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The Influence of Culture on Early Child Development

A Study Summary
Marilyn Arons, M.S.

Zero to Three has recently published The Changing Face of the United States, The Influence of Culture on Early Childhood (Maschinot, B. (2008). The Changing face of the United States: The influence of Culture on Child Development. Washington, D.C.: ZERO TO THREE). Author, Beth Maschinot, emphasized that the culture of the child matters as much as working with the entire family in early intervention. Zero to Three recommended the following definition of culture upon which Maschinot relied:

Culture is a shared system of meaning which includes
values, beliefs, and assumptions expressed in daily
interaction of individuals within a group and with a
definite pattern of language, behavior, customs,
attitudes and practices.

Understanding of culture includes:

  1. Cultures are dynamic webs of meaning, not lists of traits or customs.
  2. The idea of cultural scripts provides a tool with which to understand cultures.
  3. Cultural scripts may be outside of awareness but are still powerful motivators for behaviors.
  4. Cultures are not static and unchanging.
  5. Ethnicity is not the same as culture.
  6. We experience our cultural scripts as undeniable reality.
  7. The key to better understanding other cultures may be the ability to elicit these cultural scripts from families and to be more aware of how our own scripts affect our work.

Socioeconomic and environmental stress on mothers makes cultural understanding an imperative. The way they use cultural scripts are internalized by the child and affect perception, motivation, regulation, and social behavior. Cultural differences can be seen as either individualistic or sociocentric and interdependent. The first models and reinforces independence, autonomy in choice and action, and social assertiveness. The second socializes the child to be responsible for their families and extended families. They are to be able to sacrifice personal goals for the good of the group and show cooperation, empathy, cooperation and self-control. It is crucial to understand the difference in early childhood training between these two types of cultural frameworks.

Early language development is the same among all cultures with a universal sequence to the emergence of language. Early language exposure has a strong impact on language development. Parents in poverty talk less to their children than parents from professional families. Of pressing concern is the influence of bilingualism on early development. The majority of studies found that the simultaneous acquisition of two languages did not lead to delays in speech or language.

Graphs in the study reflect findings on cognitive development, language development, and socioemotional development. An extensive bibliography is provided.

For more information contact Zero to Three, 2000 M St, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036.