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Early Childhood & Parental Choice

Preschool programs range from being privately owned and managed, to a state funded program, from being learning centers to day care facilities, from teacher instruction to parent cooperatives and parents are faced with the huge task of finding the most suitable and beneficial preschool program for their child. The options are endless and factors such as location, fees, schedule of classes and friendships influence the decisions parents make (Brain & Klein, 1994). Although preschool programs are widely state funded, the number of private schools and secular preschool programs are also widely available.

It is a given that parents who find state funded preschools inadequate would seek other preschools, and parents who often choose high quality preschools do so with the goal of providing the best care and learning environment for their children (Maddaus, 1990). But a majority of parents do not have the same frame of mind, sometimes preschools are seen as a place where children can be left without parental supervision and giving the parent the opportunity to work or if not to rest from the daily toil of childrearing (Brain & Klein, 1994).

In a survey of parents, the most cited reason for sending their child to preschool was that there was no one to take care of the child at home, it is a reality that most parents work, with the pressing economic crisis, it is more than necessary to have both parents working or to even work two jobs (Gorard, 1997). In another study (Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002), it was found that parent send their child to preschool because most of their child’s friends go to preschool.

Moreover, the preschool of choice usually is the one nearest to their residence. For city parents, preschools should be near their place of work and is accessible by vehicle so that the parents won’t have to deal with traffic. There is a difference however on parental choice of working parents and when one parent stays at home in terms of the schedule of sessions. Working parents favor a full week schedule since it would be more convenient for them and would ensure that they can work all throughout the week.

On the other hand, parents who stay at home fine a 3 day/week schedule sufficient for their preschool age children (David, Davies, Edwards, Reay & Stabding 1997). They feel that 3 days is enough for their child’s energy and they would still want to spend time with their child. It would make sense that stay at home parents want a shorter class schedule than working parents since they are available and can care for their child. In another study, parental choice of preschools was analyzed using market conditions of preschool programs.

It is argued that when parents have the choice to choose a school for their child, they would want high quality education and schools would be forced to come up with quality and competitive programs to entice parents to have their child enrolled (Cryer & Burchinal, 1997). Under these conditions, parents see schooling as an investment and one that would benefit their child, thus the choice is often influenced by how good the school is in terms of facilities, curriculum and academic standards (Maddaus, 1990). In this precept, preschools who fail to recruit and increase enrollment would lose funding and eventually close operation.

Thus, parental choice contributes to market competition and the improvement of preschool programs. Parental choice regarding schools in elementary and high school had been the focus of previous research due to the importance of academic performance and achievement (Maddaus, 1990), however, compulsory education leave parents limited choices in the sense that schools are regulated by the government and course offerings and standards are more or less at par, parental choice comes in terms of teacher qualification, school excellence and facilities but not so much on curriculum (Gorard, 1997).

Preschool is not compulsory, but based on the survey of preschool enrollment for the past years; more and more 3 and 4 years old are enrolling in preschool programs. Although the programs are state funded, it is assumed that the same trend is true for privately run preschools. Since preschool is not required for kindergarten, it is evident that parental choice is a huge factor in deciding which preschool they enroll their children (Maddaus, 1990).

Parents have their own expectations of what preschool should be and this may invariably influence the kind of programs that preschools offer, or their expectations may be influenced by the preschool programs that already exist. There have been very few researches on parental choice of preschools, previous findings had stressed the factors that influence parent’s choices and decisions but none had focused on preschool curriculums (Reay & Lucey, 2000).

It would appear that preschool curriculums are the least of the concerns of parents when they consider schools for their young child (Maddaus, 1990). It is also apparent that parents choose schools without fully understanding the kind of program that their child will be enrolling in. However, when parents feel discontent and when preschools don’t live up to their expectations, parents are quick to complain and scrutinize the school’s program.

In this respect, knowing and understanding the preschool curriculum would lead to better choices (Hausman & Goldring, 2000). In reality parents do care about their child’s education and the choice for a preschool may be utilitarian at best but parents surely would also try their best to choose a preschool program that would also benefit their child especially in terms of preparing them for kindergarten. Studies had found that parents would like a preschool to be accessible and to have quality facilities among other required preschool components.

Play-based Curriculum The play-based curriculum is endorsed by preschool educators in the sense that it is the most appropriate learning environment for young children in that it supports their need for exploration, discovery and attention. For most educators, play based curriculum is a must for preschool programs in concordance with other learning activities. The interest on play based curriculum however has waned as more and more parents demand that their children be introduced to writing, reading and counting.

Moreover, parents have difficulty understanding what play based curriculum is and how it encourages learning and discovery. Parents are not comfortable with the term play as it denotes aimless activities without the benefit of any learning (Fromberg, 1998). Much of the misperception of play based curriculum is brought about by the low value that parents place on play. According to cognitive theorists like Jean Piaget, play is the key medium wherein interpersonal skills, discovery, exploration and confidence are developed.

