Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Prior to beginning work on this discussion, read Strate - Study Help

Prior to beginning work on this discussion, read Strategies for Teachers to Develop Positive Relationships With Students (Links to an external site.) and Principles of Effective Family Engagement (Links to an external site.). An important step in preparing our classrooms and curriculum is getting to know our students as individuals and building a relationship that is reciprocal and characterized by trust. Jaruszewicz (2019) discusses the importance of building individual connections, stating that building trust requires connecting with each child on a personal level, so that they know you care about them and what happens to them, are curious about what they think, and firm with them when they need guidance. These things give children the emotional security they need to share with you their impressions, confidences, questions, and fears—information you can use to develop, adapt, and personalize whatever curriculum you use to best represent what your children know and do. (section 3.3, para. 32)

Notice how Jaruszewicz emphasizes that knowing the students as individuals allows for designing individualized curriculum which is more aligned with their needs. In this discussion, we explore the importance of building trust with students to gain insights into how to best meet their needs in an education environment.

To prepare for this discussion,

· Read chapters 1–3 in your course text.

· Review the Week 1 Guidance.

· Read the articles Strategies for Teachers to Develop Positive Relationships With Students (Links to an external site.) and Principles of Effective Family Engagement (Links to an external site.).

In your initial post,

· Discuss at least one strategy you will use to gather information on your students in an effort to get to know them and their family (interest inventory, home visit, etc.).

· Include the benefits of the strategy and use a specific example of how you plan to implement it in your classroom.

· Reflect on the reading Strategies for Teachers to Develop Positive Relationships With Students (Links to an external site.).

· Discuss two approaches you will use to build trust with each of your students and why you believe these approaches will be effective.

· Reflect on the reading Principles of Effective Family Engagement (Links to an external site.).

· Discuss two approaches you will use to build trust with families and why you believe these approaches will be effective.

The Concept of Early
Childhood Curriculum

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

1. Describe what curriculum is and what it includes.

2. Explain historical influences on modern curricula.

3. Describe what “developmentally appropriate practice” means.

4. Describe contextual factors that affect early childhood professionals’ work with curricula.

5. Discuss active reflection as an important teacher activity.

1. The term curriculum refers only to

the workbooks and reading materials
that children use in an early childhood
classroom. T/F

2. The roots of modern early childhood
curricula date to the period of ancient
Rome. T/F

3. The phrase “developmentally appropriate
practice” refers to having children learn
concepts that are intended for older
students. T/F

4. Early childhood professionals don’t always
get to choose the curriculum that’s used in
their classroom. T/F

5. Good teaching practice includes intentional
reflection about curriculum. T/F

Answers can be found at end of the chapter.
© Fancy Collection / SuperStock

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

What Is Curriculum? Chapter 1

Imagine yourself interviewing for your first early childhood
teaching position. You know you will need to dress profes-
sionally and to have a resume that highlights your strengths
and experiences. You can assume that interviewers will ask
questions about your education and experience with children
and what kind of teacher you hope to be. But what else
might you share with this prospective employer to establish
confidence in your knowledge and ability to plan and imple-
ment curriculum effectively?

As an early childhood educator, you will be expected to
make many decisions about curriculum that demonstrate
your awareness of how children develop and learn, and you
will need to select materials and apply these resources to
meet the needs of a diverse group of children. Therefore an
important theme of this text is decision making. Each of the
six modules is guided by an important question that relates
to a dimension of your role as a curriculum decision maker.

In this chapter, we explore the basics that will allow you to
develop a full understanding of curriculum: what curriculum
is, how it reflects a long history of thinking about children,
how developmentally appropriate practice provides a frame-
work for curriculum, and how to think about your work as an
early childhood educator.

1.1 What Is Curriculum?
In the broadest sense, curriculum is a structured framework for teaching. As a student, you
already have personal experience with curriculum, and you probably know that as an early
childhood teacher, you will have to work within a curriculum as you teach your students. But,
what does a curriculum include? What kinds of decisions does a teacher make about curricu-
lum? This section addresses these questions.

What Does Curriculum Include?

In practice, curriculum is much more than a structured framework (National Association for
the Education of Young Children [NAEYC], 2003). Especially in early childhood education, cur-
riculum is understood to include (Figure 1.1):

• The physical classroom space, or environment

• All the materials the teachers use to instruct students

• All the materials that children use

• The methods and strategies teachers use to implement and assess the effectiveness of
activities and lessons

• Everything the children learn, intended or not (see Feature Box 1.1 on Hidden

© Comstock Images / Thinkstocks

An interview gives the job candi-
date an opportunity to ask ques-
tions about the curriculum she will
be expected to use and a chance to
show how her experience, education,
and philosophy will guide her deci-
sion making.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

What Is Curriculum? Chapter 1

Early childhood curriculum can be as open ended as a set of general guidelines, in which
case the teacher will make many of the decisions about what and how to teach. Conversely,
the curriculum can be structured to the point that its “what, when, and how” elements are
carefully spelled out for the teacher (Frede & Ackerman, 2007). In any event, the curriculum
is important because it governs much of what the teacher does in the classroom to help stu-
dents learn what they are supposed to learn.

The Role of the Teacher

As the “coordinator in chief,” the early childhood educator has substantial responsibilities,
including setting up and maintaining the environment, arranging equipment and materials,
planning, implementing, and managing activities, and then assessing, communicating, and
documenting how learning takes place.

The degree of flexibility that the teacher has in terms of how to structure the day or how
detailed to make the lessons depends in part on the type of early childhood setting within
which the teacher works. Working in a federally funded preschool program like Head Start,
for example, usually involves a selected curriculum and clearly described procedures and
expectations about how it will be implemented. On the other hand, teachers working in a pri-
vate child-care program might get to select or develop the curriculum they use, while teach-
ers in public schools have very different kinds of choices to make, as they navigate a complex
system of curriculum standards, resources, and accountability.


Children Use






Figure 1.1: Components of Curriculum

The concept of curriculum includes much more than just the materials used in the classroom. This
Venn diagram illustrates the interrelated nature of curriculum elements.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

What Is Curriculum? Chapter 1

The Hidden Curriculum

The hidden curriculum refers to things children and teachers learn or are expected to know in school
that are not directly taught—often related to social rules, interactions, and behaviors that represent
the “culture” of a school, classroom, or home care setting (Giroux & Purpel, 1983; Jackson, 1968;
Myles, Trautman, & Schelvan, 2004). Familiar examples of hidden curriculum include raising your hand
when you want to be recognized, being quiet in the hallway, or lining up at the drinking fountain.

The environment communicates information about these hidden messages in different ways. For
instance, you may remember from your own experiences in school that if your teacher seated
students at desks aligned in rows facing the front of the classroom, you understood where atten-
tion should be focused and that it might not be acceptable to turn around to talk to the classmate
seated behind you. Conversely, if your teacher
seated everyone at small tables facing one
another, you might have assumed it was accept-
able to engage in conversation. Children get
into trouble or can become confused when they
misread or don’t understand the messages the
environment is set up to convey. Complicating
matters is the fact that the hidden curriculum
can vary from teacher to teacher or one part of
the school environment to another.

Young children especially need help “reading”
these kinds of messages, as they often represent
expectations that are very different from those
they already know from home. For instance,
perhaps at home one child has a toy box and is
accustomed, when asked to clean up, to simply
toss all the toys from the floor into the box.
Another child may not be expected to help with
putting toys away at all and may be allowed to
leave them lying about. At school, we would help the child learn that all students are expected to
help keep the classroom organized, and we would do this by putting picture labels on shelves to
make it clear where each item or group of items belongs. By doing so, we convey an additional
hidden message, which is that we value independence and responsibility and a spirit of “everyone
helps.” Successful teachers not only implement the “official” curriculum effectively but help chil-
dren to understand the hidden curriculum as well.

As a teacher, you might also be expected to conform to expectations that have not been explicitly
explained or described to you. For instance, you might be told that your official work hours are
from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. But what if you arrive at school at 7:30 and you notice that you are the
last car to pull in the parking lot and that all the other teachers are busy working in their classrooms
as you enter the building? Will you feel anxious or confused? Should you ask someone if you are
expected to arrive earlier than 7:30 or will that convey the wrong impression? As you consider how
you might feel in this circumstance, remember that young children experience these same kinds of
feelings—wanting to be accepted and do the “right” thing at school, but perhaps needing help to
understand what that means.

