In early childhood development
Gianna Durso-Finley, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
A sociological study of a pre-kindergarten class of children between the ages of 3 – 5 through, survey, interview and observations.
For my Sociology 101 term paper, I chose to observe a Pre K classroom at a Catholic school. The school is separated into
th grade and a high school, consisting of grades 9 - 12. Interaction is a lower school, which houses Pre-Kindergarten to 8
very limited between the two schools and should not alter findings. I feel this early age is influenced by the social norms
of gender roles. They are taught by peers, parents, family, teachers, and the mass media including advertisements and
even cartoons. These gender roles are, in fact, nurtured traits as opposed to natured traits. After I received the necessary permission from the principal and teachers, they requested me to type a letter of
introduction to send home to the parents/guardian. This letter was reviewed and approved by the principal and sent
home. A copy of the letter and a sample of the survey I used are attached at the end of his paper. I silently observed the children’s interaction in the classroom, as well as in the cafeteria. I also conducted one on one
interviews consisting of the same questions for each participant, paying particular attention to the words each child
used to explain their answers. On that day, the class consisted of 8 boys, 6 girls, a full time teacher and a teacher’s aide who was a substitute. The children’s ages ranged from 3 years to 5 years. The head teacher has 41 years of teaching
experience. The aide, however, has less than a year.
Social Conflict –
There are many social conflicts that can and do arise on a daily basis. There are a few listed and discussed below.
Play areas - These include the craft area, computer area, kitchen area, reading area, building blocks area, farm
and animal play area.
Teacher attention – Who receives the attention and how they keep it
Class jobs – who gets them and how
Basic social control structure starts with the teacher, then the teacher’s aide, then the Children. There is no distinction
between the students. There are a few children who may actually be charismatic leaders, but I was not there long
enough to confirm this. A boy identified as a leader by the teacher, and some children, was absent that day.
Power Animal Play Area The Teacher’s Attention Class Jobs Resources
Who has the The children in that specific The head teacher on this day They are assigned by the teacher power? play center. I did not notice since the aide is new and the based on behavior. A child needs
any in- or out-groups in the children are as unfamiliar with to conform to the class rules and
classroom. The children her as she is with them. be obedient to the teachers.
seemed to be quite Examples: Line leader, Flag
comfortable with each other. Holder, Weather Watcher and
Calendar person are a few
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Power Animal Play Area The Teacher’s Attention Class Jobs Resources
How/where/ The class is broken into areas, Could be because of age or They are in competition to why are they 4 boys were in the animal area other emotional needs such as achieve the status of having the fighting about and a little girl came over. She separation anxiety. These are most prestigious job. To have the the power wanted to join and was young children, who for some, most wanted job makes this resources attempting to change the this is the first time away from child’s esteem rise while giving
activity. The boys did not like home. Still others may strive to them a sense of perceived power
the changes she was making. be the center of attention (ie.) over the others in the class. (ie.)
This social interaction came to the class clown, class crier, or The line leader controls when,
a quick and peaceful resolve class brain. where and how fast the line
when the boys cited the rule: moves (they don’t realize the
only 4 children allowed in an teacher still holds the supreme
area at a time. power). Who is Since only 4 are allowed in an Here, the teacher was control of The model student is the child winning? – area, the boys formed a tight the power. She alone decided who behaves the best by This is the group. This prevented who would get the attention conforming to the classroom source of outsiders from infiltrating the warranted for each action. This rules. In this earliest version of social change game and changing the rules. could have increased the actions anticipatory socialization, some
Gender did not play a role in of children who may feel students may need to be re-
this outcome. It was more of slighted. This can become a socialized to the school
an outsider coming in with never ending circle of actions environment. At home they have
new ideas, almost like a very and reactions. This remained not been socialized in this way.
small Gemeinschaf,t but only as well as the teacher can There weren’t this many peers, if
mostly a primary group for the remain impartial. However, any and was closer to a one on
immediate time being. being an emotional human, with one environment.
feelings and the “teacher
expectancy” effect, this
remained difficult. A teacher
may rely on the labels a child
received from others, instead of
forming their own opinions and
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Structural Functional –
What is needed to provide a safe and happy learning environment?