At the same time, play is initiated by children and it allows them the freedom to interact with other children, or to engage in solitary play which is common in young children (Fromberg, 2002). The benefits of play are numerous, but it has not received the kind of attention and support that educators would want it to have. Play based curriculums are more than just play, although the main component of the learning experience is accommodated through play, the activities and learning stations designed for optimum learning are carefully planned out activities that encourage learning through play (Grossman, 2004).

Children who are playing with blocks and putting puzzles together learn about relationships, size, shapes and coordination (Duncan & Tarulli, 2003). Likewise, their fine motor skills are developed and enhanced which prepared them for the grasping and control of pencils and crayons for later learning. Children who work with paint and colors learn about relationships, colors, and cause and effect. Learning to read, write and count are not achieved simply by rote learning, if parents and teachers want the best learning environment for their children, then this should be conducted in play (Elkind, 2007).

Play is not as simple as it may seem, when parents dismiss play as purely a leisure activity, they do not consider that play is a complex exchange of ideas and behavior between the child to another child or between the child and the toy (Elkind, 2007). When a young child is engaged in solitary play, it gives him/her the opportunity to explore the toy and learn on their own (McCune & Zanes, 2001). When the child plays with other children he/she learns how to negotiate compromise and share with other children as well as learning that other children have different views and experiences (Kim, 1999).

Play is not just play, it engages the senses, the cognitive process and the emotional aspect of the child, playing with puzzles, dolls and pretend play draws out critical thinking, creativity and imagination which are all critical for cognitive development (Christie, 2001). The play based curriculum is suited for all young children, it offers both the structure and the flexibility that children need at their age. Playing is not harmful to children; it is enjoyable, fun and effective in introducing children to new concepts and ideas (Berk, 2001).

Since the activities and learning stations in play based classrooms had been developed in accordance with cognitive, affective and social skills, it is expected that children who go to play based preschools have better adjustment and social skills (Jones & Cooper, 2006). Language development and reading are key areas that play based curriculums encourage, during play, young children must communicate with other children his/her wants and understanding of the play activity, thereby encouraging language usage and acquisition.

At the same time, children enjoy books and have activities like book reading and exploration that introduces children to different books and letters which also activates the mechanism for language and literacy (Frost, Wortham & Reifel, 2001). When children enjoy what they do, it does not become stressful or taxing for them, instead it will develop in them the love for learning. Other forms of play such as drama, role playing, art sessions and music also encourages the development of the brain and cognitive abilities which will be very useful when they go to formal schooling (Berk, Mann & Ogan, 2006).

Play also supports diversity and cultural differences as children come together with different cultures and religions and introduces children to the rich and diverse cultural traditions of other races (Abbott, 1994). One might think that play based curriculum is too good to be true and it is why those who adopt play based curriculum are not so popular with parents. But given the appropriate teacher training, adequate resources and learning stations, adequate materials and facilities, play based curriculums would be the best learning environment for preschool children (Grossman, 2004).

Implications of Previous Research There are a number of preschool programs made available to parents, each with its own set of philosophies and objectives, among the more popular are Montessori, High Scope, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Play based and academic based. The more specialized preschool programs adopt either of the mentioned preschool curriculums but most state funded programs are said to adopt a combination of play based and academic based curriculums. Parents seem to favor academic based programs as they are more worried about the future academic performance of their child in later years.

Parents’ choices on the preschool program that their child receives are influenced by a number of factors but it does not include knowledge and understanding of the different preschool curriculums. Parents’ choices are found to be utilitarian of pragmatic in terms of the convenience that it brings to them as parents and not to their child’s potential learning. Educators advocate the use of developmentally appropriate practices when it comes to preschool education, however, this is more emphasized than implemented.

Schools especially state funded adhere to the academic or worksheet curriculums due to the importance of academic achievement even in kindergarten. Moreover, developmentally appropriate practices are prescribed but are not actually given to children since it takes more effort and preparation for teachers who are not equipped with the training to do so. Play based curriculum has received negative perceptions from parents due to the inability of parents to understand the core principles behind play based curriculum. Parents are not very keen on the concept of play since it does not seem to lead to any viable learning.

Parents and even teachers fail to recognize the benefits of play especially in young children due to the misperceptions that parents and teachers have regarding play. As previous research has demonstrated, parents choice of preschool does not consider the kind of curriculum of the preschool program, thus choices are not always geared towards the learning experience of the child. Play based curriculums had largely been misunderstood and it is presumed that parents do not understand what play based curriculum is and therefore has not maximized the learning potential of their child and have not been supportive of the curriculum’s activities.

