The use of development charts is only the beginning of the process of understanding a child. Now look at what each theorist has to say about child development.
Theories and approaches
You are ready to make theoretical links when you have found and discussed appropriate child development milestones.
The following pages summarise the main theories of a number of child development theorists.
Jean Piaget (1896-1980)
Piaget is a constructivist. Constructivists think that children learn best by being active and through investigation and exploration.
These are called first hand experiences.
Piaget was a Swiss psychologist whose work has been extremely influential. He developed his theories through observing and testing his ideas on his own children.
The following table show the development stages through which Piaget believed children passed:
Sensory motor 0-2 years
Learning occurs through the senses and movement.
A trial and error approach is taken to solving problems.
The child is egocentric: aware only of his or her own wants and needs.
Pre-operational 2-7 years
The child is egocentric and unable to decentre (see things from another’s point of view).
The child thinks that objects have thoughts and feelings: Animism
The child uses symbols in play.
The child believes what his or her eyes tell him or her – so she or he is unable to converse number, mass or capacity.
Trial and error is still the child’s main way to solve problems.
Concrete operations 7-11 years
The child can play games with rules and can now de-centre.
The child knows that objects do not have thoughts and feelings.
Children can use symbols in mathematics and writing, but need to use objectives to help them, for example, to count.
At this stage children are unable to converse.
Formal operations 11+ years
Piaget suggests that not all of us reach this stage.
Now children can work things out in their heads and are able to work out problems using logic.
Piaget is also important for proposing the notion of a schema.
A schema is a pattern of repeatable behaviour which can be observed in children who seem to be doing the same thing over and over again. For instance:
Putting a toy into a truck and pushing it to a chosen spot and unloading it – a transporting schema.
Putting things into a bag – building blocks, cars – and fastening them up – an envelope schema.
Building towers – a vertical schema.
Making fields for the farm animals – an enclosure schema.
Other schemas include:
Positioning – laying things out in order.
Rotation – turning knobs and wheels.
Connection – joining things together.
Children become deeply involved in making sense of ideas that are interesting to them and, in their play, they are engaged in exploring and thinking them through. Your observations will provide you with insight into their exploration. You will then be able to provide resources and sensitive interactions to support them
Piaget would say that children are in a state of disequilibrium until they have adapted and accommodated new information, gained through their play, which returns them to a state of equilibrium – until the next new idea emerges.
Children using symbols in their play (a wooden brick is a cake, a cardboard box is a house or car)
Children talking to dolls and teddies
Babies exploring a toy by handling it and putting it in their mouths
Children who appear to drift from one activity to another or seem to repeat the same thing over again.
B.F Skinner (1904 – 1990)
Skinner is a behaviourist. He thought that children learn because they seek the approval of important adults and peers.
He worked out that children will repeat behaviour that gains them a reward. He called it ‘positive reinforcement’. It could be tangible like a sticker or toy, or intangible, like a smile or praise from an important adult or peer.
Positive reinforcement can also work for children whose behaviour is unwanted. If you reward the child by