It is not a surprise to hear people talk of early child hood in the current world and society. The amount of people conversing on childhood development is enormous and greatly increasing since the historical times. Various people have come up with various thoughts and definitions of the same word and several others theorized on what really it involves when someone talks of early child hood. The age at which early childhood starts has sparked a lot of debate and controversies such that up to now it is not clearly visualized when early child hood starts.
The agreement put forward though by different scholars and academicians is that early child hood education is commonly used to describe the aspects of formal education and care given by other members of the society and not the family members. According to the National Association for the Education of Young children the aspects of early childhood education begins from birth to age eight. It is also agreed that this is the period of greatest growth rate and developmental milestones. It is this period that is marked by increased mental capabilities, self-esteem and awareness and moral foundations and built and natured.
It is based on such observed criteria that it is up to now accepted without reasonable doubt that child development which is greatly related to early child hood is the basis for human development. This aspect is further related to living a dignified and well balanced life based on human principles and proper behaviorism, intellect and social capabilities of an individual.
The terms such as preschool education and kindergarten emphasized education by the time the child reaches three to four months. The compatible words of early care and early education all bring the various aspects of early childhood that are taken into considerations when it arises (Healy, 2004). These concepts that have been put together to try and define life have been of great interest to man and has led to various theories that try to explain the whole affair of early childhood in a greater perspective other than in the context of social milieu.
The scholars in the field of early childhood agree that there are five domains concerning development at this age and that have to be considered. They namely isolate them as social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional. In accordance to the logical and systematic view of Jean Piaget he argues that there are four major stages to be followed for it to be declared that one has acquired cognitive development. The four include first and foremost Sensor motor Stage. According to him it is at this stage that intelligence is demonstrated merely through motor activity accompanied by limited use of symbols such as language, it is the physical interaction between the world and the infant that results to knowledge at this stage. Preoperational Stage is the second stage which occurs between 2 – 7 years. It is at this stage that intelligence is increasingly demonstrated as there is increased use of symbols.
Concrete Operations Stage that occurs between 7 and 12 years follows the preoperational stage. During this stage there is increased intelligence demonstrated by an increase in logical thoughts and manipulation of various symbols to make sense from them. The final stage of cognitive development is at age 12 years and above.
Many researchers agree that most of the first two years of life are spent by the child in establishing sense of self or the creation of a first identity. This is very crucial as it involves the children’s perspective of how they see themselves, their thinking, how their functionality would be in society and what others think of them. It is for this reason that most of the scholars agree that early care should be given in addition to employing qualified caretakers to assist in care-giving.
At all times this care should provide support and not act as substitutes of the parents. In instances where proper nurturing and nutrition in addition to proper care is not given then the child is likely to suffer from a developmental gap that will require greater time to address.
Arnold Gessell was the main person who was behind the maturationist theory. This theory is centered on the fact that development is a biological process that occurs out of human control in a predictable and well sequenced process as time goes by (Marion, 2003). This perspective in effect leads many members of the family and the teachers themselves to believe that with time the child will biologically attain the required knowledge and intellect. The maturationists believe therefore that there is no need to bother the child as they will attain full potential with time so long as the child does not get sick and has good health.
According to proponents of this theory reading is a state which can be acquired by all healthy young children and can be exhibited when they are able to recite the alphabets and numerical figures as from such they can be in a position to learn more complex ideas and new knowledge. Due to the fact that all this aspects happen naturally and automatically the supporters of this theory believe that the best thing to do to children is to exercise patience and the parents should be the ones to slowly and patiently let their children develop other than taking them to kindergarten where to some extent learning and redevelopment is not based on the developmental milestones of the child.
At times there occurs a situation that requires retaining the child in a given class when he or she developmentally lags behind. This has been used by various parents, relatives and educators so as to give ample time to the child in order the child can develop the required skills with time as per the theory of maturationist. This in effect brings out the expected qualities of the person at given points in time which should also be exhibited in other people of the same age group.
This theory happens to be in apposition to explain the laxity observed in various children as they grow. In conformity with the genetic makeup of individuals it explains why the variations in terms of intellectual abilities and capacities develop with time or change as the child grows.
The theory of behaviorism mostly attributed to the surrounding and how the surrounding influences human behavior was another important theory put forward by Skinner. In his study he noted that children’s and adults on the other hand learning can be influenced by providing reward be it financial or in kind. At the same time punishment can determine the learning abilities or behavior of an individual. It is based on the mere fact that both children and adults experience different rewards at various stages in their development.
