Research on the long-term effects of various curriculum models suggests that the introduction of academic work into the early childhood curriculum yields good results on standardized tests in the short term, but may be counterproductive in the long term. For example, the risk of early instruction in beginning reading skills is that the amount of drill and practice required for success at an early age will undermine children’s dispositions to be readers. It is clearly not useful for a child to learn skills if, in the process of acquiring them, the disposition to use them is lost. On the other hand, obtaining the disposition without the requisite skills is not desirable either. Results from longitudinal studies suggest that curricula and teaching methods should be designed to optimize the acquisition of knowledge, skills, desirable dispositions and feelings.
Another risk of introducing young children to academic work prematurely is that those who cannot relate to the tasks required are likely to feel incompetent. Students who repeatedly experience difficulties may come to consider themselves stupid and may bring their behavior into line accordingly.
Academically focused curricula for preschool programs typically adopt a single pedagogical method dominated by workbooks, drill and practice. It is reasonable to assume that when a single teaching method is used for a diverse group of children, a significant proportion of these children are likely to fail. The younger the children are, the greater the variety of teaching methods there should be, since the younger the group is, the less likely the children are to have been socialized into a standard way of responding to their environment, and the more likely it is that the children’s readiness to learn is influenced by background experiences which are idiosyncratic and unique.
For practical reasons there are limits to how varied teaching methods can be. It should be noted, however, that while approaches dominated by workbooks often claim to individualize instruction, they really individualize nothing more than the day on which a child completes a routine task. Such programs can deaden the disposition to learn.
As for the learning environment, the younger the children are, the more informal it should be. Informal learning environments encourage spontaneous play, in which children engage in whatever play activities interest them. Such activities may include group projects, investigations, constructions, and dramatic play.
Spontaneous play is not the only alternative to early academic instruction. The data on children’s learning suggests that preschool and kindergarten experiences require an intellectually oriented approach in which children interact in small groups as they work together on projects which help them make sense of their own experience. These projects should also strengthen their dispositions to observe, experiment, inquire, and examine more closely the worthwhile aspects of their environment.
Donaldson, M. “Children’s Reasoning.” In EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION, ed. M. Donaldson, R. Grieve, and C. Pratt. London: The Guilford Press, 1983.
Katz, L. G. “Dispositions in Early Childhood Education.” ERIC/EECE BULLETIN 18 (1985). Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.
Katz, L. G. “Current Perspectives on Child Development.” COUNCIL FOR RESEARCH IN MUSIC EDUCATION BULLETIN, No. 86 (1986): 1-9.
Morgan, M. “Reward-Induced Decrements and Increments in Intrinsic Motivation.” REVIEW OF EDUCATION RESEARCH 54 (1984): 5-30.
Schweinhart, L. J., D. P. Weikart, and M. B. Larner. “Consequences of Three Preschool Curriculum Models Through Age 15.” EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY 1 (1986): 15-46.
BY Lilian G. Katz
ED290554 87 What Should Young Children Be Learning? ERIC Digest.
Author: Katz, Lilian G.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Urbana, Ill.
THIS DIGEST WAS CREATED BY ERIC, THE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES INFORMATION CENTER. FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT ERIC, CONTACT ACCESS ERIC 1-800-LET-ERIC
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under OERI contract. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.