A few of the numerous groups that are involved are as follow: Teachers, Administrators, Custodians, Parents and
Students. I chose the two groups, students and teachers, to examine more closely.
Structures Students (Pre-K Class) Teacher and Aide
(groups of people)
How do they work? Students’ roles were specifically defined in this They worked under directions and guide
class. They were kept on a strict, regimented lines from the principle administration and schedule. They were to be quiet, attentive, the Diocese. They were very structured in
and respectful to one another. Participation what they did. They implemented the
was needed in class discussions. This helped to strict regimented schedule. This
keep a calm and orderly environment for a eliminated confusion for the children. Not
successful learning environment. These norms only did they teach, discipline, problem
were established early and reinforced often. solve, negotiate and challenge the
students, they guide and comfort them as
well. For some of these children, it was the
first time away from home for an
extended period of time. They needed to
be a “surrogate” parent in class. It was a
family-like atmosphere. One very
noticeable difference was the physical
comforting contact accepted in the school,
unlike what can take place in a public
school. Children can sit in the laps of a
teacher, or a much need hug or hand held
How do the parts work Schools are most certainly a bureaucracy, with many well defined layers. I only chose a few
together as a whole? layers for explanation here. The students should come prepared to class, well rested, and
eager to learn and participate. This is the parent(s) responsibility. The child knows the
schedule but is reminded by the teacher for reinforcement. They are encouraged to
participate, and the teacher challenges the child. Through this back and forth
communication, the learning process takes place. The children learn book smarts and a lot
about social interaction. This is a very important age for children to learn how to interact
with peers outside their own already established network. This can be quite daunting and
scary for them. The teachers work within the guidelines established by the school’s
administration and principle, and they need to stay within the guidelines established by the
Diocese, State and local government. The custodial crew is responsible for maintaining a
structurally safe and clean school including the grounds. There is a cafeteria staff to feed the
children. There has to be clear communications between all groups to work effectively and
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Structures Students (Pre- k class) Teacher and Aide What is the function of This age in a child’s life is crucial in their development, physically, mentally and emotionally. the whole social These will be the building blocks for the child’s life. The way they are taught now can make interaction you chose for their scholastic life more or less difficult. They learn how to interact with peers, society as a whole? subordinates, authority. They are starting to learn responsibility for the selves and
consequences that may occur for their actions. These are all very important in society. We
live in a very structure society based on schedules, rewards, respect of authority. They learn
leadership skills and respect for leaders. Start to follow social norms and be judged on their
deviations. This socialization process is like a rehearsal for future positions, occupations, and
relationships is an example of anticipatory socialization. What are the manifest The children are being prepared to enter adulthood Some of the draw backs include a (intended), latent (side-and the working life. It seems hard to believe that even “robot like” atmosphere. I did not effects), and at this young age it can be done. This age is very observe this, however if life is so dysfunctions (problems) impressionable and they are introduced to schedules, structured, can the child learn to of the structure? responsibilities and expectations. Rewards and think and act for them self? If a
punishments are formally introduced. child is labeled as special,
troubled or bright will this hinder them in their academic future? Symbolic Interaction -
Gender Stereotyping in the class and the symbols that are involved
Some of them are, Gender, Games, Toys, Activities, Class Jobs, Attention, Affection, Clothes, and Cleanliness. The two
symbols I chose to further analyze are the classroom jobs and the sex / gender of a child.
Symbols Classroom Jobs Sex of a child / Gender What do they These are positive sanctions for the child Male or Female- Sex is the biological X and Y mean? who conforms to the social norms of the chromosomes.
classroom. The better behaved child will Male or Female – Gender is the social significance put receive first choice of a job or will be
upon presumed biological differences – book/class selected more often for a special task. This is
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a matter of self esteem and pride to the
child as well as a demonstration of trust.
Does everyone Mostly yes. There may be a shy child who Yes on sex, but not so clear in gender. You can usually agree on the does not want the attention, but from what tell one’s sex by symbols such as names, clothing, meaning? Give I observed they all wanted to do any of the hairstyle, etc. With gender, if a child deviates from a examples of jobs, and as many or as often as they could. social norm or accepted practice the line can become how they are It was establishing a social status and blurred. Just because you may be biologically a male or the same or
hierarchy for them. They got the attention female does not mean society will see your actions as different
that they strived for and allowed them to such.
