Abstract. This initial study explored the social behaviors of
kindergarten children in two classrooms (one developmentally
appropriate, one developmentally inappropriate) where the teacher used
either positive or negative guidance strategies. Six pairs of
kindergartners-three dyads (boy-boy, girl-girl, boy-girl) from a
classroom in which the teacher used positive guidance strategies and
three from a classroom where the teacher used negative guidance
strategies-were observed while playing in a researcher-designed play
center. Observations over a three-month period revealed an increase in
positive social behaviors among children from the positive guidance
classroom and a decrease in positive social behaviors among children
from the negative guidance classroom. Implications are discussed.
Student accountability is a critical issue in contemporary American
education. Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind (2002),
schools, teachers, and, ultimately, children, have faced increased
scrutiny and pressure to provide evidence of academic achievement
(McDaniel, Isaac, Brooks, & Hatch, 2005). The idea that the more
children learn at younger ages the more success they will have in school
has resulted in increased direct teaching and standardized testing in
programs for young children (Blaustein, 2005). But, academics are not
the only things learned in school. All schools, whether they intend to
or not, influence children's social and moral development. DeVries
and Zan (1994) assert that schools are not value-free or value-neutral
and that non-academic inputs, such as discipline techniques,
expectations, and classroom control mechanisms, bear strongly upon
children's development. It can be argued that the hidden curriculum
may influence child outcomes as much as what is deliberately taught. One
important consideration is how school experiences shape children's
The ability of a child to negotiate social relationships has been
related to a wide range of outcomes. The importance of children gaining
relationship-oriented competencies is highlighted by studies suggesting
that such long-term problems as delinquency, school drop-out, and
psychological disturbances accompany unsuccessful childhood social
relationships (Ladd, Buhs, & Troop, 2002). Conversely, the ability
to form positive social relationships has been described as a
significant skill enabling a child to do better in school and,
therefore, life (Pianta, 1999). Although researchers have documented the
influence of parenting upon children's peer relations (see Hart,
Newell, & Olsen, 2003 for a review), today's children are
spending increased time away from their parents in school or early care
settings. Data provided by the National Association for the Education of
Young Children (NAEYC, 2005) indicates that in 2003, 64 percent of
mothers with children under 6 years old were in the labor force. From
the earliest years, many children are spending a majority of their days
under the care and influence of adults other than their parents. NAEYC
also reports that 43 states are now funding pre-kindergarten programs.
The reality is that the experience of attending school or other early
care and education programs is having an impact upon children at earlier
ages. The potential implications of this increased exposure warrant an
examination of the many opportunities that early care and education
programs have to affect children's sociomoral development.
In addition to learning to read and write, learning to relate to
others is a worthy educational goal. Those in the field of early
childhood education have argued in favor of practices that emphasize
social relationships within classrooms. Dewey envisioned that the
classroom atmosphere could bring about a fuller realization of
democratic ideals (Parke, Ornstein, Rieser, & Zahn-Waxler, 1994).
Piaget (1932/1965) recognized the value of interpersonal relationships
as a context for the construction of moral thought and as critical to an
understanding of early education. Recently, educators have voiced the
opinion that the early childhood classroom is the first place that
democratic values are tested (Teaching Tolerance, 1997). The guidelines
for developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) published by NAEYC
acknowledge the opportunities that social relationships provide for
development across domains (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). They
underscore the necessity of classrooms where children learn how to
develop and maintain friendships, resolve conflict, and participate in
classroom governance. The popular guidelines encourage the establishment
of a "caring community of learners" where teachers support the
development of relationships between and among adults and children, thus
providing both a context for learning and social and emotional
development. Characteristics of this classroom community include class
meetings where children consider social problems and agree on solutions
(Lickona, 2001), teachers model and assist children in conflict
resolution (Logan, 1998), and teachers involve children in rule-making
and moral discussions (DeVries & Zan, 1995; Rightmyer, 2003).
Researchers have noted that early classroom experiences are related
to both positive and negative child outcomes. Hart, Yang, Charlesworth,
and Burts (2003) explored the relationship between the developmental
appropriateness of kindergarten teachers' classroom practices and
child stress. They found that for children from kindergarten classrooms
where teachers used developmentally inappropriate practices (DIP), child
stress was related to growth of child aggression, hostility, and
hyperactive/distractible behavior. In contrast, children developed
behavior problems more slowly and gained in math abilities faster if
they had been in kindergarten classrooms where teachers used
developmentally appropriate practices (DAP). The authors suggest that
growth trajectories beginning in kindergarten tend to persist into 3rd
grade, even after taking into account pre-kindergarten readiness,
child's gender, race, SES, and the type of lst- and 2nd-grade
classroom experiences (either DAP/DIP). Dunn and Kontos (1997) cite the
effectiveness of DAP in benefiting children's motivation, attitudes
about school, and level of stress. Research by DeVries, Reese-Learned,
and Morgan (1991) indicates that early school experiences may have
lasting effects on children's social interactive skills as well as
their sociomoral development. Thus, an appropriate early childhood
curriculum must consider not only cognitive development, but also must
inculcate opportunities to develop positive peer relations, resolve
conflict, and consider the perspectives of others in an atmosphere that
supports emotional well-being.
