Human development research indicates that relatively stable, predictable sequences of growth and change occur in children during the first nine years of life (Katz 1995). Predictable changes occur in all domains of development, physical, emotional, social, language, and cognitive (Katz 1995).The ways that these changes are manifest and the meaning attached to them may vary in different cultural contexts. Bronfenbrenner as cited in Garbarino provides an ecological model for understanding human development. He explains that children's development is best understood within the sociocultural context of the family, educational setting, community, and broader society (Garbarino 1985). These various contexts are interrelated, and all have an impact on the developing child. For example, even a child in a loving, supportive family within a strong, healthy community is affected by the biases of the larger society, such as racism or sexism, and may show the effects of negative stereotyping and discrimination. The purpose of this paper is to show how culture can influence child development and why it is important for child service workers to have an understanding of the cultural background.
What is Culture?Culture is defined as the customary beliefs and patterns of and for behaviour, both explicit and implicit, that are passed on to future generations by the society they live in or by a social, religious, or ethnic group within it (WDBMR n.d). Sargent (1988) defines culture which also includes the socially shared and transmitted knowledge, values, beliefs and customs in a given society (Sargent 1988). Because culture is often discussed in the context of diversity or multiculturalism, people fail to recognize the powerful role that culture plays in influencing the development of all children (Sargent 1988). Every culture structures and interprets children's behaviour and development. Rules of development are the same for all children, but social contexts shape children's development into different configurations (Sargent 1988).
Social SystemAn almost infinite number of environmental or external factors affect a child's development both adversely and positively. Bronfenbrenner's theory disclosed by Garbarino, takes place in four different layers of the social system called microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem (Garbarino 1985). Childhood development occurs within a complex system of relationships influenced by multiple levels of the surrounding environment, from immediate settings to broad cultural values, laws, and customs. Just as heredity plays a significant part in development, so does the child's environment, a many layered set of influences that combine with one another to help or hinder the course of growth (Garbarino 1985). The microsystem is the highest level of environmental influence, which reflects general cultural attitudes and beliefs about the needs of children, for example, cultural values and life conditions affect the environments of children, as do political and economic conditions (Garbarino 1985).
Cultural FactorsChildhood teachers and service workers need to understand the influence of sociocultural contexts on learning, recognize children's developing competence, and accept a variety of ways for children to express their developmental achievements. Teachers and service workers must also examine their own attitudes about working with a minority group that speaks a different language from their own and may not share the values of their own culture (Arbor 1998). The developmental problems of too many children from minority groups are not being identified or not dealt with effectively (Arbor 1988). Barriers of language or culture, and often poverty, mean parents are intimidated by the system, or even unaware of services available (Arbor 1988). Professionals who provide the services often find themselves being unsure how to cross the cultural divide (Arbor 1988).
Concerns about language and...
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