Social Education 55(5) pps. 307-310
©1991 National Council for the Social Studies
Consequently, services needed by families in the home have changed, and the socialization and developmental experiences children have at home are quite different from those experienced by past generations of children. For example, milk companies in many parts of the country have discontinued home deliveries; most families instead use the family car or public transportation to purchase milk in large-quantity containers at the supermarket. Social studies content must reflect these changes in the home and the family if children are to develop basic skills for immediate and future use.
According to Spodek (1972, 156), social studies for young children should teach:
(1)social science concepts and knowledge (facts, concepts, methods of inquiry related to the social sciences);
(2)applications of these concepts to the social problems we must solve (problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, ways to interact and form relationships and other skills related to our social problems); and
(3)the socialization of children into a realistic society (social learnings, social skills, and other techniques that help children become full-fledged members of the larger society).
In summary, the goals for social studies instruction for young children should embody the goals of appropriate early childhood education (ECE) (Spodek, Saracho, and Davis 1991, 313). ECE social studies, then, should (1) reflect children's real experiences, (2) enable children to gain physical knowledge, (3) value children's efforts at representing what they know, and (4) be inquiry-oriented (i.e., encourage active pursuit of information) (Spodek et al. 1991, 315).
Many schools, preschool centers, and other child care settings do not teach social studies that incorporate Spodek's components with a curriculum that reflects children's reality (Spodek et al. 1991, 315). At least two reasons may account for this. First, institutions of a culture lag behind any changes in society (Ogburn 1969, 301-304; NCSS Task Force 1989). That is, limited or general alterations in social structures and processes, in social issues, or in the social character or behavior of persons, groups, or society at large occur well after the society itself changes. Stanley (1953) points out that education is one such institution, and schools are special environments illustrative of this societal institution. Goodlad, in an interview by Schere (1986, 147), states that "schools [K-12] improve slowly when reforms are thrust upon them....[T]oo often the school curriculum is not relevant to students' lives." Unfortunately, this is often true for preschool curricula and instruction as well. Findings from the National Child Care Staffing Study (1989, 13) confirm that across the nation considerable variability characterizes the quality of care and education given to young children. Some centers' bulletin boards are illustrated with milkmen delivering milk to homes; in total-group discussions this same concept may be emphasized through pictures shown to the children. Teaching young children about history such as the delivery of milk to the home by workers scheduled to provide an at-home service to families is acceptable. However, this concept should not be taught as currently accurate. Outdated concepts such as this permeating segments of early childhood social studies curricula highlight a serious problem in the field. Herein lies a second reason some early childhood social studies curricula do not reflect children's reality.
Education for young children is the basic level of learning, and yet some employment standards for teachers are unregulated (Neuweiler 1988, 9; Bredekamp 1990, 140). For example, some adults can teach with only eighteen college credit hours of early childhood training and some adults can perform this most important service with only a high school diploma showing some courses in child care (National Child Care Staffing Study 1989, 8). Furthermore, only eight states require preschool teachers to hold early childhood certification in order to teach (Neuweiler 1988, 9); forty-two states do not require any special training in child care for staff; and only twenty-four states re- quire any child development training for center directors (Jensen and Chevalier 1990, 26).
Although professional training in early childhood education is certainly related to quality instruction given to children (Ruopp, Travers, Glantz, and Coelen 1979, 1986, 64; Phillips 1987), a large number of preschool teachers nevertheless lack such training (Powell and Dunn 1990, 45-66; Cooper and Eisenhart 1990, 188-189). Still other teachers provide inappropriate instruction because they were incorrectly trained. Many childhood teacher education programs that prepare teachers for early childhood and elementary education are designed with early childhood as the lower level of elementary teacher preparation (Bredekamp 1990, 140). Hence, these programs do not focus specifically on content or techniques appropriate for teaching young children (147), nor do they account for ways in which preschool instruction should differ from primary instruction (140). In addition, many untrained and lower-level trained providers earn low wages for their service (National Child Care Staffing Study 1989, 9). This combination of low levels of training and poor wages results in low-quality child education care and renders the problem cyclical and self-supporting (1989, 2).
