19

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Number of Children’s Records, Audio Tapes, or CDs in Child’s Home

None

1–5

6–10

11–20

21+

13

24

22

21

20

14

25

22

20

19

12

24

21

23

21

11

18

24

21

26

13

24

21

22

21

12

24

22

21

20

13

24

22

21

19

14

26

21

21

18

35

33

15

9

8

15

29

22

19

16

8

24

25

23

22

3

12

22

31

32

19

29

20

17

15

18

27

18

20

18

11

23

22

23

22

26

32

17

14

11

11

23

22

22

21

25

38

16

12

9

11

22

22

23

22

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

Number of Children’s Books in Child’s Home

Characteristic

<26

26–50

51–100

101+

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

9

28

38

25

Black, non-Hispanic

50

31

15

4

Asian

46

26

20

8

Hispanic

52

27

16

6

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

34

41

16

9

American Indian/Alaska Native

51

22

16

11

More than one race, non-Hispanic

20

36

28

16

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

7

27

39

26

Black, non-Hispanic

46

32

17

5

Asian

39

29

22

10

Hispanic

38

32

21

9

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

30

38

22

10

Black, non-Hispanic

69

23

6

2

Asian

72

16

12

*

Hispanic

77

17

5

1

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners who were assessed in English.

Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

*less than 0.5 percent.

Council, 1998). To the extent that the same dynamic is at work in preschool programs, we would expect that the potential for preschool to provide opportunities for children from low-SES groups to acquire skills they might not otherwise acquire will be realized only if those programs provide the quality of learning experience to which children in higher-SES groups are exposed. As Chapter 4 reports, high-quality model programs for low-SES children have been demonstrated to have very positive outcomes.

There are other factors affecting children’s language learning. In particular, poor outcomes vary directly with the generality of delay and the length of time the impairments persist. Thus a 5-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Number of Children’s Records, Audio Tapes, or CDs in Child’s Home

None

1–5

6–10

11–20

21+

7

19

23

26

25

22

29

21

15

13

14

22

20

22

21

22

36

18

13

11

15

29

20

17

20

29

30

13

14

14

11

26

21

21

21

5

18

24

27

26

17

30

22

16

14

9

21

21

25

25

13

34

22

17

14

25

27

20

14

13

39

27

16

10

8

41

29

14

10

7

38

40

12

6

4

 

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 19).

year-old with impaired nonverbal IQ as well as impairments in all domains of language would have the highest risk of poor outcomes in school, whereas a 2-year-old with an exclusively phonological impairment would have a much lower risk (Whitehurst and Fischel, 1994).

Mathematics Skills

Research on the responsiveness of infants to change in number has suggested that humans are “predisposed” to learn simple

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–4 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by the Number of Times Each Week Family Members Read Books and Tell Stories to Them, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

Reading

Characteristic

Not at All

1–2

3–6

Every Day

Total

1

19

35

45

Child’s Sex

Male

1

21

35

43

Female

1

17

35

47

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

1

16

40

44

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

1

19

37

42

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

1

19

35

45

Born May-Aug. 1993

1

19

35

45

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

1

18

31

49

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

4

34

27

36

High school diploma or equivalent

1

24

36

39

Some college, including vocational/technical

*

15

40

45

Bachelor’s degree or higher

*

7

34

59

Family Type

Single mother

2

27

32

39

Single father

*

22

35

40

Two parent

1

16

36

47

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

3

32

28

38

Never utilized AFDC

1

17

36

46

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

4

28

30

38

English

1

17

36

46

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

1

13

37

49

Black, non-Hispanic

2

31

33

35

Asian

1

23

29

47

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Tell Stories

Not at All

1–2

3–6

Every Day

8

36

30

25

9

36

30

25

7

37

31

26

8

32

34

25

8

38

31

24

8

37

30

26

8

37

31

25

8

33

30

29

10

42

25

23

9

39

29

23

7

35

32

26

5

31

35

29

9

38

28

25

12

34

28

26

7

36

31

26

8

39

26

26

8

36

31

25

10

37

27

26

7

36

31

25

7

35

33

25

10

40

26

24

7

37

28

28

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

Reading

Characteristic

Not at All

1–2

3–6

Every Day

Hispanic

3

27

31

39

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

*

19

35

45

American Indian/Alaska Native

3

33

25

40

More than one race, non-Hispanic

*

15

42

43

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

*

12

38

50

Black, non-Hispanic

1

29

35

35

Asian

1

21

29

49

Hispanic

2

22

34

42

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

3

25

30

43

Black, non-Hispanic

4

41

23

32

Asian

4

35

26

34

Hispanic

5

36

26

33

NOTES: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

*less than 0.5 percent.

mathematics, just as they are predisposed to learn language (Gelman and Gallistel, 1978; National Research Council, 1999). As with language, however, there is variability in the rate at which an understanding of early mathematical knowledge and concepts is acquired. These early concepts and skills include the recognition of shape and size and eventually pattern, the ability to count verbally (first forward and later backward), the recognition of numerals, and the ability to identify quantity from a very general level (more and less) to a specific level requiring the mastery of one-to-one correspondence (e.g., knowing which group has four and which has five). Case et al. (1999) argue that in acquiring early mathematical concepts, young children create a mental number line and come to understand that movement forward and backward along the cardinal numbers on that line represents a

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Tell Stories

Not at All

1–2

3–6

Every Day

9

39

27

25

3

29

36

33

6

41

22

30

8

29

36

28

7

34

34

25

9

39

28

24

5

36

28

30

8

37

28

27

8

38

25

28

13

45

21

21

16

39

28

17

11

43

24

22

 

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 20).

reliable change in quantity. Facility with the mental number line, their research suggests, is required to master first grade addition and subtraction.

A survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (2000) of America’s first-time-to-school kindergartners found that, at entry, the large majority (94 percent) were able to read numerals, recognize shapes, and count to 10. A smaller percent (58 percent) could count beyond 10, sequence patterns, and use non-standard units of length to compare objects. On level 3 tasks— sequencing numbers, reading two-digit numerals, identifying ordinal position of an object, and solving a simple word problem—20 percent passed (Table 3–6).

