Children’s Early Learning and Development

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This paper offers a framework for explaining how researchers, educators and the rest of the society’s perception regarding the child educational development contribute to learning and development. Moreover, this framework explores relations between various theoretical views on children’s cognitive and social growth, the role of the society and educators in fostering this growth, typical learning practices related to each perception, and the abilities of the child that are highlighted within each view.

Implications for incorporating children’s early learning and development research into teacher education programs are discussed. There is a widespread perception that understanding early childhood learning and development facilitates teaching.

Consequently, many states incorporate early child development programs for educators and experts regard child development knowledge as inevitable for teacher preparation. The goal of this paper is to explore theoretical perspectives and empirical research that can influence teacher preparation and direct further research on the role of the other factors such as play, family, and communities on child development. The gaps in the existing research will be examined in a bid to facilitate debate regarding the potential importance of these factors and suggest directions for further research.

Traditional model vs. project based models

The traditional approach to early childhood learning and development entails teachers’ typical use of themes to plan and generate the curriculum. In this model, themes are selected by the teacher or issued by a predetermined curriculum. This approach is a manifestation of what teachers believe is essential towards children’s cognitive development. Consequently, the children avail themselves and contribute in whatever tasks are presented. Essentially, this approach seems to manifest an image of the child as a passive consumer of information. The teacher acts on personal beliefs about what the children need to know and how to present it to them. This model fails to support an engaged image of the child.

On the other hand, project-based models are founded on the interests of the children rather than what is believed to fascinate the child. The image of the child is presented as an active one, providing the child with an opportunity to construct knowledge by interacting with others and experiences (Fraser, 2012). Conventionally, teachers are expected to point out the things of significance to leaners by using different mediums and skills like talking, observation, and listening.

For instance, a teacher might notice that toy cars in the classroom are very popular with children. The teacher should reflect on what component of the car fascinates the children most. If it is the wheels, then that might spark a whole topic on wheels by asking students to point out things that relate to wheels. This model gives an image of the child as active and motivated in making meaning of the world as well as ideas and reflections that are of significance.

However, the project-based model begins by understanding what the children knows by engaging in discussions with peers or the teacher. These interactions result in a series of questions the children pose about a certain topic. In this light, the image of the child is portrayed as of an individual full of thoughts and cues as well as thrilled to indulge in understanding more about the topic.

Researchers and the teachers’ perspectives on the image of the child

All exploration regarding how children learn and develop is informed by a certain perception of the child. In other words, this perception is what is referred to as the Image of the child as evidenced in Reggio Emilia’s work (Fraser, 2012). Image of the child refers to what an individual or a group of individuals, perceives, and understand concerning the role of children in learning and society. This image entails how people think regarding children’s abilities, goals, motivations, and needs. Individuals’ view of children is subject to different aspects including socio-cultural and historical experiences among others.

According to Curtis and Carter (2013), each member of the society develops an image of the child through his or her experiences as members of a particular culture or community. In most cases, people may not know their views and perspectives towards others. Therefore, educators should analyze their views concerning learners because such views influence the decision-making process in the learning practice.

Theoretical perspectives

This section examines how children are viewed in the contemporary early childhood contexts and the reason educators need to understand early childhood development. Developmental and educational scholars have explored the essence of the early childhood development education for educators for many decades. However, real educational undertakings have been grounded on perceptions of learning and development orchestrated by either behaviorist view or by controversial biological conceptions implying that intelligence is predetermined, or children develop on their own.

The contemporary theorists have denounced such views and practices, and they are pioneering educational practices defined by current knowledge concerning how children should learn and grow. Similar sentiments to development among these scholars involve the ideas that meaningful teaching must be grounded on creating an informed image about the child and the view of the child as inevitable agents in their development. Emilia shares these views by suggesting that educators must understand that children assume an active role in interacting with their surroundings and people around them create meaning regarding how things happen (Fraser, 2012). Emilia defines this model of learning as a constructivist approach.

According to Mayall (2001), various bodies of research view cognitive development from the constructivist, socialistic perspective. In this sense, children create their knowledge and understanding during interactions with teachers, family, and peers. Therefore, teachers should be prepared to listen and realize children’s interests and ideas. Reggio Emilia’s philosophy about the image of the child insists that teachers should practice to interpret and reflect on potential ideas manifested by children.

According to Siegel (2006), fostering mental growth among children is a collaborative role for teachers, parents, and the community since all the involved parties share the idea of the child’s past and present experience. These aspects can be linked to the subject matter to streamline children’s development. Like Emilia, some of the Piaget’s basic ideas are consistent with the claim that educators need to comprehend child development given the ongoing drive for learning institutions to facilitate autonomous thinking for learners to function effectively in the rapidly evolving information age (Fraser, 2012).