▶ Stop and Reflect
When you think about your own experiences in school, can you recall how you learned to interpret
a particular teacher’s body language—perhaps the slight nod of approval or the “look” that let you
know you needed to think twice about what you were about to do? What are some other examples
of hidden curriculum from your own school experience?

© iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Teachers help children and their parents
navigate the hidden curriculum by clearly
communicating and explaining expec-
tations for conduct, interactions, and
school or program values.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

What Is Curriculum? Chapter 1

What Is the Difference between a Curriculum Approach
and a Curriculum Model?

In the curriculum literature, the terms approach and model are sometimes used interchange-
ably (Frede & Ackerman, 2007), but they can also be interpreted differently. For purposes of
clarity in this book, these two terms will differentiate the level of detail and specificity within
a curriculum about how things should be done and the degree of freedom the teacher has to
make choices. This distinction will be important as we discuss the kinds of decisions teachers
make about curriculum.

Curriculum Approach
A curriculum approach is a broad framework designed from a specific perspective or orien-
tation about how children learn (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2008). An approach includes key ideas
and principles but allows or encourages “reflection, practice, and further careful reflection in
a program that is continuously renewed and readjusted” (Gandini, 1993 p. 4). Thus, a teacher
who follows a particular approach will
make a lot of choices about how to inter-
pret and apply these principles. Reggio
Emilia, which we discuss later in the
chapter, is an example of a philosophi-
cal approach that guides the curriculum
in many American preschools; however,
schools following this approach do not
receive materials or explicit instruction
from Reggio Emilia administrators.

Curriculum Model
A curriculum model, on the other hand,
is more prescriptive. Formally, it’s defined
as “an ideal representation of the theoret-
ical premises, administrative policies, and
pedagogical components of a program
aimed at obtaining a particular educa-
tional outcome” (Spodek & Brown, 1993,
p. 91). It describes everything about what
and how the teacher will teach, from the
way in which the classroom should be organized and the materials to use to activity plans and
directions about how to introduce, teach, and assess lessons.

The purpose of having a model is to ensure consistency no matter who uses the curriculum
or where it is implemented (Goffin, 2001). This allows for a high degree of reliability that the
curriculum is being implemented as originally intended, so that it achieves its expected out-
comes. The Montessori Method (Montessori, 1912), or a purchased curriculum that includes
specific instructional materials you need in order to implement it, would be an example of a
curriculum model. The choice to use a model or an approach is not reflective of one being
better than the other but largely dependent on the mission or philosophy of a program.

Comprehensive and Limited-Scope Curriculum
A curriculum can also be comprehensive or limited in scope. A comprehensive curriculum
addresses all areas of learning, while a limited-scope curriculum focuses on a single area,
such as literacy, math, or the arts (National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance

© Stockbyte / Thinkstock

A curriculum is a program for learning implemented by
teachers who work with children in many ways. In this
photo, a teacher works with a small group of children.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

What Is Curriculum? Chapter 1

Center [NCCIC], 2011). The Creative Curriculum for Preschool (Heroman et al., 2010) and The
High Scope Preschool Curriculum (Epstein & Hohmann, 2012) are examples of comprehensive
curricula, since they are designed to address all areas of learning. The High Scope Educational
Research Foundation also offers limited-scope curricula that can be purchased separately,
such as the High Scope Growing Readers Early Literacy Curriculum (2010) or the Numbers Plus
Preschool Mathematics Curriculum (Epstein, 2009).

Curriculum standards are statements about what children should know and be able to do
that are organized in a cohesive, systematic manner according to areas of growth and devel-
opment or academic subject categories. Standards are developed by states, programs (such
as Head Start), or organizations that represent different dimensions of curriculum, such as
the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) or Common Core State Standards

Standards should not be confused with curriculum, but they are used to guide curriculum
selection and implementation as well as evaluation of student achievement. For example,
CCSS mathematics standards are grade specific and “provide clear signposts along the way
to the goal of college and career readiness for all students” (Common Core State Standards
[CCSS] Initiative, 2010, p. 4). Teachers developing curricula for second graders, for example,
would focus on four core areas:

• extending understanding of base-10 notation;

• building fluency with addition and subtraction;

• using standard units of measure; and

• describing and analyzing shapes. (CCSS Initiative, 2010, p. 17)

While these standards will apply to any classroom governed by the national math standards,
they do not dictate which curriculum to use to teach mathematics.

Degree of Teacher Control
A teacher’s effectiveness in implementing any curriculum will be greatly influenced by her
knowledge about child development, the skills and experience he brings to the classroom, and
his personal belief system (Hill, Stremmel, & Fu, 2005). As a new teacher, you might appreci-
ate a curriculum that provides lots of direction, support, and instructional resources so that
you can focus most of your energies on developing your skills and insights about how children
learn and behave. Over time, teachers often develop a comfort level with a curriculum to the
point where they can “tweak” it to more effectively meet the needs of individual children.

Some teachers see structured models as limiting what they can do with children’s imagina-
tions, individuality, and intelligence. A highly experienced teacher may not need the kind of
instructional support and direction provided by the curriculum. He may actually become frus-
trated if he is not permitted to exercise the personal knowledge and skills acquired through
practice over time. We mentioned earlier that the degree of control a teacher has to interpret
the curriculum can vary considerably by setting; that is, in some classrooms diverging from
the set curriculum is not an option, while in others the teacher has more freedom to embrace
more flexibility and creativity (Frede & Ackerman, 2007).

In all cases, children need and deserve teachers who understand them, are highly knowledge-
able about the curriculum options, and know how to make good decisions on their behalf.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

What Is Curriculum? Chapter 1

How Do Curricula Vary within Early Childhood Education?

All curricula, including those developed for young children, are designed to complement and
support the students for whom they are intended. They include:

• A theoretical or philosophical orientation

• Stated or implied assumptions about learners

• Goals or intended outcomes for learners

• Stated or implied assumptions about the role of teachers

• Specified or suggested content

• Specified or suggested methods of implementation and assessment of learners (Frede
& Ackerman, 2007; Goffin, 2001; NAEYC, 2003)

The period of early childhood is commonly understood to include birth through age 8, as
defined by the NAEYC (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). Yet within this period, children’s devel-
opmental characteristics and interests vary enormously, so curriculum across the early child-
hood span does as well. We would not expect a curriculum for infants or toddlers to be the
same as one for first or second graders. In this sec-
tion we will discuss some of the general similarities
and differences in curriculum across early childhood.

General Distinctions
In general, curriculum for infants and toddlers empha-
sizes language development, socialization, explora-
tion of the immediate environment, and acquisition
of self-help skills, often through daily routines like
diapering and feeding. Preschool curricula focus on
the development of social and interpersonal skills,
play, acquiring a love of learning, and thinking skills.
Kindergarten serves as the transition from pre-
school to elementary school, and the curriculum
begins to focus more on early reading and writing.

In the primary grades (1 through 3), curriculum is
typically broken out into defined subject or content
areas and the focus shifts from growth and devel-
opment to academics. Strategies teachers use to
implement curriculum for all young children should
support individual and group needs of typically
developing children, second-language learners, and
those with special developmental needs (Copple &
Bredekamp, 2009).

Teacher-Child Ratios
Young children usually spend their entire day with
the same teacher, child-care provider, or small team of teachers, and early childhood educa-
tors usually plan for and implement all components of the curriculum. Typically, however,
the teacher-child ratio, or the number of children each individual adult is responsible for,
increases by age, because we know that owing to their physical needs and language capacities,
infants and toddlers require more hands-on attention than do preschoolers, kindergarteners,

© Stockbyte / Thinkstock

A curriculum for infants emphasizes one-on-
one interactions between adults and children.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

What Is Curriculum? Chapter 1

and children in early elementary grades (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). Therefore curriculum
for infants and toddlers will emphasize one-on-one interactions between the adult and child,
while curriculum for preschoolers and older children includes an increasing number of activi-
ties for small groups of children and sometimes a larger group.

