Exploring Effects of Developmentally Appropriate Practices in Cyprus

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Guelph]On: 15 November 2014, At: 23:04Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

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    Exploring Effects ofDevelopmentally AppropriatePractices in CyprusMonica Shiakou a & Jay Belsky aa Institute for the Study of Children, Families &Social Issues, University of LondonPublished online: 04 Aug 2009.

    To cite this article: Monica Shiakou & Jay Belsky (2009) Exploring Effects ofDevelopmentally Appropriate Practices in Cyprus, Early Education and Development,20:4, 565-583, DOI: 10.1080/10409280802356679

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  • DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICE IN CYPRUSSHIAKOU AND BELSKY

    Exploring Effects of DevelopmentallyAppropriate Practices in Cyprus

    Monica Shiakou and Jay BelskyInstitute for the Study of Children, Families & Social Issues

    University of London

    Research Findings: This study, undertaken in Nicosia, Cyprus, sought to evaluatesome of the hypothesized developmental benefits of developmentally appropriatepractices (DAP) by investigating how the pedagogical attitudes and practices ofGreek/Cypriot parents (n = 142) and teachers (n = 16) relate to 4- to 7-year-olds (n =142) socialemotional functioning at the end of the academic year. After taking intoaccount potentially confounding effects of parenting attitudes and practices, only afew classroomenvironment effects were detected; virtually all of these proved in-consistent with theoretical expectations, though upon reflection they proved less sur-prising than first imagined. Practice or Policy: Results are discussed in terms of theevidence base of DAP.

    Some critics of contemporary childhood argue that academic training is increas-ingly replacing childrens play and experiential hands-on learning in the earlyyears of childrens lives (Pellegrini, Kato, Blatchford, & Baines, 2002; Ranz-Smith, 2007). Education is now seen by these critics as a race, and the earlier youbegin, the sooner and the better you finish. As a result, academic pressure on, andtesting of, children begins as young as the age of 3, and childrens lives often seemoverscheduled with adult-organized activities. What is often overlooked, critics ofthis new world of childhood contend, is the close link between play and healthy de-velopment. Notably, a substantial body of research has revealed beneficial effectsof play on cognitive development, including language skills, problem solving, per-spective taking, representational skills, memory, and creativity (e.g., Davidson,

    EARLY EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT, 20(4), 565583Copyright 2009 Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1040-9289 print / 1556-6935 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10409280802356679

    Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Monica Shiakou, Institute for theStudy of Children, Families & Social Issues, Birkbeck College, University of London, 7 BedfordSquare, London, WC1B 3RA, United Kingdom. E-mail: mshiakou@hotmail.com

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  • 1998; Newman, 1990; Russ, Robins, & Christiano, 1999; Singer, Singer, Plaskon,& Schweder, 2003).

    Despite research chronicling the developmental benefits of play, many parentsin many cultures today believe that play is distinct from learning, simply a way forchildren to let off steam, just for amusement (Farver & Howes, 1993; Farver &Wimbarti, 1995). What may be more surprising is that many preschools and kin-dergartens seem to share and put into practice such beliefs. These schools oftenplace direct instruction and structured learning high on their list of important activ-ities for children to do, regarding play as a mere break from learning (Ranz-Smith,2007). Such programs have been deemed by some as engaging in developmentallyinappropriate practices (DIP) for young children, in contrast to more child-initi-ated, less formal developmentally appropriate practices (DAP), in which play isviewed as an integral part of the curriculum and discovery learning is emphasized(Bredekamp, 1987).

    How does exposure to developmentally appropriate and inappropriate practicespotentially affect childrens development? That is the question this article seeks toaddress by presenting results of a study carried out in Nicosia, Cyprus. The out-comes selected for measurement, based on results of related research (see below),include confidence in learning, feelings toward school, anxiety in testing, and so-cial skills. Children with greater exposure to DAP and/or less exposure to DIPwere expected to score higher on all these constructs, except for anxiety in a testingsituation, on which they were expected to score lower.

    PLAY AND EARLY SCHOOL CURRICULUM

    As early as the 1980s, evidence was emerging that many American early child-hood education and kindergarten programs were adopting more formally aca-demic and adult-directed approaches to early education (Hyson, Hirish-Pasek, &Rescorla, 1990). Increasingly, kindergartens were implementing prescribed,commercially prepared curricula, often extensions of textbook series used in theearly grades of elementary school; these included formal reading instruction,with written assignments out of workbooks and frequent grading (Durkin, 1987;Educational Research Service, 1986; Shepard & Smith, 1988). According tosome, kindergarten went from being a pleasant and playful introduction to realschool to a source of boredom and even anxiety for all too many children (Scales,1987).

    In an effort to challenge the creeping formalization of early learning environ-ments, Bredekamp (1987) offered guidelines for the provision of DAP, along witha critique of DIP, for programs serving children from birth through the age of 8.What distinguishes a developmentally appropriate from a developmentally inap-propriate classroom is primarily the extent to which its program addresses the de-

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  • velopmental needs and capabilities of the individual children being served. Fur-thermore, DAP emphasize free play as an essential ingredient of age-appropriatelearning environments. This stems from the view that much of early learning oc-curs when children direct their own play activities and experience success in tasksthey have defined for themselves (Fein & Rivkin, 1986).