This research study aims to know and understand how parents think about the play based curriculums and whether they feel positively or negatively about it. Chapter 3 Methodology This chapter presents the research design, research method, data collection and analysis of the data for the proposed study. The main goal of the chapter is to provide the reader with the information in which the study can be replicated in aid of scientific inquiry and in demonstrating that the study was conducted using ethical and appropriate methods. Theoretical Framework

Parental choice of preschools often follow the decision making process that considers the advantages and disadvantages of a certain action, and it would follow that the decisions parents make are based on their perceived assumptions and beliefs about preschool programs. Thus, this study adopts the rational choice theory in the sense that parents strive to make a rational decision in terms of the kind of preschool program that their child attends. Rational choice theory purports that people make decisions based on their own evaluation of the costs and rewards of a certain decision.

Rational choice is also broadly defined as the process in which people understand their own actions to attain what it is they want in the best possible way then can (Abell, 2000). Moreover, rational choice theory provides the opportunity to understand the actions of individuals as they attempt to come up with the best possible solution to their predicaments. Rational choice theory also attests that people will make decisions based on their priorities and values in order to maximize the rewards and minimize the costs.

This would mean that parents are expected to choose preschools that would be more beneficial to them and their child rather than those that have more disadvantages. Thus parents who have already enrolled their child in a play based preschools are expected to have acted rationally and have perceived their choice as the most advantageous. In this respect, this study hopes to find out how well parents understand the play based curriculum and whether they believe it is the best for their child.

Figure 1: Theoretical Framework The above theoretical framework presents the relationship of parent’s beliefs, attitudes and perception of play based curriculum to their understanding of the play based curriculum and how it influences their choices of preschool programs for their child. The degree to which parents understand the curriculum of their children would also directly influence parent’s involvement and support for the learning activities and programs of their child’s preschool.

Since beliefs and understanding of a certain issue or concept requires individual thinking and experience, this study will be using the qualitative design. Research Method This research explores the beliefs, attitudes and perception and understanding of parents in their decision to send their child to a play based curriculum preschool program. According to Bryman (2004), qualitative research provides a research strategy that usually emphasizes the words with which individuals interpret actions and the social world, and it may be an appropriate method to be employed on social research.

Denzin and Lincoln (2000) mention that qualitative research involves using case study, personal experience, introspection, life story, interview, artifacts, cultural texts and productions, plus observational, historical, and visual texts to describe routine and problematic moments and meanings in individuals’ lives. It attempts to make sense of the meaning in people’s behavior (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000; Bryman, 2004). Cohen et al. (2000) believe that individual behaviors can only be understood by understanding individuals’ interpretations of the world around them.

Therefore, meaningful social action needs to be interpreted from the point of view of the actors (Bryman, 2004). The epistemological position, adopted in this research is interpretivism. Interpretivism is concerned with the interpretation of human action (Bryman, 2004; Cohen et al. , 2000; Scott and Usher, 1999) and as such relates to the aims of this research. This research applies rational choice theory and the definition of quality from the perspective of school effectiveness in order to interpret parents’ actions and considerations during the process of choosing preschools for their children.

Research Design This study adopts the case study design in the view that individual cases provide more in depth information. Case studies focus on the individual and his/her experiences and immediate reality which is needed to derive meaning and understanding of the issue or concept that is under examination. Moreover, it provides real examples from real people who are not encumbered by the use of predetermined measures or surveys and whose responses will only result to numbers and statistics (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007).

In this study, individual cases will be interviewed and will be asked to share their stories based on an open ended question that corresponds to the research questions. In doing so, the individual experiences and beliefs will be discussed to arrive at a better understanding of the issue on hand which is their beliefs and understanding of play based curriculum. It is expected that other factors such as race, religion and socioeconomic status would influence the experiences and thoughts of parents, thus the parents in the study will be selected to come from different backgrounds.

The case study design has been criticized for its narrow nature in the sense that it focuses only on the cases that it has worked on and that generalizations are difficult to derive and apply since the results are often true only for the cases that the study has used. However, in this research the objective is to understand parents own understanding of play based curriculum and does not intend to derive any theory or disprove any hypothesis but rather to explore and gain new understanding of a given phenomena.

Case Selection The objective of the study is to know how parents understand the play based curriculum, thus the participants in the study has to be parents who have already enrolled their child in a play based preschool program. According to rational choice theory, parents have chosen the play based curriculum since they believe it is the most advantageous for them and for their child, thus it is expected that parents have strong feelings, beliefs and attitudes towards the play based curriculum.

In this respect, parents will be chosen using the referral method, in which the teacher recommends a parent for the study and then the parent then refers another parent to participate in the study. As much as 20 parents will be interviewed for the study wherein it is hoped that the participants will have different backgrounds and ethnicity to derive as many possible experiences and information as possible to enrich the data for the study. However, parents of newly enrolled children will be invited to participate in the study thereby controlling for the effect of previous experiences.