Differences in mastery of early mathematical concepts is, like language mastery, related to socioeconomic status (Case and Griffin, 1990; Case et al., 1999; National Center for Education Statis-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–5 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by the Number of Times Each Week Family Members Sing Songs and Do Arts and Crafts with Them, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

Sing Songs

Characteristic

Not at All

1–2

3–6

Every Day

Total

5

23

27

45

Child’s Sex

Male

7

27

27

40

Female

4

19

27

50

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

5

26

27

42

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

6

24

26

44

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

6

23

27

45

Born May-Aug. 1993

5

22

27

46

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

5

21

27

47

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

12

27

19

43

High school diploma or equivalent

6

24

25

46

Some college, including vocational/technical

4

21

29

47

Bachelor’s degree or higher

3

21

32

44

Family Type

Single mother

6

21

22

51

Single father

12

28

25

36

Two parent

5

23

28

44

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

7

22

21

49

Never utilized AFDC

5

23

28

44

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

11

28

23

38

English

4

22

27

46

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Arts and Crafts

Not at All

1–2

3–6

Every Day

7

40

32

20

8

42

32

18

7

38

33

23

6

44

32

18

8

41

31

19

7

40

32

21

8

39

33

21

7

37

33

23

14

41

22

23

9

41

30

20

5

39

35

20

3

38

39

20

10

40

29

21

9

43

22

26

6

40

34

20

11

40

26

24

7

40

33

20

15

38

25

23

6

40

34

20

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

Sing Songs

Characteristic

Not at All

1–2

3–6

Every Day

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

4

23

29

44

Black, non-Hispanic

4

20

21

54

Asian

14

30

22

35

Hispanic

9

25

24

41

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

4

20

37

39

American Indian/Alaska Native

10

25

18

47

More than one race, non-Hispanic

4

21

26

49

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

4

22

30

44

Black, non-Hispanic

3

20

22

55

Asian

9

29

24

37

Hispanic

6

22

27

45

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

7

25

17

51

Black, non-Hispanic

7

22

19

52

Asian

37

28

13

22

Hispanic

15

30

19

35

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

tics, 2000). Mother’s education, family type, welfare receipt, race/ ethnicity, and primary language are all related to test scores (see Table 3.6). Child’s age at kindergarten entry has a positive effect as well, but, unlike language, gender has no systematic effect.

The difference in performance on mathematics tasks across SES groups is one of degree, not kind. Children from low-income families show understanding of the same basic kinds of mathematical concepts and strategies as do children from middle-class families (Ginsburg and Russell, 1981). Indeed, there is evidence of considerable generality of such concepts in many cultures around the world (Ginsburg et al., 1997) and also evidence of con-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Arts and Crafts

Not at All

1–2

3–6

Every Day

5

40

36

19

11

39

26

23

8

35

28

29

13

41

26

20

8

39

36

17

9

48

27

24

5

39

34

22

4

40

37

19

10

41

27

22

7

34

31

29

11

39

30

21

9

42

27

23

13

35

21

31

13

41

16

30

18

43

20

19

 

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 21).

siderable mathematical skill developed by young children who do not attend school (Saxe, 1991).

Griffin et al. found that children from lower-SES categories acquired the level of skill of those in higher-SES categories, but with a delay (Griffin et al., 1996). In a number knowledge test, low-income 5- to 6-year-olds performed much like middle-income 3- to 4-year-olds. The delay, however, can have long-term consequences when a first grade mathematics curriculum assumes that children have mastered the concepts that most, but not all, have acquired. The failure to learn because the prerequisite concepts are not in place may mistakenly be attributed to innate ability, with long-run consequences for expectations and performance.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–6 Percentage of First-Time Kindergartners Passing Each Mathematics Proficiency Level, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

Characteristic

Number and Shape

Relative Size

Ordinal Sequence

Add/ Subtract

Multiply/ Divide

Total

94

58

20

4

*

Child’s Sex

Male

93

57

21

5

1

Female

95

59

20

4

*

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

97

74

37

10

2

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

96

67

29

7

1

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

95

60

21

4

*

Born May-Aug. 1993

92

51

14

2

*

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

89

42

10

2

*

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

84

32

6

1

*

High school diploma or equivalent

92

50

13

2

*

Some college, including vocational/technical

96

61

20

4

*

Bachelor’s degree or higher

99

79

37

9

1

Family Type

Single mother

90

44

11

2

*

Single father

91

51

16

3

*

Two parent

95

63

23

5

*

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

85

33

6

1

*

Never utilized AFDC

95

61

22

5

1

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

89

45

13

3

*

English

94

59

21

4

*

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

96

66

26

5

*

Black, non-Hispanic

90

42

9

1

*

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Characteristic

Number and Shape

Relative Size

Ordinal Sequence

Add/ Subtract

Multiply/ Divide

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

Asian

98

70

31

9

1

Hispanic

90

44

12

2

*

Hawaiian Native/ Pacific Islander

91

48

11

2

*

American Indian/ Alaska Native

80

34

8

1

*

More than one race, non-Hispanic

94

54

17

4

*

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

Maternal education:

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

97

68

27

6

*

Black, non-Hispanic

91

45

10

1

*

Asian

97

73

34

10

2

Hispanic

93

49

14

2

*

Maternal education:

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

87

40

9

1

*

Black, non-Hispanic

83

27

4

*

*

Asian

94

58

16

4

1

Hispanic

82

27

5

1

*

NOTES: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners who were assessed in English (approximately 19 percent of Asian children and approximately 30 percent of Hispanic children were not assessed). Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

* less than 0.5 percent.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 24).

The responsiveness of preschool teachers to the developmental level of a child in the domain of mathematics, helping to put in place the concepts that are prerequisite to success in first grade arithmetic, can provide the foundation for performance in the school years.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Differences in Approaches Toward Learning

Students differ not only in the experiences that support learning, but also in what they draw from those experiences. The acquisition of skills and knowledge is closely tied to children’s approaches to learning.

In the not-so-distant past, differences in what children learned from an experience were widely attributed to innate ability. Today, children (and adults) are viewed as having a set of intellectual strengths and weaknesses that allow them to make better use of some types of learning experiences than others, and of having different capacities to attend and persist that facilitate or hinder effective learning.

Those with linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial strengths will learn about a topic most effectively with presentations that build on that capacity (Krechevsky and Seidel, 1998). A preschool class looking at wheels, for example, might reach some children most effectively through narrative—stories in which the use of a wheel changes experience and possibility—and others through the opportunity to construct with wheels. Those who are “intelligent” at constructing may not be those who are best at articulating ideas about why some wheel combinations work better than others. Access to learning opportunities that provide multiple points of entry is of particular importance in early childhood education, for young children have not yet had the instruction that would enable them to use less naturally favored approaches.

The NCES survey collected parent ratings on children’s task persistence, eagerness to learn, and creativity, and teacher ratings on persistence, eagerness to learn, and attentiveness. Each scale was dichotomous, distinguishing never/sometimes from often/ very often. Both parents and teachers found that a little more than a quarter of the children had limited persistence at tasks, with girls and older children rated as persisting more often than boys and younger children (Tables 3–7 and 3–8).

Parents perceive their children as being more eager to learn than do teachers, and while parents see a small difference by gender and age, teachers see a larger one. Teachers see quite substantial differences in attention by gender and age, as well. Only 58 percent of boys were rated as being able to attend often, com-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

pared with 74 percent of girls, and only 50 percent of the youngest age cohort was rated high in attention, compared with 70 percent of the oldest cohort.