This in effect affects the general behavior of an individual as the child is likely to associate punishment or reward with acquiring some skills in their lives. Based on these considerations the proponents of environmentalist theory believe that the environment greatly contributes to the learning and behavior of human kind at different developmental stages. This perspective leaves many educators, families and children to believe that children develop and acquire knowledge by reacting to the environmental aspects around them.
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, for example rules and regulations, curriculum activities, positive behavior in group settings, and directions and instructions from teachers and other adults in the school.
The constructivist’s perspective of readiness and development was advanced by theorists such as Jean Piaget, Maria Montessori, and Lev Vygotsky. These people believe that learning and development occurs only when children interact with the surrounding environment and the people that are within their environment. From their view children are not viewed as an empty slate so to say but as active participants in learning process. Constructivists believe children can only be ready for school if they can initiate as many as possible the interactions they have with the environment and people who surround them.
Proponents of this theory to a large extent pay a lot of attention to the physical environment and the associated curriculum of early childhood. The classes are divided into different learning centers where they are equipped with playing and learning materials mainly meant for certain age group as they grow and develop holistically. It is through such efforts that the children’s experiences are incorporated into the curriculum. At homes parents prepare their children through story telling and through introducing concepts governing daily lives in their learning while at the same time analyzing the criticality and creativity level of the children which acts as a good measure of a child’s development. Should there be difficulties in learning, the constructivists approach is different from the maturationists where the child is retained but cultivates the individualized attention and manipulate the class room teaching to help solve the problem of the child.
Though up to now many researchers have not accurately put into practice the theory of constructivists but to a large extent have agreed that in order to understand child development learning process as put forward in the theory have to be embraced. Understanding human development is not as easy as one would expect. This is due to the fact that as human beings we are governed by many factors. These factors range from an individual’s point of view to psychosocial point therefore meaning that there are various factors at play that essentially determine human development and behaviorism (Morrison, 2010). The concepts of many educators believing that unless a child is able to memorize the alphabets they cannot be considered as ready for kindergarten are long overdue and a change in concept is important in the current world.
Looking at children’s thinking and reasoning as it changes with time is another perspective that some scholars have put forward to explain early childhood development. Children actively understand the world and construct their own way of what the world is all about which is bound to change as they grow. At times their understanding is so minute that it does not reflect on the comprehensive utilization of the information to construct reality from the same. The understanding at times is created when the new information comes in and the old perspectives changed as a reaction to the current perspective.
Some of the developmental theories viewed earlier as being of substance have long been overshadowed with time and the emergency of new schools of thoughts that all aim at making things better and explaining the complexity of human development. According to all contemporary theories their views of children are a bit different in that they view children as active, purposeful beings who construct sense of their world and contribute substantially to their own development (Berk, 2003).
The shortfalls of the maturational and behavioral theory is that they view children as passive individuals who are there to be filled with information, but the current society does not view the same children in the same light. The current perspective is that learning is an active process and the children are also actively involved which is in conformity with the American seventh principle of child development and learning which states that children take an active role in their learning.
Though it would sound logical to isolate one single theory and relate it to early childhood it cannot completely explain the holistic and several factors that are at play in explaining early childhood development. The various biological, social and psychological interactions of these aspects have to be taken into consideration in order to enhance early childhood development. The teachers understanding of the relevant theories ultimately will determine how such children should be handled both at social and classroom level to produce the best that can be in the development of human beings as a whole.
I chose the constructivist’s theory as I feel it aligns with my perspective of early childhood development; children have an active role to play in their education. This role they play with their interaction with the environment. I also chose this theory because I believe that in today’s society, a child’s interaction with the environment should be controlled. For example, parents should control what their children are viewing on the internet and on television as these interactions define their learning. I also support this theory because it takes note of the environment by acknowledging that a child’s growth cannot be evaluated without putting into consideration the environment they are in.
In conclusion there is need to be open minded and address the various developmental milestones of children as it is required giving full knowledge to the fact that the children are not passive but active leaner’s in this current society.
Berk, L. E. (2003), Child development. Boston: Allyn and Bacon
Marion, M. (2003). Guidance of young children. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Morrison, G. (2010). Early Childhood Today. New York: Pearson
Healy, M. J. (2004). Your Child’s Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning from Birth