Children in child-centered preschools and kindergartens were compared to children in didactic, highly academic programs in terms of their basic skills achievement and a set of motivation variables. The study included 227 poor, minority, and middle-class children between the ages of 4 and 6 years. Children in didactic programs that stressed basic skills had significantly higher scores on a letters/reading achievement test but not on a numbers achievement test. Being enrolled in a didactic early childhood education program was associated with relatively negative outcomes on most of the motivation measures. Compared to children in child-centered programs, children in didactic programs rated their abilities significantly lower, had lower expectations for success on academic tasks, showed more dependency on adults for permission and approval, evidenced less pride in their accomplishments, and claimed to worry more about school. Program effects were the same for economically disadvantaged and middle-class children, and for preschoolers and kindergartners.