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Rethinking Froebel's Kindergarten Metaphor:

A Study of Culture and Development

"My goal was to find out how culture influences child development."

Research uncovered five important cultural influences on child development ­ space, nicknames, food, celebration and respect ­ which have major implications for early childhood educators.

"I looked at cultural aspects that addressed values, not just visible characteristics such as clothing, food and music. I looked at the deeper meanings."

Space at home is different from the typical classroom, where space is defined. "In the apartments, space is limited and therefore flexible. The outdoors is an extension of the indoors. Families even move furniture outdoors when friends come over." So, when a child who comes from this kind of home environment moves a chair or sits in a different spot in the classroom, it's natural behavior. Teachers, on the other hand, might say that the child doesn't listen or pay attention.

Nicknames are common in homes and neighborhoods. This contradicts the accepted early childhood development notion that using proper names builds identity and self-worth. "I found that nicknames, or nombres de cariņo, were used constantly. Like mija, mijo, mama, papa. They help establish relationships in the community and reflect caring and nurturing." Then, is it always inappropriate to use nicknames in early childhood education? No, sometimes it's very appropriate.

Food is used for nourishment rather than play. "Parents had a difficult time when their children brought home objects they had made in class with food, like using cereal to make necklaces and gluing noodles, beans or rice on paper to create pictures. They saw it as wasteful. Those foods might seem cheap to the teachers, but to the families it represented a meal and hard earned money." The implication then for early childhood practitioners is to consider the family's values about food when planning play activities.

Celebrations, particularly birthday parties, are not just about the child and family. Instead, they reflect the support of the whole community. "Birthdays affirm the network for the child in the community. Parties are a joint effort, everyone pitches in, with no time limits. They are about visiting and congregating rather than gift-giving and playing host to guests." Therefore, early childhood teachers should be aware of this difference when celebrating birthdays in the classroom.

Respect is shown by following specific rules of addressing people in the home and neighborhood. These rules don't necessarily lend themselves to the classroom setting. "The elderly and educated are held in high regard and are bestowed titles such as don, doņa, seņor, seņora, profesor, profesora, maestro, maestra. It's important to parents that adults be addressed formally." So when children say "miss" or "teacher" in the classroom they are showing respect although teachers may interpret the salutations as disrespectful.

"The early childhood development theories that are currently used were created by European males and don't take into account cultural context. I think we need another perspective. I would like to develop a cultural context theory. Often, children from minority backgrounds are labeled by mainstream society as 'culturally-disadvantaged' or 'culturally-deprived.' I say these children are not deficient, but different. I believe early childhood practitioners should affirm these differences, value them and build upon them. I think we, as practitioners, should ask 'What do these children already know when they come into our classroom?'" Irma Woods

For her doctoral research, Dr. Woods studied 20 children and their families in three different contexts: the classroom, the home and the neighborhood. She had two criteria: the childcare program had to be in or close to a housing project and the majority of the children had to be Mexican-American.

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