In all areas, both teachers and parents rate children substantially higher in all attributes as the level of the mother’s education rises. Similarly, children from two-parent families are rated higher on all attributes than children from single-parent families, with a positive correlation between attribute ratings and never having received welfare. White and Asian children, and to a smaller extent children whose primary language at home is English, are rated higher on persistence by both parents and teachers. As noted, there is considerable divergence between teachers and parents in “eagerness to learn” ratings for all races, however. And teachers rate minority children other than Asians as less attentive than white and Asian children. (Whether this means that Asian and white children learn to be more attentive at home or that teachers are less able to communicate expectations well to some minority children is, of course, open to question, as is the accuracy of perceptions of difference.)

VARIATION IN SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

The ability of children to take advantage of learning opportunities in a preschool classroom is greatly influenced by their ability to establish a secure tie to the teacher, and to successfully negotiate relationships with peers (see Chapter 2). But children vary with respect to the social and emotional development that facilitates positive relationship formation. Moreover, the ease with which they adapt to the expectations of the classroom will vary with their temperament, regulatory capacity, and cultural familiarity with the modes of interaction that are encouraged.

Social Skills

Socialization of children is, in and of itself, a goal of early childhood education (Meisels et al., 1996). But successful social relationships provide benefits for cognitive development as well, since social skills are related to later academic achievement (Swartz and Walker, 1984).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–7 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by the Frequency with Which Parents Say They Persist at a Task, Are Eager to Learn New Things, and Are Creative in Work or Play, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

Persist

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Total

27

73

Child’s Sex

Male

31

69

Female

23

77

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

24

76

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

26

74

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

27

73

Born May-Aug. 1993

28

72

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

31

69

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

35

65

High school diploma or equivalent

30

70

Some college, including vocational/technical

26

74

Bachelor’s degree or higher

19

81

Family Type

Single mother

32

68

Single father

30

70

Two parent

25

75

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

35

65

Never utilized AFDC

26

74

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

29

71

English

27

73

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Eager to Learn

Creative

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

8

92

15

85

9

91

17

83

7

93

13

87

8

92

14

86

7

93

14

86

8

92

15

85

8

92

16

84

10

90

20

80

15

85

27

73

9

91

17

83

6

94

12

88

5

95

11

89

10

90

18

82

9

91

15

85

7

93

14

86

11

89

20

80

8

92

15

85

13

87

23

77

8

92

15

85

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

Persist

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

25

75

Black, non-Hispanic

32

68

Asian

24

76

Hispanic

29

71

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

38

62

American Indian/Alaska Native

30

70

More than one race, non-Hispanic

31

69

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

24

76

Black, non-Hispanic

30

70

Asian

21

79

Hispanic

28

72

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

34

66

Black, non-Hispanic

41

59

Asian

32

68

Hispanic

33

67

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

The NCES survey of children as they enter kindergarten collected parent and teacher ratings of the children’s prosocial and problem behaviors. Parents were asked to rate children on the frequency with which they easily join others in play make and keep friends, and comfort or help others. Teachers rated children on the frequency with which they accept peers’ ideas for group activities, form and maintain friendships, and comfort or help other children (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000).

According to parents, the large majority of children (over 80 percent) engage in prosocial behavior often or very often (Table 3–9). Teachers rate a somewhat smaller majority—about three quarters—as accepting peer ideas and forming friendships often,

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Eager to Learn

Creative

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

7

93

11

89

10

90

20

80

12

88

24

76

10

90

21

79

19

81

29

71

10

90

23

77

8

92

13

87

6

94

11

89

8

92

19

81

8

92

20

80

7

93

17

83

10

90

21

79

17

83

27

73

27

73

37

63

15

85

30

70

 

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, (2000: Table 19).

but only a slim majority (51 percent) as comforting others (Table 3–10).

Both parents and teachers see substantial gender differences, with girls engaging in comforting behaviors more often. Children from families with characteristics that were risk factors for math and language development—single mothers with low education levels who have received or are receiving welfare—also show somewhat less prosocial behavior.

Children were rated on a dichotomous scale for exhibiting problem behaviors—arguing with others, fighting with others, and angering easily—by both teachers (Table 3–11) and parents

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–8 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by the Frequency with Which Teachers Say They Persist at a Task, Are Eager to Learn New Things, and Pay Attention Well, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

Persist

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Total

29

71

Child’s Sex

Male

35

65

Female

22

78

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

21

79

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

22

78

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

27

73

Born May-Aug. 1993

34

66

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

37

63

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

39

61

High school diploma or equivalent

30

70

Some college, including vocational/technical

27

73

Bachelor’s degree or higher

21

79

Family Type

Single mother

37

63

Single father

39

61

Two parent

26

74

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

41

59

Never utilized AFDC

27

73

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

31

69

English

28

72

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Eager to Learn

Attention

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

25

75

34

66

29

71

42

58

22

78

26

74

21

79

30

70

20

80

27

73

23

77

32

68

30

70

39

61

34

66

43

57

38

62

45

55

28

72

36

64

22

78

32

68

17

83

25

75

33

67

44

56

33

67

45

55

23

77

31

69

38

62

47

53

24

76

32

68

32

68

37

63

25

75

34

66

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

Persist

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

25

75

Black, non-Hispanic

38

62

Asian

19

81

Hispanic

33

67

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

36

64

American Indian/Alaska Native

36

64

More than one race, non-Hispanic

27

73

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

23

77

Black, non-Hispanic

36

64

Asian

18

82

Hispanic

31

69

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

39

61

Black, non-Hispanic

50

50

Asian

18

82

Hispanic

35

65

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

(Table 3–12). These numbers are, in a sense, the flip side of the prosocial behaviors. The large majority of children are reported by both parents and teachers as infrequently engaging in fighting and angering easily, although teachers report fewer problem behaviors than parents. Teachers and parents also diverge on observations of gender differences; teachers report substantial differences between the genders, with boys engaging in problem behaviors far more frequently than girls. Parents report a difference that is considerably smaller in magnitude.

Race/ethnicity is correlated with reports of problem behaviors, but parents and teachers once again diverge in their observa-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Eager to Learn

Attention

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

22

78

30

70

34

66

45

55

20

80

29

71

30

70

38

62

32

68

41

59

28

72

48

52

28

72

33

67

20

80

28

72

31

69

42

58

18

82

28

72

27

73

36

64

35

65

44

56

47

53

58

42

23

77

32

68

36

64

41

59

 

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, (2000: Table 18).

tions. Teachers report a higher incidence of problem behaviors among black children than do parents, with Asian children reported by both groups to engage less in arguing and fighting. Both parents and teachers report more problem behaviors when a child is in a single-parent family than in a two-parent family.