While learning environments that support the development of
pro-social skills appear to be critical to children's outcomes and
a logical prerequisite to children's successful functioning in a
democratic society, the power determining the classroom atmosphere
clearly lies largely with the teacher. Teachers enter the classroom with
a variety of influences upon how they will relate to children and the
types of experiences that they will provide (Wein, 1995). How they
choose to manage the behavior of their students is one decision teachers
make that is freighted with implications for the teacher-child
relationship and the child's future relationships with others.
Interactions with early childhood teachers are directly related to the
child's behavioral adjustment (Arnold, McWillliams, & Harvey,
1998; Coplan & Prakash, 2003; Howes & James, 2002), and have
been described as the "very heart of early childhood
education" (Kontos & Wilcox-Herzog, 1997). The importance of
positive, nurturing relationships has been underscored by many early
childhood professionals, who have even placed them above the academic
dimensions of schooling (Brazelton & Greenspan, 2001; DeVries,
Having noted the many problems facing some youth today, researchers
have asserted that early positive relationships with adults exert a
disproportionate influence upon the trajectories of children's
later adjustment in school and the social processes that will guide them
throughout life (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Pianta, 1999; Pianta &
Walsh, 1996). Understanding this, it is noteworthy that some guidance or
discipline strategies are more relationship-oriented than others, thus
influencing the child's development in different ways. Positive
discipline (Nelson, Lott, & Glenn, 1993) is a management technique
that encourages children to problem-solve and learn socialization rules
without the negative associations that accompany other punitive methods.
Because the word "discipline" itself often connotes the
negative feelings associated with punishment, Gartrell (1997) promotes
the use of "guidance," whereby teachers work with children,
their parents, and other adults to teach children social skills, have
developmentally appropriate expectations of children's behavior,
and solve behavior problems through modeling and teaching. When teachers
ask questions before they intervene, offer suggestions rather than
commands, and listen instead of lecturing, they model an interactive
style of relating to others and seeking solutions to problems that
contributes to children's quality of social development (Katz &
This study was designed to determine if children from a
kindergarten classroom in which the teacher used positive guidance
strategies differed in their interpersonal relations and perspectives
about school from children in a classroom in which the teacher exhibited
negative guidance strategies.
Schools' reputations within the community have been used by
previous researchers for sampling purposes (Hirsh-Pasek, Hyson, &
Rescorla, 1990; Hyson, Hirsh-Pasek, & Rescorla, 1990; Rescorla,
Hyson, Hirsh-Pasek, & Cone, 1990). In the present study, two private
schools known to endorse opposite guidance philosophies in their school
programs were selected. Written school policies concerning guidance
practices were used to verify the reputations of the schools. The
schools had predominately white, middle- and upper-SES populations. From
each of the schools, a teacher was selected whose guidance practices
were reputed to be closely aligned with the school's philosophy. To
verify the differences between the two teachers, a graduate student
trained to use the observational instrument known as the Checklist for
Rating Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood
Classrooms (Charlesworth et al., 1993) assessed the guidance strategies
of the teachers by using the instrument's Guidance of
Social-Emotional Development Subscale. The scores from the observation
confirmed that the two teachers contrasted sharply in their use of
guidance strategies. The teacher reputed to use negative guidance had a
mean score of 2, while the teacher reputed to use positive guidance had
a mean score of 4.6 on a 5-point Likert scale on the Guidance of
Social-Emotional Development Subscale (Charlesworth et al., 1993).
The teacher using positive guidance (PG) taught in a school with an
enrollment of 397 students, grades pre-K through 12. Her class, with an
enrollment of 14 children, was one of three kindergartens at the school.
The children had many opportunities to choose where they wanted to work
and interact within the classroom. During whole-group activities,
children sat in a semi-circle in small chairs facing the teacher. During
center time, they moved freely around the room. They participated in
such activities as building with big blocks; painting hand prints;
playing dress-up in the housekeeping center; or sitting at a small round
table or on the floor for private work, chatting, drawing, or resting.
