Children in the United States are negotiating the transition from home to school at younger ages than was true even a decade ago. Most children’s initial exposure to a school-like setting used to occur when they entered kindergarten or first grade; today, preschool environments are the first exposure. As of 1990, 55 percent of low-income children aged three to five were enrolled in a school, child care center, or Head Start program (Brayfield, Deich, and Hofferth, 1993); 40 percent of all 3- and 4-year-olds were in some form of group care or preschool program as of 1991 (O’Connell, 1994). From a child’s perspective, this requires learning rules of two environments–home and school–at a very early age.
For children whose home language or culture differs substantially from the norm in early childhood classrooms, this transition may expose them to conflicting expectations about how to behave and other potential sources of home-school incompatibility. A child who has been taught that it is disrespectful to ask questions of adults or who is unaccustomed to playing in mixed-sex peer groups, for example, will likely feel some initial discomfort and confusion in classrooms that embody different rules and norms for behavior.
Following the discussion of culturally linked facets of the home environment that affect learning, the workshop participants turned to questions regarding the implications of those facets for what children bring to school and for children’s perceptions of school as a familiar or foreign setting. What do children bring with them when they first enter school in the way of culturally shaped expectations, attitudes, skills, and knowledge? What does research suggest as important sources of compatibility and incompatibility between children’s home cultures and those of the early childhood settings that constitute their first exposure to a school-like environment?