Children’s learning and development has been influenced greatly by a wide range of psychologists and early theorists over the years, who have conducted a range of research methods such as, observations, experiments, and interviews. Without early theorists conducting this research, our children’s education and developmental psychology would not be where it is today. Jean Piaget was one of these many theorists. Jean Piaget was born in Neuchatel, Switzerland in 1896 and died in 1980. He was a scientist at a very young age and published his first scholarly paper at the age of 11 years old. Whilst working at Alfred Binet Laboratory School in Sorbonne, Piaget started to notice similarities in children’s answers to questions that were asked of them and this interested him. From these early findings at Alfred Binet Laboratory School, Piaget continued his interested in children’s learning and development and this drove most of his life’s work. Piaget’s studies of children’s learning and development were conducted with research methods such as naturalistic observation, experiments and clinical interviews and his subjects were small groups that consisted mainly of his three children and sometimes his friend’s children. From the studies of these children he kept a diary of their developmental progress, which he then created his theory of child development from. Piaget believed that interaction with the natural environment was an important factor in cognitive development and he believed that children learn and develop their knowledge theirselves without the support from adults. “Piaget’s theory can be thought of as based upon the idea of a staircase”. (Oakley, 2004, p.15). The three components of Piaget’s cognitive theory are :-
1. Schemas, which are the building blocks of knowledge.
2. Processes that allow development from one stage to another. These include equilibrium, assimilation and accommodation. 3. Stages of development –
* Sensorimotor – (birth to 2 year old) Piaget believed at this stage the child’s sensory and motor abilities would be developed/ developing. * Preoperational – (2 – 7 year old) Piaget believed at this stage the child’s language, mental imagery and symbolic thought would be developed/ developing. * Concrete Operational – (7-11 year old) Piaget believed that by this stage children would be able to reason logically about concrete events. * Formal Operational – (11 year old upwards) Piaget believed that by this stage children would be able to think deeply about concrete events and that they would be able to reason abstractly. Piaget was a student of Montessori’s work and he built his theory on her ideas for example they both believed that children needed to do things for themselves in order for them to learn from their mistakes. Although many psychologists, teachers and child educators appreciate Piaget’s work and theories not everyone agrees with them. There have been many criticisms of his theories due to various different factors one of which being that his subjects were mainly his own three children and sometimes his friends children who were all from well educated upper class families. He limited his subjects to a small group of children and he didn’t take into account the children’s cultural or social interaction into his studies.
Many people also suggest that Piaget’s abilities of children were under mind as most children move to the next stage in their development as and when they are ready and mature. There are various other theorists that have different views of child and cognitive development and they include the work of Vygotsky and Bruner. Unlike Piaget with his theory that child development was influenced by the environment and that children should be independent in their development, Vygotsky believed that culture and social interactions were important factors in cognitive development. Both Vygotsky and Bruner also believed that cognitive development was continuous and was not in stages as with Piaget’s beliefs. In a way I do agreed with Piaget’s theory up to a point as children do have developmental stages as they grow up but I would agree more with the work of Vygotsky and Bruner that these stages are continuous and flow into each other rather than being stepping stones that children have or should be able to do certain things at certain ages. Each child is different and this should always be taken into account. Piaget’s theory that children need the opportunity to do things for themselves again I do agree with this up to a point but I also believe that children do require assistance by adults and older children around them in order for them to learn for example Vygotskys theory of the scaffolding. An example of this could be: – The first time you sit a child down to do a jigsaw puzzle the child will empty the jigsaw pieces out and not have a clue where to start in order for them to put the jigsaw together. Instead of them just sitting there and not knowing what to do, the adult can guide them and explain to them what they have to do.
The next time that the child sits down to do the jigsaw puzzle, they will remember the key points and things that were taught or explained to them. The more that they do this, the easier that this will get for them and they will then start to be able to do things like this independently. With regards to relating Piaget’s theory to practice, in my workplace I see a lot of his theory, taking place due to the environment in which we are in. In my workplace in order for us to create a fun and safe environment for our children to be in each child’s individual interests, and abilities are looked at and rather than pressuring a child to do certain activities we plan and lay out a wide range of smaller activities that accommodate each child’s different learning styles that then allows the child to gain independent and hands on learning. Although the Play workers are there to guide the child and assist with development as and when required, we can also allow the children to explore and take part in the activities independently.
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