Theories for Development of Children


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A set of theories have been tested over time to contribute to a child’s development. Today, we are discussing a few such approaches that schools and parents alike apply.

The Maturational Theory:
The work of Arnold Gessell advanced the maturational theory. Maturationists believe that development is a biological process that occurs automatically in predictable, sequential stages over time. This perspective leads many educators and families to assume that young children will acquire knowledge naturally and automatically as they grow physically and become older, provided that they are healthy.
School readiness, according to maturations, is a state at which all healthy young children arrive when they can perform tasks such as reciting the alphabet and counting: these tasks are required for learning more complex tasks such as reading and arithmetic. Because development and school readiness occur naturally and automatically, maturations believe the best practices are for parents to teach young children is to recite the alphabet and count while being patient and waiting for children to become ready for kindergarten.

If a child is developmentally unready for school, maturations might suggest referrals
to transitional kindergartens, retention, or holding children out of school for an additional year. These practices are sometimes used by schools, educators, and parents when a young child developmentally lags behind their peers. The young child’s underperformance is interpreted as the child needing more time to acquire the knowledge and skills required to perform at the level of their peers.

Environmentalist Theory:
Theorists such as John Watson, B.F. Skinner and Albert Bandura contributed significantly to the environmentalist perspective of development. Environmentalists believe the child’s environment shapes learning and behavior. Human behavior, development, and understanding are thought of as reactions to the environment. This perspective leads many families, schools, and educators to assume that young children develop and acquire new knowledge by reacting to their surroundings. Kindergarten readiness, according to the environmentalists, is the age or stage when young children can respond appropriately to the environment of the school and the classroom (e.g., rules and regulations,
curriculum activities, positive behavior in group settings, and directions and instructions from teachers and other adults in the school). The ability to respond appropriately to this environment is necessary for young children to participate in teacher-initiated learning activities. Success is dependent on the child following instructions from the teacher or the adult in the classroom. Many environmentalists influenced educators and parents to believe that young children learn best by rote activities, such as reciting the alphabet repeatedly, copying letters, and tracking numbers. This viewpoint is evident in kindergarten classrooms where expected young children sit at desks arranged in rows and listen
attentively to their teachers. At home, parents may provide their young children with workbooks containing such activities as coloring or tracing letters and numbers activities that require little interaction between parent and child. When young children cannot respond appropriately to the classroom and school environment, they are often labeled as having some form of learning disability. They are tracked in classrooms with a curriculum designed to control their behaviors and responses.

Constructivist Theory:
Jean Piaget, Maria Montessori, and Lev Vygotsky advanced the constructivist perspective of readiness and development. Although their work varies greatly, each articulates a similar context of learning and development. They are consistent in their belief that learning and development occur when young children interact with the environment and people around them. Constructivists view young children as active participants in the learning process. In addition, constructivists believe young
children initiate most of the activities required for learning and development. Because dynamic interaction with the environment and people is necessary for learning and development, constructivists believe that children are ready for school when they can initiate many of their interactions with the environment and people around them.

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