Conversely, where the exhibit is actively incorporated into a lesson on the moral basis for sensitivity to animals, the existing educational environment contributes to the formation of a moral conscience even where direction of that kind is lacking at home.
In very much the same way, the preschool and primary grade school environment is conducive to teaching other important moral values that are often postponed until much later, despite the fact that early introduction to those concepts is much more likely to result in their absorption than later introduction. Racism, sexism, and other forms of bias that are no longer condoned in American society are also capable of being addressed in the preschool years so that those important lessons take root before contradictory messages are received from the external environment.
Informal Assessment of Social and Emotional Well-being in Children:
All too often, educators and other caregivers perform their professional responsibilities in a vacuum, concentrating strictly on their narrow tasks of teaching the alphabet or providing meals at the appropriate time. Both the classroom setting and the day care environment actually present numerous opportunities to assess the social development and emotional well-being of children, albeit in a very informal capacity.
The everyday interactions between preschool and grade school students contains a wealth of information into the social adjustment and emotional development of children without any formal diagnostic psychological testing whatsoever. Excessive shyness and reluctance to participate in classroom (or recreational) activities or to contribute to classroom discussions may suggest the need for formal assessment. In fact, the inclusion of a rich classroom environment is doubly useful, because in addition to promoting attentiveness and subject matter retention (Bimonte 2005), it further highlights the difference between children whose enthusiasm and classroom involvement falls within the normal ranges expected for their age group and those whose lack of involvement suggests possible issues of concern (Cookson 2005).
Similarly, while instances of aggression toward others is often dealt with in the context of isolated incidents, they may also provide the basis for concern even without formal assessment of any kind. It is well established that physical aggression or outright violence perpetrated by children often indicates that they have been exposed to violence in the home or to significant other frustrations for which they have no other outlet (Gerrig & Zimbardo 2005). While professional assessment and expertise is required to explore any such concerns in depth, the preschool educator still occupies a unique position from which preliminary evidence of this nature is readily apparent in the ordinary classroom environment.
Excessive competitiveness is also ignored more often than it is appreciated as a possible indication that a child is overcompensating for pressures or inadequacies in the home environment. Educators who observe acute competitiveness that exceeds what seems appropriate for age and circumstances may initiate informal assessments by engaging the child in conversation about "winning" versus "participating."
Similarly, teasing of the type traditionally considered "normal" in the educational environment is now know to be associated with long-lasting consequences to its victims.
Behavior of this type that actually borders on bullying very often indicates social and developmental issues that will require formal intervention at some point (Wright 2004).
As in the case of other behavioral and developmental issues, informal assessment provides the opportunity for earlier intervention with beneficial results more readily achievable earlier rather than later.
In general, the tendency of educators to ignore the potential diagnostic value of observable childhood behavior probably relates to two factors: (1) because they are extremely task-oriented, they tend to respond in a microcosmic instead of macrocosmic way to instances of behavioral abnormalities; and (2) because they lack specific training in child psychology, they may be reluctant to overstep the bounds of their responsibilities into this area. However, the ordinary preschool and grade school environment is far too replete with valuable information and potential insight into the comparative social development and emotional state of children not to encourage educators to make fuller use of their vantage point for the purposes of initiating strictly informal assessments..
Social Influences and Early Childhood Development:
Human social culture differs so much from society to society that it is virtually impossible to assess the meaning or significance of human conduct without reference to the external social environment. Behaviors that are tolerated, condoned, or encouraged in some cultures are discouraged, even punished, in others. Simple examples that pertain to childhood include eating with one's hands, which is perfectly appropriate in certain societies but not in Western culture, where children are expected to eat with utensils, especially by the time they are of age to enter the educational system.
Whereas eating with one's hands is not necessarily harmful to the child in and of itself, persistent refusal to use utensils may very well indicate developmental issues by virtue of the child's failure to comply with social norms of the culture. This fundamental tenet of ecological psychology emphasizes the importance of appropriate learning of social norms and cultural values as one measure of healthy psychological and social development, wholly irrespective of the objective importance of the particular matter through which noncompliance manifests itself (Gerrig & Zimbardo 2005).
For another example, concepts of modesty and nakedness vary quite substantially among different human cultures. Whereas it may be perfectly acceptable for children of certain ages to be unclothed in various degrees in public in some societies, the same behavior is considered extremely unusual and even disturbing in others. Therefore, in that regard also, failing to adhere to societal expectations and social norms pertaining to public nakedness in a society where greater modesty is expected, even of children, may be extremely problematic, particularly in the preschool environment.
Whereas many social norms do have objective moral bases, many more are purely the result of social convention and subjective expectations. In general, children who exhibit difficulty adhering to the most basic social norms are likely to be acting out as a manifestation of a need for attention, or even as a means of asking (indirectly) for help.
Again, the educator who witnesses childhood behavior that is profoundly noncompliant with social norms occupies a unique vantage point for initiating informal assessment and possible referral for formal intervention or, at the very least, formal inquiry into causation. Conversely, addressing instances of socially inappropriate behavior or age inappropriate behavior as isolated events without any greater potential significance is a disservice to children who may need psychological or behavioral intervention.
Everything else being equal, substantial social transgressions in the form of inappropriate behavior do not ordinarily occur purely spontaneously and without any underlying cause (Gerrig & Zimbardo 2005). Undoubtedly, formal psychological training is required to diagnose the roots of socially inappropriate volitional behavior, but the most important step is calling attention to it as early as possible.
By definition, socially deviant behavior is almost always noticeable, especially by teachers. As in the case of many other components of normal psychological development, educators may require training to recognize the importance of their observations and input more than they require specific psychological training to benefit their students optimally. Therefore, the most conscientious educators are those who endeavor never to lose track of the forest for the trees and who commit themselves to making the most comprehensive possible use of all the information available to them.
Ultimately, teaching encompasses far more than academic instruction; it requires an appreciation of how much valuable information childhood behavior actually provides.
Bimonte, R. (2005) "If your class were optional, would anyone attend?" Momentum, 36(4), 6.
Byerly, S. (2001). "Linking classroom teaching to the real world through experiential instruction." Phi Delta Kappan, 82(9), 697.
Cookson, P. (2005). "The enriched classroom." Education Module, 35(4), 10.
Gerrig, R, Zimbardo, P. (2005) Psychology and Life. 17th Edition.
New York: Allyn & Bacon.
Poole, D., Warren, a., Nunez, N. (2007) the Story of Human Development. Princeton, NJ: Prentice Hall.
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