A high-quality comprehensive early childhood curriculum emphasizes global, integrated learn-
ing across all areas of development (NAEYC/NAECS/SDE, 2003). However, our knowledge
of how children grow and develop across each of the individual developmental domains
(cognitive, social/emotional, physical, creative) affects the expectations we have for children
of different ages in each of these areas. For example, we don’t expect toddlers—who, at
this stage of development prefer to play on their own—to interact with a group of children
during play. We might however, be concerned about a kindergarten-aged child who doesn’t
play with others, since by this age children have typically developed a preference for play with
peers (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009).

Adults who work with young children rely on instructional materials and strategies, or “tools
of the trade,” that support children’s needs and interests. Early childhood classrooms or
child-care settings usually have basic furniture, equipment, and learning materials specifically
designed for small children. Some curricula specify exactly what materials are needed; others
provide general guidelines or suggestions.

Some early childhood materials, such as puzzles, are constructed to be used for very specific
purposes (in this case, developing fine-motor coordination and matching a shape with a cor-
responding space). But the designs of these materials will vary according to the age of the
child for whom they are intended. For example, toddler puzzles typically have fewer, larger
pieces, some even with knobs on them, while puzzles designed for older children would have
many more pieces and be smaller in size.

Similarly, blocks intended for toddlers will be large enough to be handled easily and might
be made of foam or cardboard, while kindergarteners might have access to a large selection
of wooden blocks of all sizes and shapes as well as a selection of accessory items, like small

people and vehicles, to be used with

As children acquire language and
an interest in reading and writing,
the amount and kinds of paper and
writing implements increase as well.
Once children gain the ability to talk
and move about, they will gradually
become more interested in activities
like easel painting, drawing with cray-
ons and markers, and manipulating
a large variety of materials that help
them to acquire the fine motor skills
they will need for writing.

© Mardis Coers / Getty Images

Expectations for what children know and can do vary
by age.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Did Early Childhood Curriculum Evolve? Chapter 1

Their interest in reading and writing continues to
develop as the curriculum exposes them to many dif-
ferent kinds of stories and nonfiction books. While
reading and writing become a more prominent ele-
ment of curriculum in the later part of early childhood,
materials of all kinds that children can handle and
manipulate remain an important feature throughout.

1.2 How Did Early Childhood
Curriculum Evolve?
Prior to the seventeenth century, childhood was not
generally considered a distinct phase of the life span.
Children who survived the first years of life were
quickly incorporated into the work routines that sus-
tained the well-being of the family. However, begin-
ning with the Enlightenment, thinkers like John Locke
(1632–1734) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778)
began to describe the period of childhood as develop-
mentally distinct and significant.

The way we think about early childhood curriculum
today is influenced by many ideas about childhood
that have emerged and evolved since that time. The
curriculum models and approaches we use today
reflect ongoing work with young children in places as
diverse as the tenements of Rome and the laboratory preschools of influential universities.

A Cast of Influential Thinkers

Many scientists, theorists, and philosophers have contributed to the current view that children
should be respected as individuals in their own right. Further, these thinkers continue to help
us understand how children learn and the methods and environments that best encourage
the learning process. The following brief profiles describe individuals whose ideas and theo-
ries have generated important themes for early childhood curriculum; these will be addressed
throughout this text.

Friedrich Froebel
Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852) is generally credited with proposing the seminal idea that young
children need a systematic program and materials specifically designed for their unique learn-
ing style. Froebel likened children to seeds to be cultivated in a “garden of children,” or kin-
dergarten. He believed a teacher’s role was to observe and nurture the learning process, in
part by encouraging them to play. He also believed that children’s play should be structured
for their own protection and maximum benefit.

Froebel’s curriculum for young children centered on concrete materials he called “gifts” as
well as activities, including songs and educational games, he described as “occupations.”
Gifts were objects such as wooden blocks and colorful balls of yarn designed to teach chil-
dren concepts about color, shape, size, counting, measuring, comparing, and contrasting.

© Comstock Images / Thinkstock

A well-equipped early childhood classroom
provides a range of materials specifically
chosen to support the needs and interests of
the children.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Did Early Childhood Curriculum Evolve? Chapter 1

The purpose of occupations—which
involved the child’s manipulation of
items like clay, paper, and beads—
was to develop the fine motor and
visual discrimination skills needed for
reading and writing. Froebel encour-
aged the use of the play circle, a cur-
riculum feature that looks familiar in
any preschool classroom today, as a
time to sing songs that would help
to reinforce concepts and develop

Maria Montessori
Many of Maria Montessori’s (1870–
1952) ideas are embedded in virtu-
ally every early childhood program,
and her influence on our thinking
about curriculum has been profound

(Goffin, 2001; Morrison, 2011). Montessori was the first woman in Italy to earn a medical
degree, and she was a tireless child advocate. She insisted that through proper early educa-
tion, underprivileged and cognitively impaired children could be successful. She worked first
with children who were described at that time as “mentally retarded” (a term we would
not use today) and subsequently with poor children in the tenements of Rome, establish-
ing preschools, each of which was called a Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House). In essence,
Dr. Montessori proposed the idea of children at risk and the notion that society had a moral
responsibility to devote resources to early intervention.

Dr. Montessori embraced and expanded Froebel’s kindergarten concept. She felt that children
were natural learners and should drive much of their own learning. She asserted that children
should be grouped in multiage (2½ to 5 years) classes to allow flexibility and opportunities
for peer mentoring. Montessori developed an extensive set of “didactic” materials and les-
sons designed to be attractive to children and used by teachers to teach specific concepts and
skills. She adapted furniture to child size as a gesture of respect for the unique needs of early
learners (Montessori, 2008).

Montessori believed that the environment in which children learn should be meticulously pre-
pared and organized to offer materials and activities in a carefully orchestrated sequence. She
trained teachers to observe children carefully and recognize sensitive periods, the most appro-
priate moments at which to introduce new lessons. Montessori’s ideas about early education
promoted the development of independence, responsibility, curiosity, and aesthetic sensitivity
(Montessori, 2007). We will discuss her method in more detail in Chapter 2.

John Dewey
At about the same time Montessori was conceptualizing early education in Italy, John Dewey’s
(1859–1952) work completely redirected the course of American education with a movement
known as progressivism. Dewey, known first as a philosopher, believed in pragmatism, or
faith in the value of experience (practice) to inform ideas (theory). He promoted a practical
approach to education, the idea that “education, therefore, is a process of living and not a
preparation for future living” (Dewey, 1897).


Many of Froebel’s gifts, including various blocks and tiles, can
be found virtually unchanged in preschool classrooms today.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Did Early Childhood Curriculum Evolve? Chapter 1

Like Montessori, Dewey believed that the curriculum should be child-centered and school
should be a place where children practice life through active, hands-on activities. Dewey also
believed, like Froebel, that children learn through teacher-facilitated play. He viewed class-
rooms and schools as incubators for …

The Curriculum Landscape:
Major Models and Approaches

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

1. Describe the key elements considered in curriculum development and major research
efforts that have affected curriculum.

2. Describe the key features of classic curricula developed prior to the 1960s.

3. Describe key features of modern curricula developed since the 1960s.

4. Establish a conceptual framework for making decisions about curriculum.

1. Early childhood curricula are largely based

on ideas and philosophies that have been
heavily researched. T/F

2. Longitudinal research studies in the 1960s
helped to identify the “perfect” curriculum
for that time. T/F

3. Some of the most popular curricula in use
today were developed early in the twentieth
century. T/F

4. Curricula developed over the past fifty years
are better than older versions because they
are based on newer research. T/F

5. Early childhood curricula are so different
that there’s no real way they can be
compared. T/F

Answers can be found at end of the chapter.

© Monkey Business / Thinkstock

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

Congratulations! Your interview went great! You have
been offered a position in the preschool classroom of
a public school in a farming community. The area has a
growing immigrant population as well as many families
who have lived there for generations. The school is small
(one class per grade level) and most of the low-income
and middle-class families and children know each other
through agriculture work as well as neighborhood and
church activities.

Your principal tells you that you will have two curricula to
use: (1) a state-approved comprehensive curriculum with
supplemental early literacy resources and (2) materials for
second-language learners. The comprehensive curricu-
lum provides guidelines, objectives, suggested learning
centers, and materials. The second-language package,
which contains specific printed materials and instructions
for activities, was chosen to provide focused instruction
for at-risk children. The principal says that you will make
most of your own decisions about how to organize your
classroom and will be able to choose topics of study that
are relevant to your students.

