Scholastic Early Childhood Programs and Resources
Please forward this error screen to 10. Traditional early childhood education in China currently faces both internal and external challenges changing family structures and increased influence of foreign ideas scholastic Early Childhood Programs and Resources values.
The one child policy in the People’s Republic of China is altering family roles and child-rearing practices, raising concerns about the possible harmful effects of too much attention and pampering. As China becomes more open to outside contact and influence, traditional teaching comes into conflict with Western ideas about “developmentally appropriate practices” and goals of creativity, autonomy and critical thinking. Have these goals and practices, which are so prevalent in the United States today, influenced Chinese early childhood education? In 1991, I had ample opportunity to explore such questions when I spent seven months teaching in China. I drew much of my information from observations of early childhood programs in Xi’An, where I taught at Xi’An Foreign Languages University. My conclusions are consistent with what I observed and heard in interviews with teachers, parents and teacher educators throughout China.
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I was able, however, to arrange more informal visits through Chinese friends and travel companions. Children enter elementary school at age 6. There are three types of early childhood program for children under 6: nurseries, kindergarten and pre-primary programs. Nurseries serve children under age 3.
Small group size and many caregivers assure prompt, abundant care. Since physical care and nurturing are the primary goals, the caregivers are trained as “nurses” rather than teachers. Programs for 2-year-olds are often combined with kindergartens. In China, the term “kindergarten” refers to full-day programs serving children from age 3 to age 6.
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The programs serve the twofold purpose of child care and educational preparation. A variety of sources provide kindergarten programs – the government, government-licensed private individuals and neighborhood committees, and work units. Work units are government-operated comprehensive communities in which workers and their families work and reside, such as those organized around a college or factory. Children are generally grouped by age in kindergarten. Education replaces physical care as the primary emphasis in this program.
Class size increases with age, ranging from 20 to 40 children. Each group typically has two teachers and a nurse. Large, affluent centers also often have one or more doctor on the staff to care for sick or injured children. They also provide other health-related services, such as performing health screenings, giving immunizations and planning nutritious meals. An alternative type of early childhood program is the pre-primary classroom, which is a part of the elementary school. It is typically a half-day program serving children the year prior to 1st grade. Each class session focuses upon a particular curriculum area.
The emphasis upon academic work varies with the school and the age of the children. Academics are generally not given major emphasis until children reach age 5. The pre-primary classrooms associated with elementary schools stress academic goals more than do the kindergartens. Parents often want their children to begin academic work early, believing it will give these a head start in the competitive struggle for scholastic success-considered the major route to future opportunities. Singing and dancing occupy an important place in the curriculum.
Even 2-year-olds may participate in well-rehearsed public performances of song and dance routines. The following sections describe the physical environment, schedule, curriculum, teaching methods and discipline of the Chinese kindergarten centers, where most of my observations took place. A kindergarten often has several classroom buildings surrounding an enclosed courtyard. This courtyard serves as the playground and is used extensively between classroom lessons. The playground contains equipment for large motor activities, including slides, merry-go-rounds, climbers and swings. Bright colors and dragon or elephant shapes provide added appeal. The ground cover is usually a sturdy brick or concrete, with no sand, grass or airs to soften falls.
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Each group of children has its own large classroom, plus a separate room with beds for afternoon naps. Several groups of children generally share toilet facilities and washrooms. Each group in the model school at the Xi’An Teachers College has a self-contained space, complete with classroom, sleeping room, toilet and washroom. The younger children even have their own playground. The classrooms contrast sharply with a typical American preschool. The space is not organized into special interest areas and equipment is scarce or not easily accessible to children.
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American pre-schools are supplied with unit blocks, dramatic play centers, open shelves felled with art supplies, sand and water tables. In China, however, small tables and chairs for each child occupy much of the room. A large open space may be set aside at one end for group activities, such as dancing. The better-equipped centers may possess one shelf of toys and books available for children’s use during their free time. Elaborate, artistic, teacher-made decorations and children’s work brighten up otherwise drab rooms. One artistically talented teacher painted large murals of children and animals in the hallways.