Temperament

Some of the variation in social and emotional development observed among children can be attributed to differences in temperament. Temperament is defined as a pattern of arousal and

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–9 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by the Frequency with Which Parents Say They Engage in Prosocial Behavior, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

Join Others

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Total

14

86

Child’s Sex

Male

14

86

Female

15

85

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

14

86

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

13

87

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

14

86

Born May-Aug. 1993

14

86

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

18

82

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

21

79

High school diploma or equivalent

15

85

Some college, including vocational/technical

13

87

Bachelor’s degree or higher

12

88

Family Type

Single mother

16

84

Single father

12

88

Two parent

14

86

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

17

83

Never utilized AFDC

14

86

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

23

77

English

13

87

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

10

90

Black, non-Hispanic

16

84

Asian

22

78

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Make Friends

Comfort Others

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

11

89

18

82

13

87

22

78

10

90

14

86

11

89

18

82

11

89

18

82

11

89

18

82

12

88

18

82

14

86

20

80

20

80

29

71

12

88

18

82

9

91

15

85

9

91

15

85

13

87

19

81

11

89

19

81

11

89

18

82

15

85

21

79

11

89

17

83

21

79

30

70

10

90

17

83

9

91

15

85

13

87

19

81

18

82

28

72

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

Join Others

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Child’s Race/Ethnicity (continued)

Hispanic

20

80

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

40

60

American Indian/Alaska Native

15

85

More than one race, non-Hispanic

14

86

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

10

90

Black, non-Hispanic

15

85

Asian

21

79

Hispanic

18

82

Less than high school diploma or ecquivalent

White, non-Hispanic

13

87

Black, non-Hispanic

21

79

Asian

27

73

Hispanic

25

75

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

emotionality that is characteristic of an individual. It is one of the most easily and reliably measurable aspects of children’s personalities because several of its components are measured by using laboratory instruments to record physical changes, such as heart rate increase. It can therefore be assessed at infancy and it has been shown to endure over time (Caspi et al., 1995; Guerin and Gottfried, 1994; Plomin et al., 1993; Kagan, 1994), although the degree of stability in temperament varies (Cole, 1996).

Temperament among toddlers and young children in some studies is measured by asking parents or teachers to observe the children in prescribed or natural situations and then to rate their behaviors on a questionnaire that assesses the various dimensions of temperament. In one of the earliest studies of this type,

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Make Friends

Comfort Others

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

17

83

24

76

28

72

24

76

13

87

16

84

10

90

14

86

8

92

15

85

12

88

18

82

17

83

25

75

14

86

18

82

15

85

20

80

19

81

25

75

25

75

41

59

22

78

36

64

 

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 8).

Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess (1984) identified nine dimensions of children’s temperament: activity level, rhythmicity, approach-withdrawal, adaptability, threshold of responsiveness, intensity of reaction to new stimuli, quality of mood, distractibility, and attention span or persistence. They, and others, have suggested that a key dimension of temperament is the ease with which a child adapts to new circumstances (Kagan, 1989, 1994). At one extreme is the inhibited child, who exhibits fear and effortful control (difficulty maintaining equilibrium when confronted with challenging situations) when exposed to novelty (Kochanska, 1991, 1995), and at the other extreme is the uninhibited child, who responds to novelty with fearless confidence and interest. Often, the inhibited child has a higher level of percep-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–10 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by the Frequency with Which Teachers Say They Engage in Prosocial Behavior, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

Accept Peer Ideas

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Total

26

74

Child’s Sex

Male

29

71

Female

23

77

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

27

73

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

25

75

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

25

75

Born May-Aug. 1993

27

73

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

31

69

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

31

69

High school diploma or equivalent

27

73

Some college, including vocational/technical

25

75

Bachelor’s degree or higher

24

76

Family Type

Single mother

31

69

Single father

33

67

Two parent

24

76

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

33

67

Never utilized AFDC

25

75

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

29

71

English

26

74

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Form Friendships

Comfort Others

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

23

77

49

51

27

73

57

43

20

80

40

60

25

75

46

54

20

80

46

54

22

78

48

52

26

74

51

49

26

74

54

46

30

70

58

42

25

75

50

50

22

78

47

53

19

81

43

57

29

71

54

46

33

67

59

41

21

79

47

53

33

69

57

43

22

78

47

53

28

72

56

44

23

77

48

52

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

Accept Peer Ideas

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

24

76

Black, non-Hispanic

32

68

Asian

25

75

Hispanic

27

73

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

26

74

American Indian/Alaska Native

30

70

More than one race, non-Hispanic

29

71

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

23

77

Black, non-Hispanic

32

68

Asian

25

75

Hispanic

25

75

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

29

71

Black, non-Hispanic

33

67

Asian

24

76

Hispanic

31

69

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

tual sensitivity (Ahadi et al., 1993), and is thus more reactive in an environment that is loud, busy, or unpredictable. Once fearful inhibition is established, individual differences in the relative strength of approach versus avoidance appear to be relatively enduring aspects of temperament in novel or intense situations (Rothbart and Jones, 1998). Effortful control, in contrast, emerges among toddlers and undergoes strong development at ages 2 to 4 but continues to develop in later childhood and adolescence.

More fearful preschool-age children are more likely to be high in signs of moral internalization, especially when their caregivers have used gentle discipline techniques (Kochanska, 1991, 1995). Internalized control is also facilitated in children high in effortful control (Kochanska et al., 1996). Effortful control has been shown to be related to the development of the ability to select from com-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Form Friendships

Comfort Others

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

20

80

45

55

29

71

56

44

27

73

50

50

26

74

55

45

31

69

58

42

32

68

55

45

27

73

47

53

19

81

44

56

27

73

54

46

26

74

50

50

24

76

53

47

31

69

53

47

35

65

66

34

25

75

51

49

27

73

58

42

 

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 9).

peting dimensions (Posner and Rothbart, 1998). This ability in turn has been related in neuroimaging studies to the area of the midfrontal cortex. One example of this link is a “Stroop task,” in which one element of a set of conflicting stimuli must be identified (e.g., identifying ink color as green when the word written in green ink is “red”). Performance in this task activates areas along the frontal midline. The skill involved in this task develops strongly between ages 2 and 4, and it correlated with effortful control as a temperament dimension (Posner and Rothbart, 1998).