As teachers are held accountable for children's achievement, so should teacher education programs and state certifying agencies take responsibility for the training prospective teachers receive and the competencies they acquire. The content of teacher preparation curricula must be consistent and compatible with the skills teachers need to implement social studies curricula, especially when so many children begin their formal instruction outside of the home in the care of teachers.
Bredekamp (1990, 138-152) reports that more than half the states have public school-sponsored pre-kindergartens for 4-year-olds and even 3-year-olds in some cases (Marx and Seligson 1988). Goodlad, in his interview with Schere (1986, 148), reports that more than 90 percent of 5-year-olds and more than 50 percent of 4-year-olds are in some kind of school outside the public school setting. Likewise, the majority of children, birth through age 5, are cared for and educated in family day-care homes (Fosburg 1981, 124). Many early childhood teachers currently provide high-quality instruction to young children, and this should be the norm, especially for social studies instruction.
(1) Young children should be taught certain social concepts in order to have a realistic foundation for their current and future stages of function. According to Coleman (1987, 35), "schools [are] designed to complement the family [and if] schools [are] to be effective, [they] must change as families change, and must be adjusted to the conditions of the institutions they complement." As contrived places, schools and child-care centers can provide only certain influences
and experiences toward a child's development-for example, opportunities, demands, and rewards. Opportunities for experiences abound in classrooms, but they require adults to transfer the potential to a form from which young children can extract the learnings and the practice. Skillful guidance and encouragement from a teacher enable children to carry out these activities and make them rewarding. If, however, the bridge between the family and the school is based on outdated or inaccurate content, then the concepts children learn will not be useful in their daily lives. As the family changes and the neighborhood's strength declines as a source linking families and homes with the school, the school must revise its curriculum focus. Otherwise, schools or child-care centers will no longer be able to fulfill their roles in socializing youngsters. "Young children learn most when they are actively involved in real experiences" (Hendrick 1984, 9). A child's home environment and past experiences form the concrete or real experiences that are the basis for studying social phenomena (Spodek, Saracho, and Davis 1991; Thornburg 1983). Realistically portraying experiences in their world enables young children to understand abstract ideas. Use of outmoded content about the family and its home life is, therefore, inconsistent with appropriate social studies instruction for young children. In fact, such instruction sabotages the goal of using children's baseline content source (the family), related to their primary socialization agents (significant adults), in order to teach all else that forms a quality education. Hence, such a practice cannot be justified or continued.
Unfortunately, many families live in catastrophic conditions and depend "on agencies outside the home for the emotional, informational and material supports underlying nurturant childrearing" (Halpern 1987). Poverty, stress, and inadequate care embodied in family life for some children should not, however, be conveyed as dysfunctional or "not good." Instead, teachers can show that all families need information, emotional support, and concrete assistance, whether or not unfavorable circumstances exist. Teachers should not select one setting or type of family to represent "the family" or "the community" if studying the family and its helpers is to develop "knowledge and [the setting in which young children can] inquire into phenomena relevant to their lives" (Guyton 1984).
The school itself is another source of content that is readily available to young children as data for their social studies education (Guyton 1984, 17). Guyton (1984, 16-17) observes that the school, like the home, is "a convenient laboratory and a source of problems open to investigations...[that] require little or no reading ability," and, thus, is well-suited to the educational needs of young children. School workers and other school-based service providers can help youngsters to (1) solve problems and make decisions related to their daily lives, (2) use historical, descriptive, experimental, and survey research methods to acquire information, and (3) use higher-level thinking processes in order to link themselves with real, on-the-spot situations at school. Children also understand from an early age the relationship between their families and the school when their instruction provides bridges upon which they manipulate and understand that relationship.
