The disciplinary approach of childcare centres could mar the academic prospects of infants.
An analysis of policy documents from 40 childcare centres, pre-schools and schools found a sharp shift from the more positive approach of gently guiding children at childcare centres, to a system based on rules, discipline and rewards at schools.
Children who have difficulty coping with the transition from pre-school or childcare to the school environment may have trouble establishing a rapport with their teacher, which in turn can have long-lasting effects, said researcher Natalie Johnston-Anderson.
"The nature and quality of the kindergarten teacher-child relationship can have repercussions throughout a child's schooling," said Johnston-Anderson, of Sydney University, who has worked in both childcare and school sectors and who conducted the research as part of an honours thesis.
Prior-to-school policies recognise young children are naturally explorative and will act out in response to being 'controlled' by adults, she found. In contrast, most school policies featured a 'student welfare' or 'student discipline' approach.
While 86 per cent of school policies identified using rewards, less than 10 percent of pre-schools in the sample did. Just 12 per cent of childcare policies mentioned rewards, but when they did, they were all against the use of rewards.
While most childcare centres, pre-schools and school policies emphasised acknowledging positive behaviour at a one-on-one level, every school policy emphasised the public celebration of positive behaviour, but none of the childcare policies did.
Seventy one per cent of school policies featured ordered lists of specific school rules, while just one third of preschool policies did, and no childcare centre policies did. And 86 per cent of school policies identified specific children's responsibilities, while no preschool or childcare policies did, said a Sydney University release.
"Where the behavioural environment represents a gradual rather than sudden change for children, the chance of developing positive teacher-child relationships and hence having a successful transition is higher for all children," Johnston-Anderson said.
"For children already at risk, the differences between the two environments can add an extra layer of challenge when they may already be struggling with learning basic numeracy and literacy skills."