Chapter 2- Theories of Child Development

Researchers and educators hold several distinct sets of beliefs, or theories, about how children grow and develop. One theory hold that children simply mature as they grow older. Another is that the environment shapes what children become. (Nature v. Nurture)

  1. Theories defined
    1. A theory is a system of beliefs about something.
    2. A child development theory is an integrated collection of beliefs about why children behave, think, and feel as they do
    3. How a teacher responds to incidents depends on what he or she believes about why a student behaves as he does. The teacher's decisions will also depend upon his or her theory about the child's development
    4. No single universally accepted theory exists
    5. Theories about children are extremely practical
    6. A theory can guide professional practice by ensuring that there is an underlying purpose for classroom routines and that the process of educating young children is carried out consistently
  1. Maturationist theory
    1. This theory holds that children learn and behave as they do because they have inborn predispositions to do so; what we become is genetically predetermined.
    2. There is little importance in a child's environment
    3. A metaphor for this theory is that of a child being like a growing plant. Given the basic nutrients of life loving care, safety, and a healthy diet-children will grow and flourish in a predetermined way.
    4. Children who are placed in rigidly academic classrooms or are expected to perform difficult tasks before they are ready are likely to exhibit problematic behaviors
    5. Studies of identical twins raised apart have been found to show similar characteristic in many different areas of development, including activity level, sociability, attention span, impulsivity, introgression/extroversion, and propensity to mental health problems such as schizophrenia or alcoholism
    6. Personality traits such as boldness or timidity can be identified in infancy and persist into adulthood
  1. Critique and multicultural analysis of the Maturationist point of view
    1. Studies have found that environment plays an important role in child development
    2. Research on IQ shows that there exists a heritability ratio-a mathematical estimate of the role of genetics in determining intelligence.
    3. Estimates suggest that over half of innate intelligence can be explained by environment
    4. Although its messages of tolerance and acceptance of differences are valuable, care should be taken not to assign too great a role to genetics which could lead to inaction in the classroom when children need support
    5. Racial differences in children's behavior and learning are just that-differences not genetic deficits
  1. Behaviorist theory
    1. Behaviorists contend that all that children are and will become is derived from experience.
    2. From this point of view, a child's mind is a blank slate to be filled by the environment
    3. Behaviorists believe that children are born with certain rudimentary facilities such as an ability to learn and a nervous system that allows perceptual and motor growth
    4. Advancement in any area of learning is simply a change in behavior
    5. John Watson was the first to apply one form of behaviorism, classical conditioning to children's learning.
    6. Watson believed that through environmental conditioning a child could be shaped behavior by behavior to become almost any type of person
    7. B.F. Skinner developed a system of operant conditioning in which he attempted to show that if children's desirable behaviors are rewarded systematically by adults, children are more likely to perform those behaviors
    8. A principle of operant conditioning is that children's behavior can be shaped only gradually
    9. Breaking down learning into manageable units and rewarding small steps forward are key features of operant conditioning
    10. Reinforcers such as verbal praise and tangible rewards should be given only after positive behaviors have been performed. Punishment should not be used; undesirable behavior should simply be ignored
    11. Social cognitive learning theory- Albert Bandura argues that children acquire new behaviors merely by observing others perform them
    12. Children are most apt to learn behaviors they observe if they see these being reinforced
    13. In his social cognitive learning study, Bandura found that children were more likely to behave aggressively if they watched a model punch a doll and then receive rewards for this
    14. Teachers can help one child to interact positively by openly praising another who is behaving appropriately
  1. Critique and multicultural analysis of behaviorist point of view
  1. A major concern has been that modeling and reinforcement do not  fully explain learning
  2. Children demonstrate many behaviors and learning in other areas that cannot be explained by  an imitation and reinforcement theory
  3. Learning is more complex than a mere change in overt behavior
  4. Development is internal and personal; it involves the mental action of children not just external behavior by adults
  5. Some families or cultural groups never use positive reinforcement, yet their children grow and learn
  6. Which behaviors should be reinforced and upon whose values, histories, and worldviews should these decisions be based?
  1. Psychoanalytic theory
    1. Psychoanalysts contend that children's emotional health stems from an ability to resolve key conflicts between their internal desires and impulses and pressures from the outside world
    2. Sigmund Freud claimed that needs and desires are located in the id.
    3. The id creates a constant pressure to satisfy basic drives
    4. The ego emerges in early infancy to keep the id in check and redirects the demands of the id so that need fulfillment is sought only at appropriate times
    5. At the end of early childhood the superego appears within the personality and comprises the conscience in which all the values and mores of one's culture are included
    6. Erik Erikson proposed eight ages through which humans must pass from birth to adulthood if they are to feel competent and self-fulfilled
    7. He proposed that healthy personality growth is characterized by a resolution of inner conflicts
    8. Each stage of emotional development involves a struggle between two opposing emotional states-positive and negative
    9. The role of teachers and parents in this process is to assist children in striving toward positive emotional states which are critical to their particular stage of development