One of the most important conclusions from recent research about temperament differences in children has been that the actual temperament category or personality style has less importance than the “goodness of fit” or appropriateness of that category or style with the child’s larger community (Rothbart et al.,

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–11 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by the Frequency with Which Teachers Say They Exhibit Antisocial Behavior, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

Argue with Others

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Total

89

11

Child’s Sex

Male

87

13

Female

92

8

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

89

11

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

89

11

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

89

11

Born May-Aug. 1993

88

12

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

89

11

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

87

13

High school diploma or equivalent

88

12

Some college, including vocational/technical

90

10

Bachelor’s degree or higher

91

9

Family Type

Single mother

85

15

Single father

82

18

Two parent

90

10

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

84

16

Never utilized AFDC

90

10

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

91

9

English

89

11

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Fight with Others

Easily Get Angry

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

90

10

89

11

89

11

86

14

92

8

91

9

91

9

89

11

91

9

90

10

91

9

89

11

89

11

88

12

88

12

86

14

86

14

87

13

90

10

88

12

91

9

89

11

93

7

90

10

87

13

86

14

82

18

85

15

91

9

90

10

85

15

85

15

91

9

89

11

89

11

88

12

90

10

89

11

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

Argue with Others

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

90

10

Black, non-Hispanic

83

17

Asian

94

6

Hispanic

90

10

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

86

14

American Indian/Alaska Native

86

14

More than one race, non-Hispanic

90

10

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

91

9

Black, non-Hispanic

84

16

Asian

94

6

Hispanic

90

10

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

87

13

Black, non-Hispanic

80

20

Asian

97

3

Hispanic

89

11

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

2000). In other words, individual differences in temperament and personality cannot be examined in the absence of the context in which individual children are being socialized. A child with an inhibited or slow-to-warm temperament may actually be more similar to his or her peers if that child is living in a Japanese community, and in such a context, an uninhibited child may actually suffer greater negative consequences.

The interaction between temperamental characteristics and environmental demands has important implications for early childhood education and care. Inhibition in a preschool child may be considered a sign of poor social competence, just as uninhibited behavior at the opposite extreme may be viewed as an inap-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Fight with Others

Easily Get Angry

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

92

8

90

10

86

14

85

15

93

7

91

9

89

11

88

12

89

11

88

12

85

15

87

13

90

10

88

12

92

8

90

10

87

13

85

15

92

8

90

10

90

10

89

11

88

12

87

13

83

17

85

15

97

3

95

5

86

14

86

14

 

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 11).

propriate lack of self-control. A responsive teacher will recognize that children with different temperaments are challenged by different preschool demands and settings. The inhibited child may need help from a teacher to feel secure and to become comfortable with routine in order to make use of learning opportunities. The uninhibited child may need the most help when she or he is being asked to engage in activity that is more quiet, focused, and routine. The key is to recognize that social competence is itself a measure of adaptability within a particular social group, and that there are numerous appropriate ways of demonstrating social competence that are in some cases in direct opposition to one another.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–12 Percentage Distribution of First-Time Kindergartners by the Frequency with Which Parents Say They Exhibit Antisocial Behavior, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

Argue with Others

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Total

67

33

Child’s Sex

Male

67

33

Female

68

32

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

68

32

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

68

32

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

68

32

Born May-Aug. 1993

67

33

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

69

31

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

64

36

High school diploma or equivalent

65

35

Some college, including vocational/technical

69

31

Bachelor’s degree or higher

72

28

Family Type

Single mother

65

35

Single father

68

32

Two parent

69

31

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

64

36

Never utilized AFDC

68

32

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

73

27

English

67

33

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Fight with Others

Easily Get Angry

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

85

15

83

17

84

16

81

19

86

14

85

15

87

13

84

16

86

14

84

16

86

14

84

16

84

16

82

18

85

15

81

19

79

21

71

29

83

17

82

18

87

13

86

14

90

10

88

12

82

18

78

22

90

10

84

16

86

14

85

15

79

21

74

26

86

14

84

16

85

15

79

21

85

15

84

16

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

Argue with Others

Characteristic

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

67

33

Black, non-Hispanic

67

33

Asian

78

22

Hispanic

70

30

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

71

29

American Indian/Alaska Native

66

34

More than one race, non-Hispanic

65

35

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

68

32

Black, non-Hispanic

69

31

Asian

77

23

Hispanic

70

30

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

53

47

Black, non-Hispanic

58

42

Asian

85

15

Hispanic

72

28

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

But while temperament may profoundly influence the functioning of a child in a preschool context, it does not predict the acquisition of knowledge, skills, or beliefs. “Put simply, the contents of the mind are determined primarily by exposure; the initial emotional reactions to new knowledge are influenced by temperamental processes” (Kagan, 1994:77).

Motivation

Much of the history of motivation among young children has emphasized traditional concerns about developing positive feel-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Fight with Others

Easily Get Angry

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

Never/Sometimes

Often/Very Often

86

14

85

15

84

16

81

19

90

10

84

16

84

16

79

21

80

20

84

16

82

18

81

19

86

14

80

20

87

13

87

13

86

14

84

16

89

11

84

16

84

16

82

18

73

27

71

29

75

25

67

33

96

4

79

21

83

17

73

27

 

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 10).

ings toward the self, emotional control in social settings, and positive support from significant adults, such as teachers, parents, and significant others. Much of the research on children’s emotional well-being has been incorporated into the motivational context. With the change in emphasis from a primarily socialization model of preschool pedagogy to a more cognitive one (discussed in Chapter 2), new research directions have appeared; one of the most promising is the development of interest.

Renninger (1992:370) reports studies dealing with interest and development, in which she demonstrates that young children do manifest particular interest in some objects but not others. Her

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

termined construct and that the countries of Japan and India tend to promote more collectivist or group-oriented values, whereas European and North American countries value the achievement of independence and autonomy (García-Coll and Magnuson, 2000). Similarly, we have learned that despite the universality of basic human emotions, the manifestation of these emotions differs a great deal across cultures, as do the events, circumstances, and conditions under which these emotions are expressed (Small, 1998). In addition, the emotion of guilt or shame has been found to have more prominence among Chinese people than among North Americans, for example, suggesting that even the influence of this emotion on children growing up in China shapes their social development differently.

More and more research is now being conducted on the various cultural groups that make up the population of the United States. Developmental psychologists are paying more careful attention to the influence of cultural background on the development of children’s social and emotional capacities.

Cultural context creates the social settings in which people act and shapes their expectations within these settings. For example, Heath (1983) described a community in the Piedmont Carolinas in which children were rarely asked to answer questions from adults. Children did not take the role of an information giver. Heath suggested that when these children went to school, they were confused when they were constantly asked to respond to questions from their teachers—particularly when the children knew that the teachers already knew the answers to the questions. The children did not know what to do. The school context did not give them the necessary cues to know that this odd form of dialogue was a way for teachers to assess children’s knowledge.

Cultural context specifies what constitutes an acceptable answer. It establishes the criteria for what is accepted as a “good” answer or as “good thinking.” The classic example of Kpelle farmers in Liberia was observed by Cole and his colleagues (Cole et al., 1971). They presented the men with a set of 20 items, 5 each from four categories. The men were asked to sort the items into groups of objects that go together. Instead of putting objects into the four taxonomic categories, the Kpelle farmers would, for ex-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

ample, put the potato with the pot, reasoning that someone would need the pot to cook the potato. The farmers repeatedly told the researchers that this is the way a wise man would put things together. Finally, when the psychologists asked the farmers how a fool would put things together, the taxonomic categories appeared. The Kpelle farmers had the ability to do taxonomic classifications, but a taxonomic classification was not a sensible response according to their standards.