Research Setting The study will be conducted in a local preschool that has long used the play based curriculum and had been found to adhere to the principles and requirements of a quality play based preschool. This school was chosen because it has enjoyed a fairly stable number of enrollees and has had strong parental involvement. The parents will be interviewed during consultations hours in the school so that parents won’t be inconvenienced by a separate interview schedule.

Teachers and the school administrator are also supportive of research and have signified positive reaction to the proposed study. Data Collection Method Following the qualitative method, I will conduct one-on-one interviews with the parent participants and will use a predetermined interview protocol in which questions based on the research questions will be asked of the parents. The questions will be open ended and the participants will be asked to share their responses and clarifications will be asked of the parent to correct any misperceptions.

If parents have difficulty sharing their thoughts and experiences, additional questions will be made to reiterate the previous questions. The interviews will not be timed and the participant can freely share all that they want with minimal interruption from the interviewer. The interview will be recorded by audio tape, but permission from the parents will be sought before the start of the interview. If parents decline the taping of the interview, note taking will be used but it should be done discreetly.

Interviews can be used to understand an individual perspective (Fontana and Frey, 1994). They allow investigation and prompting of matters which cannot be observed (Wellington, 2000). Interviews also allow reflection on the complexity of social behavior and attempt to explain the ‘causes’ (Silverman, 2001). Timeline The research can be conducted in a year, wherein the refinement of the proposal and methods will be conducted from June to September to allow for the summer break of schools.

By the month of September, schools will be starting a new school year and preschool children will then begin school. During this month, I will communicate and work with the school’s teachers and administrators for the details of the research plan. At the same time, the interview protocol must be finished and refined at the end of the month. By October, I will start with the recruitment of participants and the setting up of interviews; I plan to interview as many as 20 parents and maybe 2 interviews a month will suffice depending on the schedules and availability of the parents.

At the end of the interviews by December, I would be able to start the analysis of the data and to make the necessary interpretation of the results. January to May will be devoted to the writing of the results, discussion and recommendation part of the study as well as proofreading and editing of the paper. Data Analysis The gathered data will be analyzed using the qualitative method which is the inductive approach, this approach starts with rough definition of research question, data collection, coding, saturating categories and exploring relationships between categories (Bryman, 2004).

The sub-processes involved in this data analysis method are data reduction, data display and conclusion drawing (Huberman and Miles, 1998). After collection, the data has to be reduced to its component parts in order to make complicated things understandable (Bernard 1988 cited in Huberman and Miles, 1998). In this stage, data are coded and summarized into themes (Wellington, 2000). Data display allows the researcher to conceptualize the material as organized and assembled data. The third process is conclusion drawing which involves interpreting and giving meaning to data (Wellington, 2000).

These processes provided a useful starting point for data analysis in this research but Wellington (2000) argues that analyzing qualitative data is messier and more complicated than these three processes would suggest. He suggests that data analysis has to involve immersion in the data, reflecting on it, taking it apart, synthesizing it, relating and locating the data, and presenting the data. These strategies will be used in data analysis of this research. All the interviews will be recorded by MP3 recorder and transcribed in detail.

In order to manage such a large amount of qualitative data, every transcription from two phases of interviews will be printed. Each transcription will be read and re-read carefully to understand a sense of the holism of the interview before finding the appropriate codes from the data. Identifying appropriate codes and categorizing the data into themes are important steps in the data analysis. Kerlinger (1970) defines coding as ‘the translation of question responses and respondent information to specific categories for the purpose of analysis’ (Cited in Cohen et al.

, 2000: 283). After coding, the researcher has to examine and compare the data within the categories and compare the data across categories in order to build an integrated explanation (Rubin and Rubin, 1995). The processes of analysis for this study will be transcribing interviews, reading transcription, analyzing data and finding codes, categorizing and translating data, determining themes, examining and comparing the data, and building a logical chain of findings.

The discussion of the research findings will be based on the individual narratives of the respondents wherein the objective is to provide as many divergent and convergent ideas on a specified issue or context. Trustworthiness and Validity A research study’s findings are only as credible as the information it has gathered and analyzed, thus it is important to maintain the integrity of the data that will be collected.

For example, participant validation can take the place of member checking in the sense that unclear responses will be clarified and participants will indicate whether it is what they had meant to say at that time, in another aspect, the participant can be asked to read the transcript of the interview and then ask them whether they feel and think the same way after a certain period of time. Moreover, having several people code and identify the themes from the responses will also protect the data from manipulation and bias. Limitations

The limitations of the study include the difficulty of deriving generalizations from the research findings due to the case study design wherein findings will only be true for the given research setting and participant. Also, the possible effects of extenuating circumstances such as race, religion and socioeconomic status might affect the responses of the participants when those variables are not considered in the study. Moreover, responses have to be taken at face value as true and reflective of the experiences and thoughts of the participants.

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