As you explore the information and materials about the
curriculum you will be using in your classroom, you may
wonder how a curriculum is created in the first place and
what makes one curriculum different from another. For
example, if the director of your preschool says that it is
a Reggio Emilia-based program or that it makes use of

Creative Curriculum, what does that mean? Where did the curriculum come from? Who devel-
oped it? How does it compare with other curricula? How flexible is it? In this chapter, we will
answer those questions and explore important considerations about curriculum development.
We introduce many of today’s most commonly used early childhood curricula and establish a
process you can use to compare and contrast curriculum features.

2.1 How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed?
The curriculum a program or school chooses or develops is defined in many ways, both
theoretical and practical. From a theoretical perspective, curriculum reflects the vision and
philosophy of the program. From a practical perspective, it may have to address man-
dates or requirements that the program must meet, teacher qualifications and professional
development needs, and available financial and other resources. In addition, a curricu-
lum must be clearly understood by all who use it, be sensitive to individual and commu-
nity needs, and provide opportunities for parent involvement (Frede, 2007; Posner, 2004;
Trister-Dodge, 2004).

Other practical considerations include purchasing materials, ensuring accountability, and set-
ting up an environment that will support the curriculum. The type of curriculum a program or
school chooses provides different levels of flexibility in how these decisions are made.

© Jupiterimages / Thinkstock

Early childhood curricula can vary widely
in philosophy and approach. Early
childhood educators can benefit from
having a framework within which to
compare them.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

In some cases, a curriculum choice drives all the other decisions so that it will be implemented
with fidelity. For example, the decision to use the Montessori curriculum means that many
things will have to be done in a certain way; for example, classrooms will have to be set up
into clearly defined and named areas. Moreover, classroom equipment and materials will
have to be purchased according to a list of materials specifically designed, manufactured, and
approved by the Association Montessori Internationale for Montessori classrooms. Teachers
will meet qualifications recommended by the North American Montessori Teacher Association
(Kahn, 2010). Once a Montessori program is set up, it is readily recognizable as a Montessori
space and can’t easily be transformed to serve a different kind of curriculum.

Other curricula are flexible or cross-compatible with one another to varying degrees, using
similar equipment and learning materials—such as items for art, dramatic play, blocks, or
music activities—but perhaps organizing and using them in different ways. Sometimes there
are particular elements of the curriculum that require special attention, such as the aesthetics
of a Reggio Emilia or Waldorf classroom. But with many early childhood curricula, changing
from one curriculum to another means devoting resources to professional development of
staff to implement the new curriculum as well as those changes that can reasonably be made
with the equipment and materials already on hand.

In short, curricula can vary widely in the degree to which practical decisions are affected by
their characteristics. But all curricula that are effective and stand the test of time are based on
strong conceptual elements, including (1) vision and mission, (2) research and theoretical base,
(3) stakeholders, (4) curriculum content, and (5) implementation. We’ll discuss these concep-
tual elements in more detail next (Goffin & Wilson, 2001; Jaruszewicz, 2005).

Vision and Mission

Typically, early childhood programs are guided by a particular vision statement that clearly
articulates what the program wants to achieve and a mission statement that succinctly
describes how it will do so. The vision and mission of individual programs can be quite dif-
ferent (see Figure 2.1). One program might emphasize literacy, for example, while another
focuses on the arts. Although they are both working toward the same purpose—to provide
high-quality care and education for young children—their methods can vary considerably.
Theoretically, all decisions made for the program, including choice of curriculum, should be
consistent with the articulated vision and mission.

Basis in Theory and Research

The educators who develop curricula for young children are informed and influenced by ongo-
ing research that continually refines our understanding of how children learn. Thousands of
researchers from around the world, coming from a variety of perspectives, have contributed
to our body of knowledge on early childhood. However, they often differ in their interpreta-
tion of data and conclusions and in the questions that drive their inquiries. The nature of such
questions, some general and others very specific, has changed over time, largely in response
to societal priorities.

For the first half of the twentieth century, primarily by observing children at play, research-
ers focused on finding out how children learn and grow (Barbour, 2003; Goffin & Wilson,
2001). During the 1960s, federal funding for the fledgling Head Start program, spurred by a
government commitment to equal opportunity for all children, produced efforts to identify

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

ECDC’s three part mission is to provide:
• A demonstration preschool for research, observation and practicum purposes.
• Quality care and early education for children ages two through �ve from the College

and neighboring community
• An active model of child advocacy in the Charleston community.
N.E. Miles Early Childhood Development Center, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC 29424

Mission: Daniel Island Academy’s mission is to provide the best learning and
developmental environment in which a child may reach his or her full potential.
Courtesy of: Daniel Island Academy, 300 Seven Farms Road, Daniel Island, SC 29492

�e SETA Head Start program’s mission is to improve the lives of low-income chil-
dren by providing quality comprehensive child development services that are family
focused, including education, health, nutrition and mental health.
Our mission is accomplished by involving parents in the total operation and admin-
istration of the program and supporting the growth of children, families and sta�
through encouragement, nurturing, education and empowerment.
Courtesy of: SETA Head Start, 925 Del Paso Blvd., #100, Sacramento, CA 95815

Support the child’s healthy drive for independence;
Honor the child’s natural desire to learn, to be helpful, to contribute;
Nourish the child’s spirit, imagination, creativity and intellect;
Guide a joyful mixed age classroom-as-community where the child’s personality
will naturally blossom and unfold;
Respect, protect and celebrate childhood.
Courtesy of: Little Tree Montessori Preschool and Kindergarten, 21204 Monument Rd. SW,
Vashon, WA 98070

Figure 2.1: Mission Statements from Four Programs

These mission statements are from four different preschool programs. Can you see that they repre-
sent specific goals and use particular words or phrases to emphasize the different curricula that the
facilitators use?

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

a “best model” for academic achievement. When that proved difficult, researchers began to
try to tease out the benefits of a particular curriculum from the benefits of early childhood
education overall (Goffin & Wilson, 2001). After 2001, the No Child Left Behind legislation
and increasing demands for accountability spurred research that helped connect curricular
elements to specific desired outcomes.

Today, researchers examine early childhood education in broader contextual terms than they
did in the past, partly as a result of the changing demographics of our population (Cohn &
Caumont, 2016; Goffin & Wilson, 2001). Recent economic conditions have led to reduced
funding for many government programs, including those tied to early childhood education.
Such conditions have encouraged bureaucrats to reassess the value of early childhood pro-
grams as long-term investments. Some large-scale national studies have also been supple-
mented by research funded and targeted at increasingly local levels. Written summaries and
testimonials of research are often used to support the effectiveness of specific curriculum

Let’s look at a selection of research efforts, from laboratory schools to various longitudinal
studies, which are considered to have had a significant impact on curriculum development.

Laboratory Schools
In the early twentieth century, G. Stanley
Hall, an American psychologist, was a
principal founder of what we now con-
sider the field of child psychology
(Barbour, 2003). To conduct research into
how the minds of children work, he and
his colleagues needed access to natural
but controlled settings where subjects
could be observed over long periods of
time. Meanwhile, the progressive move-
ment, led by John Dewey, sparked intense
curiosity about the teaching/learning
dynamic and a desire to study curricu-
lum theory. Researchers soon established
laboratory preschools in which young
children could be cared for and edu-
cated while being carefully observed. This
movement crystallized during the 1920s.

To facilitate faculty research and pro-
vide practical experience for teachers-in-
training, these programs were primarily
located at universities. Many of the early
programs are still in operation, including the program John Dewey established at the University
of Chicago in 1897 and the Bureau of Educational Experiments (1919), which became the
Bank Street College in New York City.

While support for laboratory programs has waxed and waned over time and some have
endured fluctuating levels of financial and institutional support, their role in the research
history of early childhood education continues to evolve. Some, like Bank Street, ended up

© George Marks / Getty Images

Laboratory preschools proliferated in the 1920s and
1930s as places in which to observe and conduct research
on early learning. These preschool children are at the
Newcomb College Nursery School at Tulane University.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

producing their own curricula, while others allow curriculum developers to try out their ideas
and then take what they learn back to their own settings.