Symbols Classroom Jobs Sex of a child / Gender Are No – These jobs and the prestige they Yes – Very slowly and more so for the female gender.
interactions promote have been around since my days in It is more socially acceptable for a woman to cross the changing on school. It is the basic reward system. For gender line than for a man. It is not easy for women to this issue? behaving and complying you get rewarded. compete in a man’s arena and most are still
Much like for going to work you get paid, for discriminated against, usually financially and
eating a healthy dinner you can have a emotionally, they do face less negative stigma than a
dessert. These are engrained at all levels of man.
society and have remained steadfast.
Do boys and girls in a pre-school class feel they are equal? Are they being treated equally? Are their opportunities the
same? Who guides and teaches the children their gender roles? Do the children know or have an understanding of their
social gender identity? These are some of the questions that interested me and compelled me to follow up on an article
dissection project previously assigned in class. Throughout the remainder of my paper I am influenced by this article,
Girlie Girls and Manly Men: Children's Stigma Consciousness of Gender in Sports and Physical Activities, Class
participation, Classroom Text book as well as my personal observation and survey. In the article I read males and their
activities were characterized as strong, tough, loud, competitive physical where females are more understanding, quiet,
meek and less physical.
When I first arrived in the classroom, at 8 am, the children had free time where they could be in any of the activity
centers, provided there are no more than 4 at any one center or craft table. I was quietly observing and had not been
officially introduced to the class. I got a few glances and one boy stared a bit. It was hard for me not to interact with
them. As society suggests, I was on the lookout for any gender bias or groups based on sex. The first things I heard were
two girls on the computer working on their alphabet. The letter S and a picture of a skateboard were on the screen. One
girl went on and on about her skateboarding experiences and the amount of fun she had with them. Based on my recent
readings, society’s definition on gender activities would have one believe skateboarding was for boys. I turned my
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attention to an area where four boys were playing with the farm and zoo animals and a castle. I overheard a lot of family
talk. I am his daddy… this is my son you can be our cousin… this is your sister. This went against what I read, too. These followed the described feminine traits. It was not all love and hugs since there were still the “typical” boy actions
including smashing the animals in fight scenes and other physical actions.
Other observations include children playing at all centers within multi-gender groups doing everything from building
blocks, beads, coloring books, computer activities and animal play. The kitchen area stayed empty, but may have bee
caused by my sitting in close proximity.
The need for attention was displayed by a boy who wanted the teachers help. He began to call to no immediate
response. He then took a foam object and hit himself in the head. A little girl laughed. The boy got a reaction and
continued until teacher corrected the situation.
One of the younger girls, who had just turned four, seemed to be the matriarch of the class. Some children, especially
the girls, accepted her authority and allowed her to go into an area and change the rules or activity to her liking. A little
girl complimented her on her shirt and she replied that she liked her braided hair.
The class bell rang at 8:30 and clean up began. A promise of a sticker got everyone involved, however I noted that two
girls went and re-arranged the chairs the boys hadn’t pushed all the way in, as well as some other finishing touches. Positive sanctions like this were used quite successfully and often throughout the day. The children needed to be quiet
to get the sticker and then were given a place on the rug for flag salute and the daily weather report. One boy didn’t
comply, so he wasn’t allowed to participate and was asked to sit away from the class. This is an example of a negative
sanction for not complying. At this time, I was formally introduced to the class along with the teacher aide.
The teacher started to line up the children for a trip to the library. A line leader was chosen based upon behavior. So far,
I had yet to really notice any gender bias by the teacher or children. Mrs. D, the teacher, made the first noticeable social
type casting. She was reading a book to the children and asked, “Does your mommy follow a recipe?” Later, I
questioned her about this. She calmly explained that it had nothing to do with gender stereotyping females to cooking,
but rather being a safe statement, since all the children have a mother, and may not necessarily know their father. One
needs to be very conscious of feelings. However, this safe statement is most certainly a stereotype. A better choice
would have been, does the person who cooks for you, follow a recipe?