    10. Four of Erikson's stages involve conflicts in early childhood.
    11. The first of these conflicts between trust and mistrust occurs in infancy (Security v. Insecurity)
    12. The second of these conflicts between autonomy and shame and doubt occurs during the toddler years
    13. The emotionally healthy toddler gradually acquires a sense of autonomy-a feeling of individuality and uniqueness apart from his or her parents
    14. Children who develop a strong sense of autonomy as toddlers will desire to take action and assert themselves during their preschool years
    15. The urge to make creative efforts is called initiative
    16. Moderate feelings of guilt can play a positive role in development while overwhelming guilt inhibits emotional growth
    17. Children who have genuine successes in the early years and whose accomplishments are accepted and appreciated by adults and peers will develop a sense of industry while those who consistently experience failure and lack of acceptance will develop a sense of inferiority
  1. Critique and multicultural analysis of psychoanalytic point of view
    1. It does not explain development of the whole child only a narrow range of emotional states
    2. The theory does not appreciate the interrelatedness of intellectual, physical, social, and emotional growth
    3. The theories tend to view the development of male children as normal or ideal and portray unique features of female development as deficient
  1. Cognitive-Developmental Theory
    1. The cognitive -developmental theory holds that mental growth is the most important element in children's development
    2. All aspects of human life are directly influenced by thinking and language
    3. Learning involves intricate and internal mental actions; learning occurs through elaborate processes inside the learner's mind, not outside of it
    4. Jean Piaget integrated elements of psychology biology, philosophy, and logic into a comprehensive explanation of how knowledge is acquired
    5. Knowledge is constructed through the action of the learner
    6. Piaget suggested use of assimilation-assimilating new phenomenon into something already known and accommodation-modifying previous understandings
    7. If accommodation did not occur, learners would never modify their thinking about things
    8. If assimilation did not occur there would be no previous understanding to rely on
    9. The ideal learning arrangement is one in which the child is confronted with a conflict or dilemma that is personally meaningful but which causes puzzlement and requires a modification of previous thinking
    10. Humans advance through stages of cognitive development or intellectual development
    11. Each stage of a child's life are marked by qualitatively different kinds of thinking
    12. Babies are in the sensorimotor stage-they rely on action and the senses to know things
    13. Preschoolers are in the preoperational stage-they are able to use internal thought but still rely on perception and physical cues in the immediate environment for learning
    14. Children in the elementary years are in the concrete operational stage- they engage in purely abstract thought which is not tied to the physical
  1. Critique and multicultural analysis of cognitive-developmental point of view
    1. Many multicultural scholars view cognitive-developmental perspectives as quite sensitive to cultural and gender diversity because it focuses on developmental processes such as assimilation and accommodation and because it does not emphasize the acquisition of specific knowledge or skills which can vary in importance across cultures
  1. Sociocultural theory
    1. Theorists of this group believe that thinking and learning are not as internal and individual as Piaget proposed but are highly influenced by language, social interaction, and culture
    2. The originator of this theory, Lev Vygotsky argues that children construct knowledge through action
    3. He proposed that children engage in two distinct and independent mental activities in the earliest months of life-nonverbal thought and nonconceptual speech
    4. In nonverbal thought, children observe objects or events or perform actions without using language
    5. In nonconceptual speech, a child utters words or phrases without thinking about what they mean
    6. Language and thinking are at first separate processes
    7. Eventually toddlers associates objects with labels
    8. During the preschool and primary years, children engage in verbal thought in which language and thinking are integrated and mutually supportive
    9. Self-directed speech is a behavior that shows that young children are using language to guide learning
    10. Language is not merely a mode of expression but a fundamental tool for constructing knowledge
    11. Vygotsky proposes that teachers and parents scaffold children's learning-use language and other social interactions to guide thinking
    12. When children are faced with problems they can solve on their own adults should not interfere
    13. Independent thinking is an ultimate goal of teaching or parenting
    14. If tasks are too challenging adults should offer direct solutions
    15. When tasks are only slightly above a child's ability, adults can ask questions or give hints that allow the child to solve problems independently
    16. Parents and teachers should watch for moments when indirect guidance can be given-the zone of proximal development
  1. Critique and multicultural analysis of Sociocultural point of view
    1. Vygotsky's theory has been viewed as particularly practical with direct applications to teaching and parenting
    2. The Sociocultural theory receives high marks from multicultural scholars because it views development as social and collective, rather than purely individual
  1. Ecological systems theory
    1. This theory emphasizes the influence of the many institutions and settings-the community, the school, the political system-within which children live
    2. Urie Bronfenbrenner, the originator of this theory,  maintains that the family, local social service agencies, schools, state and federal governments, the media, and the current political thinking of the time all must be considered in a comprehensive explanation of human development
    3. Ecology refers to the settings and institutions that influence the growing human being
    4. He suggests that these ecologies lie in systems around the developing human
    5. The first layer-microsystem-is comprised of all institutions, experiences, and influences within the child's immediate environment including the family, pediatric services, the school, teachers or child care providers, and peers
    6. Interconnections among the units of the microsystem comprise the second layer-mesosystem
    7. The exosystem is comprised of institutions or persons that do not actually touch children's lives but which indirectly affect their experiences (ex. Friend of the family)
    8. The final system is the macrosystem which contains the overarching values, ideologies, laws, worldviews, and customs of a particular culture or society
  1. Critique and multicultural analysis
    1. Certain risk factors-conditions that may lead to poor development-have been identified.
    1. poverty
    2. lack of social services
    3. violence in the community
    4. poor housing
    5. family disharmony
    6. child abuse
    1. Protective factors-conditions that may insulate children from the negative effects of poverty or community violence-have been studied
    1. positive home environment
    2. attachment to parents
    3. adequate housing and safe neighborhoods
    4. positive preschool experience
    1. The ecological theory has been viewed as culturally sensitive
    2. Because ecological systems theory focuses on the social, political, and economic contexts in which development occurs, it is believed to be most useful in identifying social issues concerning children in poverty of those of historically under-represented groups