Finally, cultural context influences what parents expect of early childhood education. Lucia French’s work with Korean preschoolers, for example, notes a curricular commitment to enhancing children’s attentional skills rather than any particular domain of content or knowledge (French and Song, 1998).

Cultural differences between children’s natal culture and the culture of the school have been posited by educational theorists (Erickson, 1993; Tharp, 1989; Trueba, 1988; Vogt et al., 1987) to explain some of the variation in the ability of American schools to educate children. The following sections discuss four ways in which children may experience discontinuity between their family culture and the school culture.

Social Organization

Large-group instruction, in which all of the children in the class listen to the teacher’s comments and instructions, has been a typical pattern in classrooms in the United States. Children are expected to work quietly and independently on their assignments. Individual achievement is emphasized. Cultures within the United States vary in the degree to which children are socialized in their families to be accustomed to the social structure of mainstream classrooms.

The prototypical nuclear American family may be linked historically to a society focused on independence and individual accomplishment (deToqueville, 1945). Children in middle-class nuclear families may spend much of their time in dyadic interactions with an adult in contexts conducive to instructional and cognitive games and exploratory play (Schieffelin and Ochs, 1983). They are likely to have more varied experiences with a greater variety of people (Chisholm, 1981) on trips to distant relatives, in

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

from learning in their family and neighborhood contexts to learning in school.

Sociolinguistics

Differences in the social rules of conversation between children’s natal culture and mainstream school culture may inhibit some children’s participation in classroom learning activities. Tharp (1989) described the effects of differences in wait time, the time between the end of one person’s communication and the beginning of the respondent’s reply. Native Hawaiian children show their interest in a conversation by engaging in overlapping speech; that is, they begin to talk before the speaker has finished. When teachers discourage this behavior, children’s participation in learning activities decreases. In contrast to the Native Hawaiian culture, some American Indian peoples utilize a longer wait time. For example, Pueblo Indian children have been observed to wait longer before they respond to a question. When teachers are accustomed to a shorter wait time, these children do not participate as frequently in discussion.

Differences in rules for speaking, listening, and turn-taking in conversations may also make it more difficult for Choctaw children to participate in classroom activities. Greenbaum (1985) observed that Choctaw children made more unsuccessful attempts to gain the floor, gazed more at peers while the teacher was talking to the class, engaged in more choral responses (where two or more students respond simultaneously or in a quick sequence), spoke individually less often, and provided shorter utterances when responding individually than other children did. Greenbaum suggested that the Choctaw children were members of a community in which sharing, cooperation, and primacy of group needs over individual needs were highly valued, and as such they did not want to participate on an individual basis in classroom conversation (shorter and fewer utterances when speaking individually) and were attempting to identify with the group (choral responses and peer-directed gazing).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×
Interaction Styles

Cultural differences in mothers’ interaction styles may influence how children approach learning in school. Fajardo and Freedman (1981) coded videotapes of white, black, and Navajo mothers interacting with their 3- to 5-month-old infants. More often than the other mothers, the white mothers prompted and instructed their infants; they were more intrusive, and their infants spent more time looking away. This style may prepare children both to enjoy bouts of high-density attention and to develop strategies for coping with overstimulation and waiting for an adult to be available for interaction (Richman et al., 1988). The black mothers were just as stimulating as the white mothers, but less demanding of their infant’s attention. The black mothers seemed “to put on a performance for the infant, and invite him [or her] to join” (Fajardo and Freedman, 1981:144). This style may prepare children for street talk (Smitherman, 1977) and the drama of group competitions in classrooms (Tharp, 1989). The Navajo infants looked at their mothers longer and more steadily than either the black or white infants. Their mothers seldom spoke to them and least often tried to get the infants’ attention when the infants were looking elsewhere. This style may prepare children for the self-sufficiency needed in a culture in which 6-year-olds begin to herd sheep far from home, alone (Tharp, 1989).

Tharp (1989) also described cultural differences in styles of learning. One is the verbal and analytic, in which phenomena are systematically taken apart, each piece named and its relation to all the other pieces described, before putting the pieces back together in a higher-order concept. This style predominates in mainstream schooling and employment; it may be seen contributing to the instructional and cognitive games parents play with their children. The second style is the visual and holistic, one in which phenomena are observed, committed to memory, and acted on only when competence can be displayed. In American Indian cultures, children are not asked to describe the objects or events in a story, but are expected to listen quietly and abstract and elaborate an inner representation of what may be an outwardly simple narrative (Tharp, 1989).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

As mentioned earlier in connection with language learning, Saville-Troike (1988) describes a “silent period” of one to three months in which six of nine 3- to 8-year-old monolingual Asian children enrolled in an English-only classroom regularly interacted nonverbally, but spoke to their native-language peers only. One child when interviewed in his native language during this period explained that he knew the teachers and other children were not going to learn Chinese, so he was learning English and was going to speak that. Another child said of her teachers that “there was this English and it was too hard, so she stopped talking to them” (Saville-Troike, 1988:575). When the six children began speaking English, their utterances were as complex and well formed as those of the children who had spend an equivalent time in the new language setting but who had not experienced a silent period.

Children in some black rural (Ward, 1971) and urban (Heath, 1989) poor families are expected to learn language by listening to adults and to speak only when spoken to, so that what they say is appropriate and informative, thus they are more likely to be silent and verbally non-competitive around adults. Learning through observation may predominate in communities in which possessions, especially toys, are few and competition is devalued. One of the most important challenges for teachers may be teaching children whose learning styles do not lead them to respond when they are expected to display what they know verbally.

There is some additional work by Gauvain specific to mother-child interaction that has interesting implications. Gauvain studied variations in mothers’ instructional behavior (demonstrations, suggestions, prompts, calm directives, explicit instruction) and found not only relations between individual variations in these behaviors and children’s problem-solving behaviors, but also that mothers vary their instructional strategies according to their perceptions of the child. For example, in one longitudinal study, children perceived as difficult were given fewer opportunities to discover strategies on their own, received more disapproving comments and physical redirecting of their actions by their mothers, and worked with mothers who tended to take charge of the more challenging tasks, thereby giving children less opportunity to practice these aspects of the task (Gauvain and Fagot, 1995).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Children who were less involved in performing tasks during mother-child interaction performed less well individually at the follow-up.

Early childhood education is, among other things, a process of gradual transition from cultural and family patterns to the expectations of a new social context. It is critical that the child’s background and experience be understood and respected, that the school be responsive to the child, and that the child be introduced to school culture and practices step by step.

VARIATIONS IN PHYSICAL AND MOTOR DEVELOPMENT

Children vary substantially in many aspects of their physical development. Here we focus on those aspects that are most directly related to early childhood pedagogy: fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and disabling conditions.

Fine motor skills influence success in many of the activities in a preschool program. Lack of fine motor skills can make it difficult to hold a pencil, limiting early efforts at printing letters and drawing. Fine motor skills also influence eye movement and can predict reading, mathematics, and general school achievement (Tramontana et al., 1988).