We returned to the class and the children got ready for snack. There were no assigned seats and I noticed the children
sat in no set patterns. After observing this class for a few hours I was anxious to start the interview process. While I
interviewed one student, the other children sat for a lesson on Thanksgiving. Then they broke into assigned activity
areas which were chosen at the beginning of the week. Mrs. D. informed me that the kitchen is one of the most popular
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centers for both the boys and girls. I noticed this right away. While I couldn’t be as observant of the play area at this
time as earlier, I was able to make some interesting observations. A boy was trying to cram anything and everything in a
microwave, a girl fixed the washer or dishwasher while a boy handed her the tools necessary to complete the task. All
the while, a boy and girl were ironing; well the boy was trying to iron the girl! I really could not hear what they were
saying, but it was obvious they were having fun. I must be up front about the interviews. These children were too young
to express their thoughts and ideas clearly enough. I am not sure how relevant my study is, especially based on the time
and size restrictions of the study. The most common reasons given to why a boy/girl participated in an activity were;
“Because,” “I don’t know it just is”, “the other sex doesn’t like it” or “it’s for boys/girls.” I did not get enough understandable answers to the questions at the bottom of the survey. They were cute, but did not result in useful data.
There were two participants who had particularly interesting responses.
One was from a boy who told me his father said dolls are only for girls and he better not see him playing with them. I
continued to press him to get a clearer picture. I asked, “What if your best friend wanted you to play dolls? “ “I can’t.” I asked,” Why?” “Because my Dad said so.” I continued, “What if it really looked like fun and your dad would never
know?” “I wouldn’t do it.” What was this teaching this boy about gender roles? Will he ever feel comfortable to cross
gender types? Will he participate in raising his family, especially babies? How will he react if he has to be a house
husband or a single parent?
The other interesting respondent was a little girl who had a grandmother telling her all the time not to play “boy sports.” “You will get hurt and dirty. You are not big or strong enough.” This is setting a negative premise for the child and her
future. If she is being limited in her youth, than she will come to expect it in adulthood. Why try if you are told you can’t or you will fail?
I had a very enjoyable day with the class and was pleasantly surprised at their willingness to participate. The following
graphs represent the data collected in the surveys.
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Girls' Survey Responses 100%
Boys' Survey Responses100%
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Girls' & Boys' Combined Survey Responses
(Please note that 2 boys did not participate. One was too shy and uncomfortable making me draw the information out
and corrupting the data. The other could not concentrate or form consistent answers.)
These charts show that girls are more accepting of boys’ participation in all activities, as well as participating in all
activities themselves. I didn’t see where having siblings affected my research, however, in other research done (book/article) it has been proven to be a factor. I feel the age of and lack of the number of participants limited those
affects. The way you interact at home and those norms you are surrounded by most certainly effect the way you see
gender in society. The graph, Combined Responses by Sibling Gender, shows that these children are showing more of a
tolerance for gender crossing. We need to support our youth and give them as many equal opportunities as possible.
Equal opportunities with equal compensation based on performance, not just sex. We can’t keep putting people down
for different beliefs and ideals that may deviate from society’s acceptable norm. To be a successful society we can’t be
too judgmental. There are actions that are detrimental and illegal but none should be based on a person’s sex or gender.
It comes down to all of us to form a society. The parents and immediate family, the primary group, are the first, and
proven, most influential role models. Children learn from their surroundings. Extended family and peers, a secondary
group, provide young children with guidance based on informal social control. Teachers are the first to use a form of
formal social control where they grade the children based on their actions, competence, and comparison of peers. The
teachers / educational field set the rules, standards and goals to be achieved. Here there are more formal sanctions than
with their peers and family. This is needed to proceed further in life and into the bureaucratic world where life gets even
more complex. Society has many social stigmas based on deviance and formal laws regarding the way one is to behave.
Even today, society uses masculinity and manly actions in general, as a measuring stick. This is an unfortunate way of
thinking and seems to be changing slowly. Women are performing in more and more male dominated activities which
are being more widely accepted, even though not rewarded, or compensated equally. However when society sees a
man lower his expectations and enter a female dominated arena, he is compensated more than his female counter part
but, carries a social bigger stigma of being un-manly. We, as part of a progressive society can only hope this trend
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