Either way, what these programs have learned about children, and their continuing commit-
ment to research, continues to influence curriculum development. For example, at Bank Street,
researchers discovered the importance of field trips and helping children make connections
between curriculum and the real world. This knowledge changed curriculum development:
Instead of setting up curriculum with materials entirely designed for instructional purposes,
most curricula now advocate including real-world materials in the classroom. Dramatic play
areas might include pots, pans, baskets, dishware, and grocery store items along with replicas
of food for play. Curriculum today also promotes opportunities for children to visit places like a
local bakery or fire station so that they can base their classroom activities on actual experience.

Longitudinal Studies on the Benefits of Preschool
In addition to studying students for several months or a year in a day-care setting, laboratory
school, or other classroom environment, researchers often seek to understand the long-term
impact of early childhood education. Hence they institute longitudinal studies to track the
same individuals over periods of several years or even decades. Outcomes from this type of
research can inform changes to curriculum. One example of this is a study that had its roots
in a startling report issued in the 1960s.

In 1969, the Westinghouse Learning Corporation and Ohio University issued a report asserting
that the benefits of preschool, specifically, Head Start, were short-term, and that they “faded
out” by third grade (Westinghouse, 1969). Six years later, partly in response to this report,
twelve researchers formed the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies to study the effects of
experimental preschool programs in the 1960s. They pooled data from multiple individual
projects and agreed to work together to track a group of 3,000 children over time (Darlington,
1981). The findings from this unique study revealed a positive, lasting impact on achievement
and a lower number of children retained or placed in special education programs (Besharov,
2011; Darlington, 1981; Lazar, 1978; Lazar, 1982). This major study served to restore credibility
in early education as a worthy investment.

Another important ongoing longitudinal study is the Perry Preschool Study (PPS), which began
in 1962. It was designed to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of High Scope, a specific
curriculum that emphasizes active learning and family involvement and was used as an early
intervention measure.

In Ypsilanti, Michigan, 123 poor African American children between the ages of 3 and 4 were
divided into two groups, with one group attending preschool at the Perry Elementary School.
There, the High Scope curriculum was implemented from 1962 to 1967. The other group also
attended preschool but did not use the High Scope curriculum. Researchers have checked in
with the children, who are now in their forties, ever since, and have updated their findings
periodically (Schweinhart, 2005). The study continues to find that those in the High Scope
preschool program had more positive long-term outcomes—in terms of earnings, level of
education and employment rates, and crime statistics—than those who attended the other
preschool (Figure 2.2). “The High Scope Perry Preschool Study is now widely regarded as a
landmark study that established the human and financial value of high-quality preschool edu-
cation” (Schweinhart, 2002).

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

The Abecedarian Project, from the University of North Carolina, shifted the focus of study
from federally funded preschool classrooms to low-income children in a child care setting.
Educational activities were developed in the form of “games” intended for all domains of
development, with particular emphasis on language. Findings were reported on the children at
ages 12 (Campbell, 1994), 15 (Campbell, 1995), and 21 (Campbell, Ramey, Pungello, Sparling,
& Miller-Johnson, 2002); these linked the importance of high-quality child care begun at
infancy to later academic success and achievement. Because each child received individual-
ized attention from a teacher, this study also provided evidence of the importance of well-
educated teachers (Campbell, 1994, 1995; Campbell et al., 2002; Masse, 2002).

The Search for a “Perfect” Curriculum
Wouldn’t it be great if we could figure out the perfect curriculum? Project Follow Through
(FT) and the Head Start Planned Variation studies were research efforts that attempted to do
exactly that (Stebbins, 1977). These two longitudinal studies emerged from the national Head
Start program.

By 1967, the Johnson administration wanted to extend the benefits of Head Start early edu-
cation through the primary grades (1–3), so they requested $120 million to fund the new FT
program. When funding would not support that kind of an initiative, the FT effort became
a research project. The purpose of FT was to determine the “best” curriculum for disadvan-
taged children by evaluating gains in academic achievement over time. Thus a planned varia-
tion research model was proposed that allowed participating schools to choose from twenty
approved curricula.

In 1969, Head Start implemented a similarly structured effort, comparing eight models at
demonstration sites (Klein, 1971). Unfortunately the findings from both studies were inconclu-
sive and researchers as well as those with vested interests in one curriculum or another have
been arguing about it ever since (Stebbins, 1977). However, these efforts did serve to (1) spur
the development of new curricula, which remain with us today; (2) provide an incentive to
reexamine traditional approaches, such as the Bank Street model; and (3) encourage thinking
about early childhood curriculum in a structured, intentional way.








School readiness
% of kids who were
ready for school at

age 5


% of kids who
graduate high school

Earned $20k+
at age 40

% who earn over
$20k at age 40

Incarceration rate
% who had been jailed

5+ times by age 40



Figure 2.2: Perry Preschool Study Data

The Perry Preschool Project has tracked the progress of 123 African American subjects since 1965.
The age 40 data continue to provide evidence of positive effects.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

Today, the National Center for Early Development and Learning (NCEDL) and the National
Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) sponsor the largest number of early education
research initiatives. The NCEDL is funded through the U.S. Department of Education (DOE),
and the NIEER is funded through a consortium of charitable organizations in collaboration
with the U.S. DOE. The websites for these programs provide a great deal of information on
current and past studies.

Approved Curricula for State-Funded Preschool Programs

In 2011, thirty-nine of the fifty states (Figure 2.3) provided publicly funded preschool programs; in
Oklahoma, Florida, and Vermont, for example, these enrolled as many as 75 percent of 4-year-olds.

As a result of their own studies or findings from national research projects, many of these states
officially recognize only certain curricula for use in their publicly funded preschool programs. Table
2.1 displays the states that have approved preschool curricula as of 2009. Curricula indicated on the
chart are models that will be discussed further in this chapter.















































Percentage of 4-year-olds served

Figure 2.3: NIEER Public Preschool Data

Publicly funded preschool programs served 1.3 million 3- and 4-year-old children in

Note: Data from more recent NIEER yearbooks may be available. Visit for updates.

Barnett, W. S., Carolan, M. E., Fitzgerald, J., & Squires, J. H. (2011). The state of preschool 2011: State preschool yearbook. New
Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.


© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

Brain Research
In the past two decades research in the field of neuroscience has provided irrefutable evi-
dence of the importance of the early childhood period to the development of the brain (this is
discussed more fully in Chapter 4 and later chapters). As a result, early childhood curriculum
developers are learning more and more about the architecture of the brain and its structures,
the nature of intelligence, and the influence of emotions (Rushton, 2011). This research con-
firms long-held theoretical and intuitive beliefs about the value of active learning and socially
reciprocal relationships during early childhood.

Table 2.1: State-Approved Curricula in Publicly Funded
Preschool Programs (2009)


Approved Curricula


Alabama Ö Ö Ö Ö Ö

Arkansas Ö Ö Ö Ö Ö Ö

Florida Ö Ö Ö Ö Ö

Georgia Ö Ö Ö Ö Ö

Louisiana Ö Ö Ö Ö

Maryland Ö Ö Ö

Missouri Ö Ö Ö

New Jersey Ö Ö Ö Ö Ö

New Mexico Ö Ö Ö

North Carolina Ö Ö Ö Ö Ö Ö

Pennsylvania Ö Ö Ö Ö

South Carolina Ö Ö Ö

Tennessee Ö Ö Ö Ö

West Virginia Ö Ö

Key: BS = Bank Street; CC = Creative Curriculum; CCR = Curiosity Corner; HS = High Scope; M = Montessori;
OWL = Opening the World of Learning; RE = Reggio Emilia; TM = Tools of the Mind; Other. Data from more
recent NIEER yearbooks may be available. Visit for updates.

Source: NIEER 2010 Yearbook.