The NCES survey of children as they enter kindergarten measured fine motor skills (with ECLS-K direct measures) involved in constructing forms with wooden blocks, copying simple figures, and drawing a person. It also assessed gross motor skills, exemplified by balancing and hopping on each foot, skipping, and walking backward on a line. The scores for gross and fine motor skills were divided into approximate thirds, referred to as lower, middle, and higher. The middle group includes those children performing at age-expected level, and the lower group at one or more standard deviations below the average.

The results suggest that girls score somewhat higher than boys on both fine and gross motor skills, but age at entry makes a far bigger difference. These findings are consistent with those obtained from the standardization of the Early Screening Inventory—Revised, from which the NCES direct motor measures were derived (Meisels et al., 1993, 1997). Mother’s education is highly correlated with fine motor skills: 42 percent of children in fami-

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

lies in which the mother had less than a high school education were rated as having low fine motor skills, and 22 percent were rated as high. In families in which the mother was a college graduate, 18 percent scored low on the fine motor scale, and 46 percent scored high (Table 3–13). There is also substantial variation by race/ethnic category for both fine and gross motor skills. In the fine motor skills tests, Asian children scored highest (49 percent in the high category) and black children scored lowest (41 percent in the low category). For gross motor skills, black children scored highest, with 46 percent in the higher portion of the distribution, followed by 38 percent of Asian children and 37 percent of white and Hispanic children (Table 3–14).

TABLE 3–13 First-Time Kindergartners’ Mean Fine Motor Skills Score and Percentage Distribution of Scores, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

 

Score Distribution (percent)

Characteristic

Mean Score

Lower

Middle

Higher

Total

6

29

36

35

Child’s Sex

Male

6

31

37

33

Female

6

26

36

38

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

6

20

36

44

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

6

20

36

44

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

6

25

37

38

Born May-Aug. 1993

5

34

37

29

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

5

45

33

22

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

5

42

35

22

High school diploma or equivalent

5

33

36

31

Some college, including vocational/technical

6

25

37

39

Bachelor’s degree or higher

6

18

36

46

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

 

Score Distribution (percent)

Characteristic

Mean Score

Lower

Middle

Higher

Family Type

Single mother

5

37

35

28

Single father

6

31

41

28

Two parent

6

26

37

37

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

5

44

33

23

Never utilized AFDC

6

26

37

37

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

6

31

35

34

English

6

28

36

36

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

6

24

37

39

Black, non-Hispanic

5

41

33

26

Asian

7

15

36

49

Hispanic

6

31

36

33

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

6

27

32

41

American Indian/Alaska Native

6

31

39

30

More than one race, non-Hispanic

6

28

41

31

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

6

23

37

40

Black, non-Hispanic

5

39

33

28

Asian

7

14

36

50

Hispanic

6

27

35

38

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

5

44

34

22

Black, non-Hispanic

4

51

34

16

Asian

6

18

33

49

Hispanic

5

39

37

24

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding. Scale 0–9.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 13).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–14 First-Time Kindergartners’ Mean Gross Motor Skills Score and Percentage Distribution of Scores, by Child and Family Characteristics: Fall 1998

 

 

Score Distribution (percent)

Characteristic

Mean Score

Lower

Middle

Higher

Total

6

26

35

39

Child’s Sex

Male

6

31

36

33

Female

7

22

34

44

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

7

21

32

47

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

7

21

33

46

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

6

24

35

41

Born May-Aug. 1993

6

31

36

33

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

6

37

35

28

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

6

30

35

35

High school diploma or equivalent

6

28

35

37

Some college, including vocational/technical

6

25

35

40

Bachelor’s degree or higher

5

24

34

42

Family Type

Single mother

6

26

33

41

Single father

6

33

33

34

Two parent

6

27

35

38

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

6

29

32

38

Never utilized AFDC

6

26

35

39

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

6

30

34

36

English

6

26

35

39

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

6

28

35

37

Black, non-Hispanic

7

21

33

46

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

 

 

Score Distribution (percent)

Characteristic

Mean Score

Lower

Middle

Higher

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

Asian

6

26

36

38

Hispanic

6

28

35

37

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

6

26

40

34

American Indian/Alaska Native

6

31

29

40

More than one race, non-Hispanic

6

24

38

38

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

6

27

35

38

Black, non-Hispanic

7

21

33

46

Asian

6

26

35

39

Hispanic

6

28

35

37

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

6

36

34

30

Black, non-Hispanic

7

22

35

43

Asian

6

33

34

33

Hispanic

6

29

36

35

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding. Scale 0–8.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 14)

CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

At one end of the distribution of physical and motor abilities are those children with disabling conditions. These conditions range from those that are low in incidence but high in impact— such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, and autism—to less disabling, but higher-incidence disorders—such as learning disabilities and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. The number of identifiable conditions is far too great for concise summary (see Batshaw, 1997).

Children with disabilities vary as much as all children do in temperament, personality, and family culture (Meisels and Shonkoff, 2000). Studies have shown, however, that chiefly on

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

the basis of language and conversational skills, children with disabilities are incorrectly (or inaccurately) perceived as being of lower social status (Hemphill and Siperstein, 1990) and are treated as such by their peers in preschool classrooms, both those who do and who do not have disabilities (Guralnick, 1990). In preschool, children with disabilities tend to have more extensive interactions with adults than with other children, which is the reverse of their age mates without disabilities (Herink and Lee, 1985). The children are likely to initiate less often to other children, and their initiations are more likely to be ignored (Rice et al., 1991; Vandell and George, 1981). The more severe the disability, the less the amount of interaction with peers (Guralnick and Paul-Brown, 1986).

Since 1992 states have been required to make a free appropriate public education available to all children with disabilities ages 3 through 5 in order to be eligible for funding under the Preschool Grants Program of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (P.L. 10 1–476, 1990). The number of students in that category who are being served increased steadily over the subsequent five years, with 4.6 percent of children in this age group being served in 1996–1997 (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). A little over half of these students (51.6 percent) were served in regular preschool classrooms.

The NCES survey collected data on children at kindergarten entry who have developmental difficulties as reported by parents in the areas of activity level, attention, coordination, and articulation (Table 3–15). These difficulties are not necessarily indicators of a disability or diagnosis; parents were simply asked to rate their children in comparison to other children of the same age, and risk of developmental difficulty was indicated if the child was considered “a lot more” active, paid attention “less well or much less well,” or if coordination and word pronunciation was “slightly less or much less” than other children of that age (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000).

