A day care center offers a richly rewarding setting in which to observe the behavior of preschool children. Basic principles of learning, relevant to the field of behavioral psychology, may be seen first-hand, if one works with children in such a controlled, intimate setting. The terms of classical and operant conditioning will be illustrated with real examples of the principles themselves, gained over a year's experience working with children on a daily basis.
The eighteen children observed range in age from 2 and 1/2 to 5 years. There are 10 boys and 8 girls. Two of the boys, Christopher and Troy, have attention deficit disorder (ADD). This combination of young children makes for a lively day, and behaviors change so rapidly that it is sometimes difficult to see where one behavior ends and another begins. Even so, the following is a best first-person attempt at keeping up with some extremely active children, most of whom know each other from being together for more than a year. The staff and children are subject to change, so uniformity in the enforcement of the day- care rules is important so that we maintain order and continuity. The children are mostly free to engage in organized play, rather than instruction, since they are preschool age, but play is organized according to principles of preschool learning. In other words, the day is more than just organized chaos.
The older children know that the daycare staff expect certain behaviors from them. However, bec