▶ Stop and Reflect
Look at the chart and see if your state is represented. If so, which curricula are approved for public
programs? Which curricula seem to be the most popular? As you read about these curricula in the
rest of this chapter, think about why that might be so.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

We first mentioned Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (2011) in Chapter
1. Gardner is part of a research consortium at Harvard University known as Project Zero.
Philosopher Nelson Goodman of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education initially began the
project in 1967 to study ways to use the arts to improve education. Project Zero focuses on
“understanding learning in and through the arts . . . while drawing together diverse disciplin-
ary perspectives to examine fundamental questions of human expression and development”
(Project Zero, n.d., para. 1). But many of the projects are inextricably linked with new infor-
mation coming from neuroscience. Of particular interest to early childhood educators is the
“Making Learning Visible” (MLV) project, which explores the benefits of group learning and
the documentation processes, originally developed in the Reggio Emilia preschools in Italy, to
represent learning visually over time. As a result, teachers are encouraged to use a wide vari-
ety of tools and strategies to describe what and how children are learning.

Identifying Stakeholders

As we learned in Chapter 1, all early childhood teachers must be aware that the decisions
they make about curriculum affect not only the children in their classrooms but also the
immediate and larger community (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Stakeholders are those people
who have a vested interest in or can be affected by the decisions we make about what and
how we teach. In your classroom, primary stakeholders will be teachers, children, and fami-
lies (Henderson & Kesson, 2004; MacPherson & Brooker, 2000). Other important but second-
ary stakeholders could include other teachers in your school or program who will teach your
students at a later time, your director or principal, and families of students you will have in
the future who may develop an image of you based on what they hear from your current
students’ parents. Indirect stakeholders might include future employers of your students,
their communities, and society in general, since the quality of what you do in the classroom
has long-lasting effects.

When curriculum development is an inclusive process, we actively seek out the views and
needs of stakeholders, creating a sense of shared ownership and investment. When curricu-
lum development is an exclusive process, we may find it much more difficult to engage and
gain support for our efforts. For instance, “quality standards should reflect local values and
concerns and not be imposed across cultural divides. In a heterogeneous society such as the
U.S., notions of quality should arise out of conversations in local communities among early
childhood educators and parents” (Tobin, 2005, p. 424).

Some of the questions to ask yourself when implementing a curriculum include:

• Who will be affected by the decisions I make about curriculum?

• What is the spectrum of needs and interests across the population I serve?

• Who is available to participate in discussing decisions about curriculum choices?

• How can the children’s ideas and interests be respected?

Curriculum Content

Decisions about “what to teach” are a major determinant in choosing and writing curriculum;
they are influenced by what children should know and be able to do, the degree to which
children and teachers share control, and how learning should be organized and managed
(Biber, 1977). Historically, school districts and programs operated independently, decisions

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

How Is Early Childhood Curriculum Developed? Chapter 2

were made locally, and teachers typically had a significant voice in the process of choos-
ing curriculum content. In publicly funded schools and programs today, those decisions are
increasingly centralized and driven by state and federal standards and conditions attached to
funding streams.

Choosing what children should learn is a values-driven process, as the choices made repre-
sent what the community, state, or country thinks is worth knowing. Over time, as society
changes, our ideas about what is important evolve as well. In the early days of our country,
curriculum included the study of literature, philosophy, writing, grammar, history, science,
math, Latin, modern languages, art, music, and rhetoric (debate, public …

Our Image of the Child

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

1. Explain how the image of the child has changed over time.

2. Describe American children today in the context of changing national demographics and

3. Identify important factors that influence how teachers view children today.

4. Describe strategies teachers can use to learn about the children they teach and to foster
the development of a positive self-image.

1. Before the middle of the eighteenth century,

the concept of childhood as a distinct
period of life did not exist. T/F

2. By the age of 3, children have a well-
developed gender identity. T/F

3. Changing demographics affect the
curriculum decisions teachers make T/F

4. It is important to test children to determine
whether they are ready for kindergarten or
first grade. T/F

5. Preschool children are too young to learn
independence and responsibility. T/F

Answers can be found at end of the chapter.

© Blend Images / SuperStock

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

Where Do Our Views of Children Originate? Chapter 3

Your first day with your preschool children is rapidly approaching. You obtain a roster of the
seventeen children you will be teaching and begin to think about how you will welcome them
to the class and get to know each one. Your list indicates that there are nine boys and eight
girls. Of the four Hispanic children, two speak Spanish as their first language. Two children
are African American, nine are Caucasian, and one is Asian. You also know that two of the
children have been identified as having special needs. What do you imagine the children will
be like? What kind of life experiences will they bring to your class? How will the actual children
compare with your ideas about what they might be like?

Research reveals that teachers’ images of the child can be a more powerful influence on
the way they teach than what they have learned in the way of theories and strategies (Hill,
Stremmel, & Fu, 2005). For example, consider the statement, “The core value I hold is that
children are competent, confident, curious theory builders” (Chaille, 2008, p. 3). The author
continues to say, “ this value is the essence of constructivism,” indicating that her idea about
what children are like informs her acceptance of a theory closely aligned with that view. In
other words, we need to understand that our perceptions about what we think children are
like can affect our expectations and interactions with them and how we choose and imple-
ment curriculum.

3.1 Where Do Our Views of Children Originate?
Our ideas about childhood and what it means to be a child today have changed over time and
will continue to be shaped by many factors. Examining how our view of children in America
has evolved can help us understand the things that influence the way we see them today
and what might happen in the future. Historically, events such as western migration across
the frontier, massive waves of immigration into American cities, and wars have affected fam-
ily dynamics and, correspondingly, the lives and roles of children. Societal change, such as
women’s suffrage and the feminist movement of the 1960s, has produced changes in percep-
tions about gender roles. Scientific and social science research has also contributed to our
understanding of the biology and psychology of human growth and development and how
children learn. This section addresses how our image of the child is informed and shaped by
history, society, and science.


We can tell a great deal about how the image of the child has changed over time by looking
at pictures and paintings of children from different periods. What, for example, do you notice
about the children depicted in the paintings in Figure 3.1? Can you tell anything about their
economic or class status from the way children are dressed? Do you see signs of their assigned
gender roles? From the activities represented, can you infer how children were expected to
behave? How do they appear to interact with adults or other children? Do you see any evi-
dence of cultural stereotypes or historical prejudices? Some of your thoughts may be reflected
in the following descriptions of three predominant historical views—children as miniature
adults, conflicting views of innocence, and children as the property of others.

Children as Miniature Adults
Until the mid-eighteenth-century Enlightenment period, childhood as the distinct period we
know today did not exist. Rather, children were considered miniature adults. They wore the
same style of clothing as adults (Figure 3.1a) and, like adults, their clothes reflected their social

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

Where Do Our Views of Children Originate? Chapter 3

or economic class. They were expected to behave and carry themselves as any other person,
and expectations for their behavior were not modified simply because they were children (Hill,
Stremmel, & Fu, 2005; Morrison, 2011). From a very young age, children in wealthy, landed
families were groomed and educated by tutors to assume the social, financial, and politi-
cal roles of their parents. Children of peasants, farmers, and tradesmen, meanwhile, were
expected to shoulder an equal burden of work as soon as they possibly could to ensure the
survival of the family. After the Enlightenment, childhood gradually began to be seen as a
period of immaturity, with expectations for children adjusted accordingly.

Figure 3.1: Historical Images of Children

The way societies view children is often reflected in artwork from the period. As you may notice in
these four paintings the small boy (a) is represented as a miniature adult, the group of boys (b) are
depicted as ruffians, and the girls are painted from idealized (c) and realistic (d) perspectives.

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Image source: Art Resource, NY

© Albright-Knox Art Gallery / Art Resource, NY © Smithsonian American Art Museum,
Washington, DC / Art Resource, NY

© Chrsities Images Ltd. / SuperStock(a)

(c) (d)


© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

Where Do Our Views of Children Originate? Chapter 3

Has the belief that children are miniature adults resur-
faced? Some advocates for young children insist that
since the advent of television in the mid-1950s, children
are once again experiencing pressures and incentives to
behave, dress, and act like adults (Elkind, 2001; Postman,
1992). Adult-inspired clothing, beauty pageants, and
access to adult-themed television, advertising, movies,
music, entertainment, and even the concept of “play
dates” are common examples that blur the lines between
children and adults.

However, this is different from children wanting to “act
like” the adults they see in their lives. In preschool class-
rooms, children will commonly and naturally use “dress
up” clothing to assume and dramatize what they know
about adult roles, like firefighter, doctor, chef, and so
on. Given societal pressures on children, early childhood
teachers have a responsibility to balance opportunities for
young children and to explore their ideas about adulthood
without pressuring them to be like adults. Our expecta-
tions for behavior and achievement must be grounded in
appropriate expectations based on what we know about
how young children think and act rather than on stan-
dards for adults.