The teachers' interactions with the children included offering
children choices of activities, coaching children through conflict
situations, and friendly conversation. The teacher in this classroom
often expressed affection for the children through hugs or pats on the
back. Redirection was a frequent strategy for misbehavior.
The teacher using negative guidance (NG) taught in a school that
had an enrollment of 338 students in grades pre-K through 12. Her
kindergarten class was the only one in the school, and 23 children were
enrolled in it. Most of the activities in this classroom were
teacher-directed and the teacher determined the time frame in which
"independent" activities occurred. During instruction,
children were expected to sit straight with their feet on the floor and
face the teacher. As a group, the children were asked "test"
questions, were instructed in the formation of letters, and participated
in a routine of daily recitation and songs. The teacher frequently
criticized the children's behaviors in a tone of voice that
conveyed authority. When children did not follow directions or disobeyed
a rule, their names were written on the board after one warning. Other
infractions resulted in the child being sent to the principal's
office or losing recess privileges.
From each of these two kindergarten classrooms, three dyads of
kindergartners were selected and paired boy-boy, girl-girl, boy-girl. To
represent a spectrum of the city's residential areas, zip codes for
the positive guidance classroom and the negative guidance classroom were
matched within peer-pairs and with the corresponding peer-pairs being
observed in each school. For example, a boy-boy dyad from the positive
guidance classroom would have the same zip code as the boy-boy dyad from
the negative guidance classroom. Only children from two-parent homes
were used for the study.
Young Children's Enacted Interpersonal Understanding
Rather than coding the children's behavior from classroom
observations, as done in previous research (DeVries, Reese-Learned et
al., 1991), this study sought a more controlled setting and observed
children interacting in a researcher-designed portable play-school
center. Shelves provided the framework for the center, and plastic
storage bins were used to hold materials. To simulate the various types
of materials found in both classrooms, such items as housekeeping and
dramatic play props, manipulatives, writing utensils, paper, books, and
art supplies were included. On the side of the shelves, a basket was
attached that held "teacher" props: a chalkboard; a ruler; an
abacus; file folders; a clipboard; and a small plastic box that held
chalk, pencils, clips, and stickers.
The subjects were videotaped a total of three times in the
play-school center for 20 minutes each period during the months of
September, October, and November. At both schools, the play-school
center was set up in a separate classroom, and each of the three dyads
from the positive guidance classroom and the negative guidance classroom
were invited into the play center and given the opportunity to become
familiar with the materials and the video camera. The children were
I'm trying to find out what it's like to be in
kindergarten, and I need you to help me. I've brought this
play-school center with toys for you to play school. One of you can be
the teacher, and one of you can be the student. Then you can switch. You
can play with anything on the shelves you want to play with.
Transcriptions of the videotaped interactions of the children
playing in the play-school center were coded and analyzed independently
by the first author and by two trained coders at monthly intervals and
cumulatively, using the DeVries, Haney, and Zan (1991) coding manual.
The two coders, graduate students in early childhood education, were
blind to school and to teacher guidance strategies. Coder 1 had a 79
percent agreement with the first author on assignment of interactions to
Negotiation Strategies or Shared Experiences and an 86 percent agreement
on coding levels. Coder 2 had a 78 percent agreement on assignment of
interactions to Negotiation Strategies or Shared Experiences and an 80
percent agreement on coding levels. Agreement was considered acceptable
(DeVries, Reese-Learned, & Morgan, 1991), and no attempt was made to
resolve discrepancies in coding between the first author and the coders.
The coded behaviors were categorized into four levels of Shared
Experiences, and three levels of Negotiation Strategies (DeVries, Haney
et al., 1991; DeVries, Reese-Learned et al., 1991). Shared experiences
are attempts at mutuality and occur when an interpersonal dynamic is in
equilibrium. For example, children engaged in mimicking one another
would be coded as a Shared Experience-Level 0 (SE-0), while dramatic
play behavior with children engaged in complementary role-playing would
be coded as a Shared Experience-Level 1 (SE-1).
Negotiation Strategies are attempts at autonomy and occur when an
interpersonal dynamic is in disequilibrium (DeVries, Haney et al.,
1991). Such behavior as withdrawing or hitting to solve a conflict would
be categorized as a Negotiation Strategy-Level 0 (NS-0), while giving a
reason for a choice would be categorized as a Negotiation Strategy-Level
Levels 0 and 1 for both Shared Experiences and Negotiation
Strategies include less mature interactions, while levels 2 and 3
indicate greater understanding and expression of interpersonal
understanding. Expectations based on the DeVries, Reese-Learned et al.