Another placed a large, colorful clown on the wall as part of a weather wheel. The length of the school day reflects the needs of working parents. At the Xi’An Foreign Languages University, kindergarten children begin arriving around eight o’clock Class sessions alternate with free-play time. Learning social skills is also considered an important part of the curriculum, particularly for younger children.
Along with respecting the teacher and obeying school rules, children team to help others and solve disagreements constructively. One teacher expressed concern about a common problem, the shy child. She described her efforts to help these children feel comfortable and speak up more. Children seldom work independently or in small groups on self-selected tasks.
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Instead, the emphasis is upon teacher-directed, total group instruction. All children are expected to do the same thing at the same time. Even when using manipulatives, all children use the same kind at the same time. For example, one class of children might play independently with Legos, each child using just a few pieces, while in another room each child plays with a tiny portion of Playdough. The importance of the whole group instructional approach appears to outweigh the limitations of minimal supplies.
I was surprised at the independence and lack of peer interaction in these group activities. Since China has a socialist ideology, I expected more lessons to use co-operative interactions and teamwork, in order to emphasize group rather than individual achievement. The encouragement of group rather than individual goals was evident, however, in the emphasis on teaching children altruistic and nurturing behaviors. All children are expected to proceed at the same pace. The child is responsible for keeping up and poor performance is usually attributed to “not working hard enough. The solution is to admonish the child to work more diligently. The teaching method and the available materials limit opportunities for creative expression or pursuit of individual interests.
Ample materials necessary for open-ended, unstructured exploration are seldom available. Sand and water play, blocks and woodworking equipment are rare. Art supplies are typically used for teacher-directed, rather than child-initiated activities. What is considered acceptable school behavior? During group activities, children are expected to give their complete attention to the teacher and participate fully. Talking or playing with other children is not allowed during this time. Respect for the teacher and prompt, unquestioning obedience are expected.
During free-play time, however, noisy and active social interactions are quite acceptable. I was impressed with how well the children meet these expectations. They generally appear to be orderly, attentive, hard-working and eager to please the teacher. I saw very few incidents of peer conflict or inattentive or disruptive behavior during group activities, and no cases of disrespect or lack of prompt obedience to the teacher’s requests. Some of the guidance and discipline methods differ from standard practices in the United States. A widely used technique is public correction and criticism, not just for misbehavior but also for poor performance.
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Children who are not doing well or have made a mistake are commonly singled out in public. One teacher removed two young girls from a group practicing a dance, asking them to sit down and watch the others because they were “not trying hard enough. Teachers do not appear concerned about any possible psychological harm resulting from these practices, such as lowered self-esteem. Rather, they believe such corrections will help the child work harder so as to avoid future mistakes. The threat of a public reprimand and “loss of face” appears to be a strong, pervasive influence upon children’s behavior. The importance of “face” has a long history in Chinese culture. Positive reinforcement for good behavior is also used extensively.
Teachers praise and recognize children who are doing well, often pointing out “the best ones” in class. Children receive rewards, such as red stars, for helping another child, answering questions in class or doing well on written work. Does a difficult transition occur for the only child who goes from being the center of attention at home to being part of a large group expected to obey and conform? Both parents and teachers told me that children may experience a difficult time at first, crying and wanting to go home, but usually they accept the situation and quickly adjust to school routines.
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Teachers try to comfort and distract such children by interesting them in new toys. The one child policy has, however, affected the schools in another way. It has strengthened the emphasis upon education for young children and the families’ strong involvement and investment in their only child. Teachers report that not only are parents very interested in their child’s school success, but they are also very quick to criticize teachers if they feel their child has been treated unfairly or too harshly.