Childhood and Conflicting Ideas about Innocence
By the mid-eighteenth century, philosophers such as John Locke (1632–1704), Jean-Jacques
Rousseau (1712–1778), and Johann Friedrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827) had introduced a new,
romanticized vision of childhood as a period of natural innocence (Figure 3.1c). Painters and
book illustrators of the nineteenth-century Victorian period often depicted children in rural
or domestic scenes whiling away their time in pastoral pursuits. This view conflicted with
notions held over from the Middle Ages, of children as sinful, deceitful, and even depraved
(Morrison, 2011).

A changing concept of the nature of children affected schooling and curriculum. Early American
education, especially for poor children, was primarily limited to religious instruction focused
on curbing “sinful” behavior (Boers, 2007). As Americans were increasingly influenced by
a more humanistic view of children, curricula became more secular and child-centered, as
evidenced, for example, in the emergence of the playground in the late 1800s and the evolu-
tion of the famous McGuffey Readers. These simple textbooks were introduced in 1836 as
a series of graded readers that made ample use of biblical text and references as a means of
both reading instruction and moral education. For example, a passage from the 1836 second
reader states: “Never forget before you leave your room to thank God for his kindness. He
is indeed kinder to us than an earthly parent” (p. 3). Only 3 of the 32 story titles in the 1836
version included the name of a child, compared with 15 of 71 in the 1879 revision.

By the 1870s, in response to an increasingly pluralistic society, the emphasis on purity and
obedience had shifted to more of a focus on patriotism and civic responsibility, as this passage
from the 1879 primer demonstrates: “This house is on fire. Look! The roof is in a blaze. Run,
boys, and ring the bell. Call some men to put out the fire. We may yet save the house if we

© Associated Press

It is controversial but not unusual to see
children today depicted in adult roles.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

Where Do Our Views of Children Originate? Chapter 3

work hard” (p. 40). The older notion of schools as a place where children must be controlled
and tamed had given way to seeing young children as unique individuals and to considering
certain pursuits, such as play, as part of the domain of childhood.

Beliefs about the innate nature of children play out in the way adults interpret children’s moti-
vations and the choices they subsequently make about curriculum and classroom manage-
ment (File & Gullo, 2000; Scarlett, Ponte, & Singh, 2009). Suppose that a 3-year-old turns all
the puzzles on a shelf upside down, dumping all the pieces on the floor. In the past, a teacher
who viewed children as innately mischievous or motivated to misbehave might reprimand the
child, saying, “I knew that was bound to happen one of these days.” She might ban him for
a time from the puzzle center and make him sit on a bench during outside time as punish-
ment. Today, we are more likely, because of the influence of developmental research, to see
children as “works in progress” and recognize this episode as an opportunity to introduce
natural consequences and promote self-modification of the child’s behaviors. Now a teacher
might explain that since all the puzzle pieces are mixed up on the floor, no one can use them.
She could tell the child that she will be happy to help, but that until the puzzles are put back
together, he may not play with other toys.

Children as Property
Before the late nineteenth century, white American chil-
dren were largely considered the property of their fathers.
Black American children were often born into slavery
and, along with their families, were literally and legally
considered the property of their masters. Up through
the Colonial Period, poor 8- to 12-year-old children were
commonly sold as indentured servants, and all slaves,
including children, could be bought and sold at will up
until the 1860s. While most slave children were likely to
live and die enslaved, indentured servants might work
off the cost of their upkeep and complete an apprentice-
ship lasting as many as 7 to 10 years. After the Industrial
Revolution and the rise of the factory, children as young
as 6 years of age were sent to work to help provide for
their families.

Slavery was abolished with the Emancipation Proclamation
of 1863, but the use of young children to work long
hours under harsh conditions did not end until the Fair
Labor Standards Act of 1938 prohibited child labor.

Today, Americans typically no longer think of children
as the property of their parents, though parents gen-
erally do enjoy broad latitude and full authority over
their children provided they are not found to be abu-
sive (Morrison, 2011). However, the related practice of
describing children as commodities—products of schooling or investment in the future—is
common (Morrison, 2011). Costs associated with educating young children are periodically
quantified in terms of cost-benefit ratios and return on investment (Partnerships for America’s
Economic Success, 2011). While this may be understandable, given the need to allocate pub-
lic and private resources wisely, early childhood professionals advocate making curriculum

© Prisma / SuperStock

Until 1938, American children routinely
worked in factories, fields, and domestic
service. This photo from 1911 shows three
young girls who worked as oyster shuck-
ers for the Maggioni Canning Company
in Port Royal, South Carolina.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

Where Do Our Views of Children Originate? Chapter 3

decisions from developmental and individual perspectives. Fortunately research increasingly
demonstrates the long-term economic value of high-quality early childhood education!

Teachers may subtly convey a proprietary relationship with their students when they use
expressions like “my children” or “my class.” Moreover, different curricula allocate varying
levels of ownership to teachers and children respectively, and a curriculum that is wholly
“owned” by the teacher is very different from one that emphasizes child-initiated activities
(Chaille, 2008; Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). As you learn more about the curriculum choices
available to you, think about the extent to which you will actively and intentionally balance
opportunities for decision making between yourself and the children in your charge.


Today, most experts agree that the concepts and images associated with young children
are socially constructed according to cultural values and norms (Arnold, 2000; Heywood,
2001; Hill, Stremmel, & Fu, 2005). Increasing globalization provides American educators
with access to competing points of view that challenge embedded notions about what
education for young children should be like. These divergent perspectives are discussed in
this section in terms of competency versus dependency, risk versus promise, labeling, and
gender roles.

Competency vs. Dependency
American teachers’ beliefs and curricula were traditionally built around the idea that young
children depend on adults to know what is best for them (Hill, Stremmel, & Fu, 2005). Certainly
the younger the child, the more adults need to be directly involved in his or her physical care
for the sake of the child’s safety and well-being. But the extent to which children throughout
the early childhood period are encouraged and allowed to direct their own learning and make
intuitive decisions is changing. In particular, educators in the Reggio Emilia infant-toddler and
preschool programs subscribe to a view of children as innately competent, strong, and power-
ful (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998).

This alternate image of children focuses on what children can do rather than what they can’t.
Adults are challenged to see children as having not needs but rights. Rather than focusing
on what adults think children need, teacher educators are encouraged to focus on who they
are as individuals, casting them as stakeholders in their own learning (Chaille, 2008). Going
forward, you will see how this idea plays out to greater or lesser extent in planning and imple-
menting curriculum.

At Risk vs. At Promise
In American society, the vision of children as the promise of our future is a cherished ideal.
But the language used to describe efforts to provide equal opportunities for all children and
a solid foundation for success is changing. Closely related to the dialogue about competency
vs. dependency was criticism of what many believed was a “deficit” approach to early child-
hood (Harry & Klingner, 2007; Swadener & Lubeck, 1995). This controversy emerged with
the authorization of federally funded early childhood initiatives, including Head Start in the
1960s. The premise of this view is that certain children—mostly dual-language learners and
those from low-income minority groups, begin their educational careers at a disadvantage.
The perception about these children was that they lacked access to the resources necessary to
be successful in school and life and were thus at risk for failure.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

Where Do Our Views of Children Originate? Chapter 3

Critics of the practice of describing children “at risk” contended this perspective was
grounded in an assumption that children must conform to a prescribed set of expectations
largely driven by mainstream culture rather than the needs and cultural experiences of each
child. When children did not live up to these expectations, they were considered deficient
(Delpit, 2006; Hyun, 1996). These critics assert that all children should be considered “at
promise,” that is, viewed in consideration of their potential (Brice-Heath, 1991; Swadener &
Lubeck, 1995).

Further, advocates against a deficit mindset called for understanding that poor minority chil-
dren arrive at school with different rather than deficient experiences, language, and culture.
For example, in terms of literacy, anthropologist Shirley Brice-Heath’s seminal research in the
1980s revealed that African American children often come from homes where oral language
and storytelling are highly valued and practiced (Brice-Heath, 1991). But in an education
setting that places a higher value on reading and writing, this strength was not recognized.
Similarly, children learning English as a second language were at that time considered at risk.
However, neuroscience now confirms that rather than being linguistically impaired, bilingual
preschoolers can concentrate and retain information better than children who speak only one
language (Carlson & Meltzoff, 2008).