(1991) study were that because of the children's ages, the greater
percentage of interactions would occur at Level 1, with the variations
at the higher and lower levels reflecting differences based on classroom
experience and the influence of teacher guidance strategies.
The School Life Interview
The School Life Interview, which was adapted from the DeVries,
Reese-Learned et al. (1991) study, was administered individually to the
child participants at the end of the third play-school session in
November. The measure was used to ascertain children's personal
perceptions of the schools' socio-moral atmosphere, adult authority
figures, punishment, reasons for rules, respect for feelings of others,
and personal responsibility for assisting and comforting others. A total
of 19 open-ended questions were asked, including: "Who makes the
rules in your class?"; "What do you think is the best thing to
do when somebody hits you?"; "If somebody falls down and
scrapes their knees so they bleed, what do children in your class
do?"; and "Why do you come to school?"
Shared Experiences and Negotiation Strategies
Transcribed film coding, analyzed at monthly intervals and
cumulatively for the three-month period, indicated differences in
children's levels of Shared Experiences and Negotiation Strategies.
Data are presented descriptively in Table 1. For the dyads in the PG
classroom, the percentage of interactions for Shared Experiences was
lower at Level 0 and higher at Level 2 when compared to the children in
the NG classroom. This gap between the two groups widened over the
three-month period (see Figure 1). Patterns in Negotiation Strategies
fluctuated up and down for both groups during the three-month period
(see Figure 2). However, results from the third play-school session show
that at Level 0, the percentage of interactions of the PG group is lower
than the NG group, and higher at Level 2 than the percentage of those of
the NG group (see Figure 2).
[FIGURES 1-2 OMITTED]
Interestingly, boys' interactions from the NG group started
out in September with a higher percentage of Level 2 interactions for
both Shared Experiences and Negotiation Strategies, but by the end of
the three film sessions, their Level 2 interactions had dropped to below
those of their PG counterparts (see Figures 3 and 4). Girls from the NG
classroom seem to have fared worse than the other children. The NG girls
had the highest percentage of Level 0 interactions for both Shared
Experiences and Negotiation Strategies and the least Level 2
interactions for both Shared Experiences and Negotiation Strategies (see
Figures 5 and 6).
[FIGURES 4-6 OMITTED]
Responses to the School Life Interview
In general, responses of the children on the School Life Interview
seem to reveal differences in the ways that children perceived their
roles within the classroom community. Children from the PG classroom
seemed to exhibit a greater sense of autonomy and problem solving with
peers when compared to the children from the NG classroom; children from
the NG classroom seemed to depend on adults for problem solving and be
less empathic of their peers. When asked, "What would you do if a
friend got hurt on the playground?," the children from the PG
classroom answered uniformly that they would try to help their friend by
getting a Band-Aid, consoling her, or staying with her until she felt
better. The children from the NG classroom uniformly responded,
"I'd go get the teacher." When asked, "What would
you do if someone hit you?," children from the PG classroom
responded with such answers as, "I'd tell them not to do
that," or "I'd tell them I didn't like that,"
and that "hitting back wouldn't help." Children from the
NG classroom all responded that they would either tell the teacher or go
to the office for help. When asked about their favorite activities,
children from the PG classroom gave a variety of specific answers about
the types of activities that they preferred. Most of the children from
the NG classroom said that "free time" was their favorite part
of school. Another interesting result from the School Life Interview
regards class decision-making. Children from the PG classroom spoke of
making rules and even voting on some classroom activities. Conversely,
children from the NG classroom uniformly stated that the teacher made
all the rules, which, incidentally, the children defined as "things
they couldn't do," and that did not know what it meant to
Discussion and Conclusion
Although this study was limited by the sample size and duration,
notable trends emerged between the children in the positive and negative
guidance groups over the three-month period. The findings support the
position of DeVries, Reese-Learned et al. (1991) that when children
regularly experience an environment dominated by negative social
modeling by the teacher, their development of higher level interpersonal
understanding is limited. In addition, the evidence is in keeping with
the study by Hart and colleagues (2003) that linked negative
environmental factors (i.e., developmentally inappropriate practices) to
negative outcomes for students through 3rd grade. Van Horn and
colleagues (Van Horn, Karlin, Ramey, Aldridge, & Snyder, 2005) noted
that developmentally appropriate practice, which includes a
teacher's use of positive guidance strategies, benefits
children's psychosocial development.