While only 4 percent of children were considered to be less coordinated than their peers, 11 percent were rated as being less articulate. Parents rated 13 percent of children as attending less well or much less well than their peers, and 18 percent as being a lot more active. Boys were more often identified than girls, and

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 3–15 Percentage of First-Time Kindergartners Whose Parents Reported Developmental Difficulty in Terms of Activity Level, Attention, Coordination, and Pronunciation of Words: Fall 1998

Characteristic

Activity level

Attention

Coordination

Articulation

Total

18

13

4

11

Child’s Sex

Male

20

18

5

14

Female

16

9

3

7

Child’s Age at Entry

Born Jan.-Aug. 1992

20

18

8

18

Born Sep.-Dec. 1992

19

13

4

10

Born Jan.-Apr. 1993

18

12

3

10

Born May-Aug. 1993

18

15

4

11

Born Sep.-Dec. 1993

17

14

4

11

Mother’s Education

Less than high school

24

17

4

14

High school diploma or equivalent

19

14

4

12

Some college, including vocational/technical

18

14

4

10

Bachelor’s degree or higher

14

10

5

8

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Characteristic

Activity level

Attention

Coordination

Articulation

Family Type

Single mother

25

16

4

11

Single father

22

15

4

10

Two parent

16

12

4

10

Welfare Receipt

Utilized AFDC

26

19

4

15

Never utilized AFDC

17

13

4

10

Primary Language Spoken in Home

Non-English

17

9

2

10

English

19

14

4

11

Child’s Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

16

13

5

11

Black, non-Hispanic

30

17

3

11

Asian

16

9

3

12

Hispanic

17

11

3

10

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander

15

12

5

12

American Indian/Alaska Native

25

15

5

10

More than one race, non-Hispanic

20

17

2

12

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Child’s Race/Ethnicity by Maternal Education

High school diploma/equivalent or more

White, non-Hispanic

15

13

5

10

Black, non-Hispanic

28

15

3

9

Asian

17

9

3

11

Hispanic

17

12

3

10

Less than high school diploma or equivalent

White, non-Hispanic

28

23

5

17

Black, non-Hispanic

36

25

5

19

Asian

12

7

3

16

Hispanic

16

10

3

9

NOTE: Estimates based on first-time kindergartners. Developmental difficulties are defined as: activity level a lot more active than children the same age and attention, articulation and coordination are less well or much less well than children the same age.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics (2000: Table 16).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

in the areas of attention and articulation they were identified at twice the rate. Mother’s education has a substantial impact on activity level, attention, and articulation ratings, as does single-parent status and welfare receipt. English speakers were identified with all characteristics more often than non-English speakers. Reported attention and activity level vary substantially by race, with black, American Indian, and mixed race children identified considerably more often than other race or ethnic groups. There were small differences in coordination and articulation by race, with black, Hispanic, Asian, and mixed race children identified less often with coordination problems than other races.

SUMMARY

While development occurs in a similar fashion for all children, developmental differences are the inevitable result of individual genetic and experiential variations and differing cultural and social contexts. In the past several decades, variability has been taken more seriously by social scientists who study children. From that research base we are learning ever more about the magnitude and sources of variation among children.

Chapter 2 suggested that development is fostered when a child is engaged in activities (both cognitive and social) that are at an appropriate level of difficulty: challenging, but within the reach of the child’s competence. We suggested further that development is very much dependent on context, and that an adult who is responsive to the child’s level of social, emotional, and cognitive development is a key feature of a supportive context. The research reviewed in this chapter suggests the variability of competencies in children by the end of the preschool years. In both cognitive and social skills, and in the physical and motor development that support those skills, young children vary enormously.

Biology’s contribution to temperament, learning style, and motor facility clearly influences children’s developmental pathways. To effectively foster growth in children with very different temperaments, learning styles, activity levels, and abilities to attend will require different types of interaction and opportunities to learn.

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

We know, moreover, that the resources (books, audio recordings, and the like) and activities (book reading, story telling, verbal interaction) to which children in higher-SES categories are exposed are strong correlates of cognitive development, and that SES is correlated with social and some forms of physical development as well. By the time children reach kindergarten, these differences are already noteworthy. If preschool programs are to help all children develop their potential in early years, those from less enriched environments will need opportunities to acquire the skills of those in more enriched environments, as well as to develop to the maximum the unique skill sets they bring to the formal school setting.

Children with disabilities vary as much as all children do in temperament, learning style, and family culture. In preschool, children with disabilities tend to have more extensive interactions with adults than with other children, which is the reverse of their age mates without disabilities. Children with disabilities are likely to initiate less often to other children and their initiations are more likely to be ignored. An adult who is responsive to the developmental needs of the child with disabilities will help facilitate relationships with other children. The inclusion of children with disabilities in child care settings is required by law, but beyond meeting the legal mandate, the addition of children with disabilities can add to the diversity, and thus the richness, of all children’s experience.

Regarding cultural background, there is a solid knowledge base on variations around the world in children’s social developmental pathways, such as those needed for collectivist values and those for societies that value independence and autonomy. In the United States, research is now being conducted on the various cultural groups that make up the population, for certain developmental psychologists are paying more careful attention to the influence of cultural background on the development of children’s social and emotional capacities. Research on cultural background and schooling identify many factors as important. Among these are the effects of the knowledge base, social organization (value placed on working quietly, acceptance of help from unfamiliar adults, etc), and social rules of conversation (child initiating, “wait” time, etc).

Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Suggested Citation:"3 The Importance of Individual and Cultural Variations." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Next: 4&#9;Preschool Program Quality »
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Clearly babies come into the world remarkably receptive to its wonders. Their alertness to sights, sounds, and even abstract concepts makes them inquisitive explorers--and learners--every waking minute. Well before formal schooling begins, children's early experiences lay the foundations for their later social behavior, emotional regulation, and literacy. Yet, for a variety of reasons, far too little attention is given to the quality of these crucial years. Outmoded theories, outdated facts, and undersized budgets all play a part in the uneven quality of early childhood programs throughout our country.

What will it take to provide better early education and care for our children between the ages of two and five? Eager to Learn explores this crucial question, synthesizing the newest research findings on how young children learn and the impact of early learning. Key discoveries in how young children learn are reviewed in language accessible to parents as well as educators: findings about the interplay of biology and environment, variations in learning among individuals and children from different social and economic groups, and the importance of health, safety, nutrition and interpersonal warmth to early learning. Perhaps most significant, the book documents how very early in life learning really begins. Valuable conclusions and recommendations are presented in the areas of the teacher-child relationship, the organization and content of curriculum, meeting the needs of those children most at risk of school failure, teacher preparation, assessment of teaching and learning, and more. The book discusses:

  • Evidence for competing theories, models, and approaches in the field and a hard look at some day-to-day practices and activities generally used in preschool.
  • The role of the teacher, the importance of peer interactions, and other relationships in the child's life.
  • Learning needs of minority children, children with disabilities, and other special groups.
  • Approaches to assessing young children's learning for the purposes of policy decisions, diagnosis of educational difficulties, and instructional planning.
  • Preparation and continuing development of teachers.

Eager to Learn presents a comprehensive, coherent picture of early childhood learning, along with a clear path toward improving this important stage of life for all children.

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