Early childhood education programs in the People’s Republic of China differ significantly from those in the United States, particularly in teaching methods. Both its socialist ideals and Confucian traditions may help explain the persistence of the whole group, teacher-directed emphasis, rather than the use of individual choices and creative self-expression. My experiences in China confirm the view that the Chinese greatly love and value their children, regarding them as family and national resources. In spite of limited resources, they make major investments in their children and the education system.
Through these investments, they effectively provide an early childhood education system that fosters obedient, hardworking children. Early childhood education in the People’s Republic of China. Strengthening the future’s foundation: Elementary education reform in the People’s Republic of China. The Elementary School Journal, 92, 41-60. Comparative study of behavioral qualities of only children and sibling children.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. Position statement on developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth to age eight. Preparation of early childhood teachers in the People’s Republic of China. Preschool in three cultures: Japan, China, and the United States. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Young children’s care and education in the People’s Republic of China.
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How nations serve young children: Profiles of child care and education in fourteen countries. Social and behavioral characteristics of Chinese only children: A review of research. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 5, 127-139. 1993 Association for Childhood Education International. Understand the many approaches to early childhood education.
Preschools subscribe to many different theories and philosophies of education. You may hear some of the following terms used to describe schools you’re considering. Montessori is centered on establishing independence, self-esteem, and confidence while fostering learning at a child’s own pace. This self-paced education is accomplished by changing the role of adults in the classroom from teachers of a whole class into that of “guides,” as they are often called, for the students as individuals. According to the American Montessori Society, guides have four principle goals, which encompass what the Montessori method hopes to achieve. The guide may introduce a lesson to the class as a whole, but will then focus on working with students in small groups as they investigate topics on their own in a carefully prepared classroom environment. This individualized attention means children with special needs — whether they are gifted or delayed — often do well in a Montessori environment.
Waldorf programs strive to stimulate kids’ bodies, spirits, and souls with a nurturing, homelike environment that engages all five senses. Rudolf Steiner, who founded the first Waldorf school in Germany in 1919, believed that small children learn best by imitation and their physical surroundings. Creative play is the most important means of learning in a Waldorf classroom, with a heavy dose of teamwork and togetherness. The goal of these programs is to let children learn by experimentation, exploration, and collaboration. Teachers and their charges tie the work they do in the classroom to real-world experiences and lessons.
They play with materials that inspire exploration and pretend play, such as blocks and art supplies, and take lots of community field trips. In a projects-based program, children work independently. The teacher serves as a guide, providing advice or help when needed but largely standing back and letting the children decide how to handle a problem themselves. The children negotiate with their teacher about the rules and directions for the project and what they want to accomplish with it.
Many child-care centers, community centers, and religious organizations offer preschool programs. These typically feature the classic preschool experience you might remember from your own childhood, with an emphasis on both socialization and pre-academic skills. If age-appropriate religious instruction is important to you, you’ll want to consider one of these programs seriously. These programs vary greatly depending on the philosophy of the director and teachers. To varying degrees, children will learn by playing and experimenting with language, toys, and art materials. Some schools may have a stronger emphasis on pre-academic skills and direct instruction, while others will offer a more hands-on curriculum. If you can’t afford a traditional preschool, or can’t find one with a philosophy that meshes with your own, consider looking for or even founding a cooperative school.
In a cooperative preschool, parents take turns doing everything from managing the finances to washing the windows to assisting in the classroom. Usually, a professional teacher oversees the classroom, but parent volunteers recruit and hire her, serve as her aides, and help develop the curriculum. Many experts have hailed the Reggio Emilia approach as an exemplary system for helping children develop strong thinking skills. The primary goal of this method is to create learning conditions that help children develop these abilities through exposure to all matter of expressive, communicative, and cognitive experiences. Emergent curriculum: Topics for study are built on the interests of the children, determined by discussions with the class and their families, and by areas that fascinate many children, such as puddles and dinosaurs.