    DIP, in contrast, involve abstract paper-and-pencil activities, workbooks, dittosheets, flashcards, rote learning, and direct teaching of discrete skills, often pre-sented to large groups of children (Burts, Hart, Charlesworth, & Kirk, 1990).Teachers dominate the environment by talking to the whole group most of the time,telling children what to do, rather than moving among groups and individuals.Aesthetic development involving art and music is encouraged only when there isextra time, with art even consisting of coloring predrawn forms, copying anadult-made model of a product, or following other adult pre-described directions(Bredekamp, 1987).

    EFFECTS OF APPROPRIATE AND INAPPROPRIATEPRACTICES ON CHILDREN

    Although much has been written about developmental risks associated with devel-opmentally inappropriate curricula (e.g., Dickinson & Snow, 1987; Elkind, 1986;Shepard & Smith, 1988), it remains the case that only limited research has beencarried out to address the issue. And that which is available, particularly the morerecent work, would not seem to substantiate across-the-board claims of benefitsderived from DAP and costs associated with DIP.

    One important study by Stipek, Feiler, Daniels, and Milburn (1995) found thatchildren in child-centered (i.e., developmentally appropriate) programs ratedtheir abilities higher, showed less dependency on adults for approval and instruc-tions, manifested more pride in their accomplishments, and claimed to worry lessabout school than children in developmentally inappropriate didactic programs.In related research, Burts et al. (1990) tested two classrooms of 5- to 6-year-olds,finding that children in the more developmentally inappropriate one manifestedsignificantly more stress behavior than children in the developmentally appropri-ate classroom. In another notable investigation, Hyson et al. (1990), using the ob-servational instrument employed in the current inquiry (i.e., the Classroom Prac-tices Inventory [CPI]), detected no significant differences in the academic skillsof the children in developmentally appropriate and inappropriate classrooms.Those in the latter classes, however, were rated as less creative and less relaxedby teachers and experimenters. Children in classrooms that scored low on devel-opmental appropriateness showed more anxiety during a standardized testing sit-uation. However, the fact that mothers with higher expectations for formal aca-demic work and adult instruction proved more likely to send their children to

    DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICE IN CYPRUS 567

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  • preschool programs that were found, using the CPI, to be less developmentallyappropriate raised questions about how to interpret the findings of this research.Indeed, Hyson et al. concluded that what appeared initially to be school effectsmay well have been family effects operating via parental choice of a particularschool. If nothing else, their work highlights the need, especially in field re-search, to control for family factors and processes that may be confounded withclassroom environment before estimating putative effects of classroom prac-tices. Moreover, the studies cited informed the selection of measures to be usedin the current inquiry, including measures of confidence in learning, feelings to-ward school, and anxiety in testing, with the expectation being that children withgreater exposure to DAP and/or less exposure to DIP would score higher on allthese constructs.

    Given such predictions based on the research cited, it seems notable that severalrecent studies have raised questions about any claims regarding the developmentalbenefits of certain teacher beliefs and practices. Consider Smith and Crooms(1999) finding that more traditionaland developmentally inappropriatebeliefsby teachers about learning processes predicted higher general school self-conceptfor boys and that DAP were not a predictor of any dimension of self-concept. Alsoof interest was evidence that for boys, both DAP and traditional practices provedpositively related to several of the academic self-concept scales (e.g., reading,math). It is on the basis of these latter results that we included assessment of chil-drens self-perceptions of competence in math and literacy in the present investiga-tion.

    In yet another study, Gelzheiser, Griesemer, Pruzek, and Meyers (2000) foundthat developmentally appropriate and traditional practices were unrelated to a cur-riculum-based measure of math achievement in the case of first- and second-gradegeneral and special education students. The fact that achievement was associatedwith a measure that tapped mathematical processing and strategy instruction ledthe authors to conclude not only that theory exceeded data vis--vis the value ofDAP, but that primary teachers would not affect their students achievement inmathematics if they chose to organize their classrooms along more developmentalor more traditional lines. This view contrasts markedly with Miller and Bizzells(1983) earlier findings showing that children who had attended a non-didactic pro-gram at age 4 scored higher in mathematics in second and sixth grade than childrenwho had attended early didactic programs.

    In the final research considered here, Marcon (1999) compared the language,self-help, social, motor, and adaptive development of 4-year-olds attending threedifferent preschool models operating in an urban school district: child-initiatedprogram (Model CI), academically directed program (Model AD), and mid-dle-of-the-road program (Model M). Children in classrooms in which teachersheld beliefs that corresponded with a single internally coherent theory of howyoung children learn and develop (i.e., CI, AD) performed better on standardized

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  • measures of development than did children whose teachers attempted to blend as-pects of theoretically diverse approaches. Clearly, the absence of difference be-tween the two contrasting models on a variety of adaptive-behavior outcomes wasnot consistent with a view highlighting across-the-board benefits of a child-initi-ated approach to early education. The same can be said of the differences detectedbetween the two well-defined models in favor of the AD model in the case of writ-ten language and play and leisure skills. Although it was not the case that no advan-tages were associated with the CI model (e.g., expressive and receptive language,personal and interpersonal skills), the diversity of findings led Marcon to recom-mend additional research, a call we take up in this investigation of young childrengrowing up in Cyprus. Moreover, we do so by including a teacher-rated socialskills assessment, given Marcons evidence s...

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