Over the past three decades, educators and curriculum developers have worked hard to
advance curriculum for young children that includes and values multiculturalism, diverse
language traditions, and social experiences that children bring to their care or school

Like 1960s funding for early intervention programs, the laws that mandated special education
services (beginning with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975) were also
inspired by the desire to create equal opportunities and services for all children.

However, labels like at risk, disabled, gifted, hearing-impaired, hyperactive, and autistic,
which are applied to children for purposes of funding service programs, had the unin-
tended consequence of creating stereotypes. Particularly because minorities are overrep-
resented in special education programs that focus on disabilities and underrepresented in
gifted and talented programs, questions about cultural discrimination and testing/iden-
tification biases also emerged. Parents and advocates for children in special education
programs claimed that applying a label as their children’s defining characteristic interfered
with recognition of their children’s many positive characteristics, unrelated to the label. As
a result, “person-first language” emerged (Research and Training Center on Independent
Living, 2008). The examples in Table 3.1 illustrate the subtle but powerful difference that
labeling conveys.

Table 3.1: Applying Labels to Children

Label as the Whole Child Person-First Language

Susie is autistic. Susie has autism.

Susie is hearing-impaired. Susie has a hearing impairment.

Susie is learning-disabled. Susie has a learning disability.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

Where Do Our Views of Children Originate? Chapter 3

As you begin your teaching journey, it will be important for you to approach the curriculum
you use with respect to all the children you will teach. You will want to try to view the qualities
and experiences they bring to the classroom or child care setting as strengths and opportuni-
ties. The curriculum is your starting place—a means to advance their strengths rather than
focusing on their shortcomings.

Gender Roles
A third important socially constructed concept is our image of gender roles (Kohlberg, 1966)
and the ways boys and girls are represented in media, curricula, and instructional materials.
This is important because gender identification and roles are acquired during the early child-
hood years.

The fact that each child is unique and complex should not blind us to the fact that
gender is one of the two great organizing principles in child development—the other
being age. Trying to understand a child without understanding the role of gender in
child development is like trying to understand a child’s behavior without knowing the
child’s age. (Sax, 2005, p. 95)

Teachers and child care providers have a great deal of influence on how this process occurs
(Chick, Heilman-Houser, & Hunter, 2002), especially in terms of expectations associated with
femininity and masculinity (Gropper & Froschl, 2000).

Children’s construction of gender identity is closely associated with prevailing stereotypes
and power dynamics and the extent to which those are accepted or challenged by adults
(Blaise & Taylor, 2012). Generally accepted notions of what boys and girls are like and who
takes a dominant or submissive role in play can be dictated by assumptions children make
that may or may not be true. For example, if some children are planning for a pretend hiking
trip to the mountains, one child might state that only the boys can drive the car, or that the

girls must be in charge of making lunches
and packing food for the trip. If no one
questions these statements, stereotypes
are implicitly reinforced. But play can pro-
vide opportunities for the construction
of alternate “definitions” of what boys
and girls can do if and when adults (1)
challenge stereotypes and serve as mod-
els in talking about gender roles and (2)
prohibit the marginalization of any child
based on gender role identification (Blaise
& Taylor, 2012; Katch & Katch, 2007).

Typically between the ages of 3 and 5,
children associate with a gender identity
as “boy” or “girl” and the concept that
boys are supposed to do “boy things,”
and girls are supposed to do “girl things,”
but they may not necessarily know that

gender is also constant and not subject to change. Therefore it isn’t unusual for preschool
children to appear excessively rigid in their expression of roles that boys and girls may play
(Katch & Katch, 2010; Ruble, Taylor, Cyphers, Greulich, Lurye, & Shrout, 2007). Once they
also understand that wearing pink shiny slippers will not cause a boy to turn into a girl, they

© iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Between 3 and 5 years of age, until they learn that their
gender is both fixed and constant, children commonly
define gender roles rigidly.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

Where Do Our Views of Children Originate? Chapter 3

become more open to discussion and the assumption of gender roles that may contradict a

Teachers and caregivers can take a number of steps to help children develop healthy concepts
of gender; these measures will also help to combat stereotypes that can be damaging to a
child’s self-esteem or lead to bullying behaviors (Blaise & Taylor, 2012; Chick, Heilman-Houser
& Hunter, 2002; Gropper & Froschl, 2000; Moss, 2007).

These steps include:

• Talking directly with children about stereotypes

• Looking for and eliminating gender bias in classroom materials

• Using gender-neutral language

• Emphasizing fairness in discussing gender roles and stereotypes

• Acknowledging and dealing with bullying behavior associated with gender stereotypes


Today, science is producing a continually expanding body of knowledge—from biological,
psychological, and sociological perspectives—about who children are. This knowledge is
helpful to teachers in many ways. Research on the interplay of biology (nature) and environ-
ment (nurture) and how children develop and establish identity helps teachers (1) approach
their teaching from an unbiased perspective and (2) support the development of a healthy
self-image among their children.

The consensus is that neither nature nor
nurture is solely responsible for a child’s
development but that both are significant
and interrelated in complex ways (Cherry,
2018; Maynard & Nigel, 2004; Schiller,
2001; Silcock, 2008). Bronfenbrenner
(2004) concluded, after decades of work
on his theoretical model of interactive eco-
logical systems, that developmental pro-
cesses are profoundly affected by events
and conditions in the larger environment.

What teachers need to know is that the
environments they create and the curri-
cula they implement will affect children
in ways that may not be obvious but are
important both for the way we see chil-
dren and the ways they perceive them-
selves. Furthermore, while earlier images of children were romanticized and generalized to an
idealized version of the child, an ecological perspective seeks to acknowledge the “real” child
(Gardiner & Kosmitzki, 2005).

Our image of the American child today is kaleidoscopic—a wonderful montage of shapes,
colors, personalities, interests, and abilities. In the next section, we will examine our image
of today’s child and, in particular, the important role teachers play in choosing and adapting
curricula that support positive and authentic images of children.

© iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Today’s early childhood programs and our images of chil-
dren are increasingly diverse.

© 2019 Bridgepoint Education, Inc. All rights reserved. Not for resale or redistribution.

Who Is the American Child Today? Chapter 3

3.2 Who Is the American Child Today?
The historical image of the child as white, middle-class, and from a nuclear family does not
represent the American population at large today (Kids Count, 2011). This is especially impor-
tant because white female teachers continue to be overrepresented as compared with the
changing populations of the classrooms in which they teach (Frankenberg, 2009; Han, West-
Olatunji, & Thomas, 2010; Loewus, 2017). Consequently many children come to care or pre-
school without the opportunity to interact with adults who look like them and perhaps share
common experiential knowledge about culture, language, and sociocultural traditions.

Children in Context

Demographic data about young children and their families are continually collected, analyzed,
and reported by many different groups, agencies, and individuals for a variety of purposes,

• Federal, state, and international funding for programs that support families and

• The development of goals, standards, and accountability measures for programs,
schools, and services

• Continual development and improvement of teacher education programs to best pre-
pare teachers and caregivers to work in the “real world”

Statistical profiles that describe groups by income, ethnicity, religion, family structure, and so
on provide early childhood professionals with a clear picture of the characteristics of children
and their families. The imaginary class presented in the opening vignette closely parallels the
demographic statistics of the nation as a whole. While it is unlikely that a class you teach will
mirror this breakdown exactly, it is important for you as a teacher to represent the rich diversity
of both the children and families in your class and the country as a whole in respectful ways.

Data from the U.S. census, which is taken every ten years, provide comprehensive information
about ethnicity, economic status, and other individual and family characteristics of the U.S.
population. Table 3.2 offers a snapshot of the statistics that describe children under the age
of 18 in America today.

In 2011, the overall percentage of children living with two married parents was 65 percent,
a figure that decreased from 85 percent in 1970 but that has been relatively stable since the
late 1990s.

What do these statistics have to do with your role as a curriculum …

error: Content is protected !!