There are many theories that have studied the way children develop. An understanding of child development is important as it allows us to fully appreciate the cognitive, emotional, physical, social, and educational growth that children go through from birth and into early adulthood. It allows us to understand why children act as they do and helps to improve knowledge and practice.
Cognitive theory is an approach that tries to explain the human behaviour, understanding your thought process. It also looks at how these thought processes influence how we understand and interact with the world. Jean Piaget is one of the most famous theories who studied cognitive development. Piaget has had an impact on the way childcare practitioner’s view a child’s learning and the way they are taught, particularly in pre-school and nurseries. Piaget theory not only focuses on development but also on the understanding of the nature of intelligence. He argued that there was a natural sequence for the development of thought; child had to be at a particular stage of development to be able to learn new concepts before being able to move on to the next stage. Piaget believed that children take an active role in the learning process. As children interact with the world around them, they continually add new knowledge, build upon existing knowledge, and adapt previously held ideas to accommodate new information. His theory suggests that there are four stages of development, from birth to adulthood. The first stage, sensorimotor stage, describes the first two years of a child’s life. During the sensorimotor stage children go through a period of dramatic growth and learning. The second stage is the preoperational stage from around two to six or seven it is the emergence of language that is one of the major hallmarks of the preoperational stage of development. He suggests that in this stage children learn through pretend play but struggle with logic and understanding the idea of constancy. In the third stage, the concrete stage which Piaget says is from about seven to eleven years of age, logical thought develops, children begin to thinking logically about concrete events. During this stage, children also become less egocentric and begin to think about how other people might think and feel. The fourth and final stage is the formal operations stage, which begins around the age of twelve up to adulthood. Piaget claims that this stage was characterised by orderly thinking. People become capable of seeing multiple potential solutions to problems and think more scientifically about the world around them. Piaget suggested that there is a qualitative change in how children think as they gradually process through these four stages. Piaget overall conclusion is that children were no less intelligent that adults, children simply think in a different way. He suggests that children built up their thoughts according to their experiences. He called this a schema. Piaget felt that learning was an ongoing process and children adapt their schemas when they have new experiences. Piaget believed that children had to be ready to learn and that it was not enough to teach ideas by reinforcement or practice.
B.F. Skinner would argue this as he believed that learning is based on reinforcements or consequences that follow the initial behaviour. Behaviourist believes that learning is influenced by rewards and by punishments; they are use the term conditioning. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behaviour. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning states that the process does not require repeated efforts, but is instead an immediate reaction to a familiar stimulus. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behaviour and a consequence. Reinforcement is the key element in Skinner’s theory; a reinforcer is anything that strengthens the desired response. It could be verbal praise, a good grade or a feeling of increased accomplishment or satisfaction. He divided the consequences into three groups positive reinforcers, this is a good way of encouraging learning as we get something we want for doing something, this should not be used for unwanted behaviour as it could encourage it. Negative reinforcers, can also make us repeat behaviour to stop something happening again and the third action is punishers, these should act as a deterrent to repeating behaviour. If reinforcement is not used at the time, but given later then this weakens the effect of the reinforcement. While it is generally known that behaviour is affected by its consequences, Skinner suggested that we also learn through making our own conclusions about the consequences of our behaviour, that we are active and involved in our learning.
Attachment theory is a concept in developmental psychology that looks at the importance of “attachment” in regards to personal development. Specifically, it makes the claim that the ability for an individual to form an emotional and physical “attachment” to another person gives a sense of stability and security necessary to take risks, branch out, and grow and develop as a personality. Psychologist John Bowlby was the first attachment theorist, describing attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1969, p. 194). Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. He also found children who were deprived of a relationship with a primary caregiver are more likely to have behaviour problems later in life. Bowlby also believed there were three stages of separation anxiety. The first protest children cry and are angry when their primary care giver leaves. Second the behaviour is calmer and children may show comfort behaviour and the third is detachment the child may seem over the detachment and start to join in as the child copes with the separation to forget the relationship.
Schaffer and Emerson (1964) found that half of all children showed their first specific attachment at the age of 6-8 months. Attachment to other key figures in their lives followed quickly after the initial strong attachment usually to the mother (Mcleod,S 2009). Bowlby later agreed with this theory suggesting that babies and young children were capable of multiple attachments. Schaffer and Emerson found that attachments are most likely to form to those who are prepared to play and interact with the child and who remain as consistent caregivers for some months during the period from about six months to two years of age. When an infant begins to crawl and walk they begin to use the attachment figure as a secure base to explore from and return to.
1.2 Explain the potential impact on service provision of different theories and approaches
Theories of development have influenced early year curriculum and contributed to the good practice of childcare practitioner. It is important that childcare workers understand the importance of theorists and the approaches used today to understand of how a child develops. Also children are seen as individuals and each child’s needs are met so that they are offered appropriate opportunities to support their development. Piaget believes that children learn and develop through stages and sequences, that there is a natural sequence for the development of thought; child had to be at a particular stage of development to be able to learn new concepts before being able to move on to the next stage. The Early Years Foundation Stage is divided into age and stages and as we observe children we follow age and stage progress and complete assessments looking at the age and stages children are at, if a child is not progressing through the stages then we act on this looking at what support is needed, planning for individual children at the level and style they are. Other practical implications of his theory are Piaget believes children are active learners as practitioners we encourage children to actively learn by providing stimulating environments and planning adult led activities with open ended resources giving children control over their learning following their interests giving them experiences in the real world.
Skinner’s operant conditioning highlights behaviour is a response to a stimulus. Operant conditioning is often used to encourage good behaviour, rewarding wanted behaviour with praise or stickers, we have an I’m a star because board to encourage behaviour in preschool, it could be for good helping, being nice to friends, good listening. Practitioners also sometimes use a sticker chart for displaying wanted behaviour. Some practitioners have used an ABC chart. An ABC chart is an observational tool that allows us to record information about a particular behaviour. The aim of using an ABC chart is to better understand what the behaviour is communicating. Also his theory is based on that children learn being active in the learning process, that they use their sense to explore situations before drawing conclusions about them.
Bowlby’s research changed childcare practice at the time and this is the reason why there is a ratio for the under twos of 1:3(Forbes, Blake, Hill 2009). Bowlby believed that patterns of making relationships are formed in the very early stages of a child’s life, through their very first relationship with their main attachment figure. It is important that children experience positive and loving early attachments, from which they can grow in confidence and independence. The Key Person Approach is described as ‘a way of working in nurseries in which the whole focus and organisation is aimed at enabling and supporting close attachments between individual children and individual nursery staff’ (Elfer, Goldschmeid and Selleck, p.18). A practitioner is responsible for a small group of children being their key person. Before a child is due to start at the early years setting settle sessions are arranged with the parent. These sessions are for the practitioners to find out more about the child such as who is in their family, what they like to do, how they like to be held and any other information that needs to be shared. In a professional way, the Key Person needs to demonstrate three characteristics: availability, sensitivity and warmth to enable a child to grow and develop.