Social studies programs using children's families and neighborhoods as curriculum content develop in children basic awarenesses about the self and the relationship between self and others. Self-knowledge underlies understanding of complex concepts such as roles, interactions, relationships, functions, and processes within the family, school, and neighborhood. Thus, social studies for young children should emphasize individual children realizing their attributes, feelings, and sensory capabilities within their physical, social, and logico-mathematical worlds (Spodek, Saracho, and Davis 1991, 315).
(2) Young children can be taught through play. Children are most likely to develop social and academic skills through play when teachers provide instruction that includes dramatic and sociodramatic play, reading books, field trips, and game-like activities. Social learning obtained in these ways can also be taught and enriched with music and songs, visual art, and children's own art, literature and poetry, drama, and recordings.
Literature on early childhood education clearly supports the contention that young children (birth through age 8) learn best through their play activities. "The adult role is crucial in all of the studies [showing that teachers' successes were related to the fact that they] facilitated, encouraged, and expanded the children's [knowledge-bases during the play experiences]" (Green 1987, 17). Children can ascertain their own social reality from peers only when their play is free of immediate teacher intervention, i.e., when the play is child-selected, child-paced, and child-controlled. "When objective reality checks are unavailable, an individual will use significant others to construct a social reality" (Chafel 1984). In other words, when young children are uncertain, seek a resolution to uncertainty, or seek verbal feedback for some reason, they will do what adults are likely to do-turn to other individuals with whom they compare their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, i.e., their peers, for assistance. Chafel (1984) calls this human tendency "social referencing." In order to encourage social referencing in young children, teachers should be trained to determine how and when it is appropriate to intervene in children's play.
(3) Social studies for young children should include their real family and school experiences in its content. If we are to train teachers who are competent to provide appropriate social experiences within early childhood social studies, we must incorporate the considerable body of knowledge available throughout all components of the early childhood education field, e.g., child care, teacher education, curricula, instructional materials, and legislation related to parents and their children. All children come to school with some knowledge of the social world, although each child's understanding of the world is unique (Spodek, Saracho, and Davis 1991, 316). Concepts built through children's firsthand experiences in real-life settings are best for them, and are most likely to provide them with information, i.e., teach them (Spodek et al. 1991, 317). Children make sense of their experiences and build meaningful social science concepts by abstracting information from these experiences and mentally operating upon this information (Spodek et al. 1991, 317). Research has yielded three elements necessary for young children to acquire these concepts from social studies instruction:
1.A curriculum that is appropriate developmentally (Hendrick 1984).
2.Active involvement by the children in real experiences (Hendrick 1984).
3.Play (Hendrick 1984) that reflects the children's unique modes of learning (Elkind 1986, 631).
Implications drawn from this discussion inform the following recommendations:
1.Direct training and practice for prospective and experienced teachers, both in research and theory-based play intervention, and in using familial, school, and neighborhood experiences as content for children's social education.
2.Emphasis in teacher education and in-service training to ensure that teachers have competencies to update their social studies curricula, to reflect the family memberships of the children they teach, and to mirror the children's aggregate locations and settings, ethnic affiliations, relationships with the school, and functions in the neighborhood, as well as to accurately represent the current service providers who serve the home and school neighborhoods.
3.Advocacy by the early childhood community, in partnership with parents and other educators, to effect a national effort toward assisting and strengthening all American families, since this institution underlies the content and concepts appropriate for young children; campaigning to help policymakers understand the relationship between children's social education, school achievement, and our national survival.
Implementation of these recommendations requires that all candidates in early childhood education be trained and certified as competent to teach social studies to young children. Thus, it is important for the baseline content (children's daily life realities), which is central to children's social education, to be appropriately used to teach them other basic concepts and principles. When these improvements are in place, young children will learn about traveling to the supermarket to purchase milk and will no longer wonder why milkmen don't come to their doors.
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Marjorie W. Lee is Associate Professor of Early and Elementary Education in the School of Education at Howard University in Washington, DC 20059.