In this study, both empirical evidence and the voices of children
illustrate how quickly the teacher's choices of guidance strategies
impact children's interpersonal relations and sociomoral
development. One can infer from these findings that perhaps a
teacher's guidance strategies contribute to an overall
interpersonal "tone" within the classroom that influences the
nature and quality of all the relationships therein. Not only does this
influence seem to exist, unfortunately, it appears that negative
classroom management techniques leave children void of the repertoire of
skills needed to interact with peers successfully and to manage
Discussions of the differences between classroom environments and
their corresponding effects upon children's sociomoral development
often lead to the recurrent issue of curricular model. Curricular models
seem to become embodied by teachers and the ways that they believe they
must relate to children in order to achieve the objectives of the
curriculum. Developmentally inappropriate practices are often
accompanied by a sense that in order to transmit knowledge, teachers
must confine children's behavior until knowledge can be
successfully transmitted. Conversely, more developmentally appropriate
practices are advanced by teachers who cooperatively guide children
through experiences that scaffold new levels of learning. It is this
idea of working "with" children, versus pushing children
toward achievement, that has been shown to be associated with positive
cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes (Dunn & Kontos, 1997).
Because DeVries, Reese-Learned et al. (1991) found that the academic
advantages of developmentally inappropriate practices may fade by 3rd
grade, and that positive teacher-child relationships regulate emotional
and academic skill development throughout childhood (Pianta, 1999), it
seems logical that the field of early childhood education should promote
practices that are coupled with teacher attitudes and behaviors that do
not threaten children's social and emotional development.
Many teachers do not deliberately choose negative guidance
strategies, but rather operate from a variety of assumptions about their
teaching role and effective strategies (Wein, 1995). Therefore, teachers
may benefit from additional information about the importance of the
sociomoral atmosphere that they maintain in their classrooms. It may be
effective for teachers to view the creation of a positive sociomoral
atmosphere as their first educational goal (DeVries, 2001). Beyond
information, some teachers may benefit from instruction about effective
strategies in managing classroom behavior without detriment to
children's development. This need could be met through teacher
education programs, thus equipping teachers with both the philosophical
and methodological understanding of this domain before they begin their
Currently, the practices of many schools and teachers overtly
diminish children's opportunities for healthy development in the
social realm. As well, adult models often inadvertently affect
children's abilities to make friends, solve problems, and consider
the perspectives of others. McCaslin and Good (1992) warn that "the
best way to lose the next generation is to not teach them problem
solving and coping skills in the social domain." It seems
appropriate then for all agents responsible for the care and education
of young children to come to a consensus on how best to provide a
community environment that gives the child opportunities to interact in
a positive and nurturing way with both adults and peers. As children
experience the security and freedom that a caring classroom community
can promote, one can expect that young citizens will continue to value
and strive toward the good of the greater democracy.
While the results of this initial study support the established
association between teachers' practices and children's
developmental outcomes, replication on a larger scale would be
advantageous. In addition, it seems that the broader attitudes and
behaviors of the teacher shape the sociomoral atmosphere in the
classroom that may be predictive of the results yielded in this study.
To address the issues of securing accurate samples of different types of
sociomoral atmospheres for further investigation, new measures are
currently being developed (Durham & Burts, 2006). In the present era
of accountability and with a renewed call for investigation of the best
practices for academic outcomes, we submit that further research should
include the study of the sociomoral atmosphere in which they occur.
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Van Horn, M. L., Karlin, E. O., Ramey, S. L., Aldridge, J., &
Snyder, S. W. (2005). Effects of developmentally appropriate practices
on children's development: A review of research and discussion of
methodological and analytic issues. The Elementary School Journal, 105,
Wein, C. A. (1995). Developmentally appropriate practice in real
life. New York: Teachers College Press.
Diane C. Burts
R. Sean Durham
Louisiana State University
Weber State University
Craig H. Hart
Brigham Young University
Hardee M. Schmidt, Authors' Note: This manuscript is based on
the master's thesis of Hardee M. Schmidt and is a tribute to her
work. Hardee felt passionately about the manner in which young children
are treated. In her words, "This study was inspired by a concern
that violence prevention should begin in early childhood, rather than
later, when children are already involved in the legal system.... Curing
social ills may lie at the beginning of a child's life, rather than
at prison's door." Tragically, Hardee was killed in May of
1999 by an alleged serial killer.
Composite of the Three Dyads' Scores in Each Kindergarten Classroom
for the Three-Month Period
Shared Experiences Level 0 Level 1 Level 2
PG .46% 68.5% 30.9%
(N=639) (3) (438) (198)
NG 17.9% 71.7% 10.3%
(N=485) (87) (348) (50)
PG .65% 68.4% 30.9%
(N=459) (3) (314) (142)
NG 22.2% 61.3% 16.3%
(N=440) (98) (270) (72)
Note: PG-Positive Guidance Classroom, NG-Negative Guidance Classroom,
N-Number of Interactions