Curtis and Carter (2013) build on Piaget’s basic tenets about children development that claim that children and adults reasoning vary qualitatively. Therefore, adults should be in a position to engage children by constructing hands-on learning activities based on children’s interests. This researcher on analyzing Piaget’s standpoint on active learning points that the role of the educator is to establish what the child knows and reasons in a bid to pose the right query at the intended time for the learner to create his/her knowledge. Regardless, Piaget’s contribution to early childhood education creates simplistic misconceptions in which children are viewed as incapable of learning much on their own. Such unfortunate constraints raise issues concerning how to teach children to be autonomous thinkers.

Perspectives on the child’s ability

In this section, research on perceptions of the child’s ability and intelligence is explored together with views on social and contextual influences on development. According to Wood (2009), educators across many parts of the globe report ability as a principle cause of child learning and progress. This research distinguishes between intellectual ability and interpersonal ability and argues that intelligence is a moldable trait that can be developed through motivation.

Other concepts argue that intelligence is fixed, innate trait of a person. However, the flexible view of intelligence is more incorporable than a fixed view since it promotes tolerance in the face of problems. According to Hughes (2007), educators differ in the way they perceive intellectual ability as fixed or flexible and that such views affect how they relate with learners. For instance, studies suggest that educators, who see speech ability as fixed, feel less effective, and they play a critical role in managing the learners’ behavior as opposed to those who see speech ability as flexible.

Learning practices have also been linked to other biological-oriented perspectives of development. Such views are based on the argument that children learn on their driven by innate tendencies to explore and create meaning of their immediate environment. Educators who base their claims on such knowledge tend to play a passive role. Unfortunately, such views are likely to lead to retention or delaying learning rather than steering developmentally appropriate and timely educational opportunities for students. Following the current emphasis on achievement, it is expected that educators holding such views will learn to ensure convenient learning opportunities for children.

At the other end, a behaviorist view would be better to explain how children develop. A behaviorist view suggests that children do not develop by themselves but rather growth entails learning sets of responses to contextual stimuli such as family, community, or the teacher. However, the behaviorist approach warns of the tendency of teachers to control every activity to an extent of making children reproduce their views. Instead, this theory advocates for educators to maximize children’s natural ability to steer innovation, autonomy, and critical thinking.

The pedagogy of play

The research explored in this section emanates from a vast literature on the importance of play in early learning contexts. Contemporary perspectives of play in early learning and teacher perspectives on the role of play in learning environments are also explored.

Outdoor and indoor learning atmospheres should be encouraging and acceptable to young children. Safe, tidy, warm, and accessible atmospheres for children, involving those with special needs, should enhance opportunities to play and reflect. Learning is restricted and may be halted if children are kept indoors with adults do everything and expecting children to adhere to their expectations. The appropriate learning environment should provide children with opportunities to make decisions, explore, play, and command control over their bodies.

Teachers should ensure that they offer typical learning experiences to children based on what fascinates the children. For instance, if children are observed to be interested in ball-shaped objects, it is essential to invite them to go out on a ball hunt within the school. This aspect will factor out some conceptions about what children think is a ball. The teacher should let the children offer reasons as to why they think their choices resemble a ball. Through interactive discussions, the children come to various realizations about the ball. For example, balls are round, they roll, balls make other things roll or balls might have something inside them.

Consequently, children generate a meaning of a ball. In this scenario, right answers might be part of the agenda but more critical should be, the change to think, collect data, rethink or develop meanings (Fraser, 2012). When the environment initiates play, children show improved verbal communication, imaginative and problem-solving capabilities. Thus, early childhood educators should seek ways to contemplate children’s theories and ideas about how to streamline the play aspects in the learning process (Fleer, 2004). Essentially, play is a natural bridge for holistic learning and development when the environment is enabling.

Personal implication of pedagogical practice with young children

Young children are active and explorative. Their minds and bodies are developing at a high rate, and they are starting to understand their personality and those of others. Thus, a child’s well-being is a fundamental basis for early learning and development. Such foundation is built within the framework of warm and supporting relationships with the family, teacher, and the society. Research has implied that children learn through interactions.

Such interactions are predetermined by the image the teacher creates about a child. A teacher’s image may foster or inadvertently impede this goal. Child’s emotional and psychological well-being is directly connected to the effectiveness of early relations and cognitive development (Zygmunt-Fillwalk, & Hufffman, 2012). When young children are handled with care, warmth, respect, and interest from caregivers or other adults, they become courageous to learn and develop through sensory-motor mechanisms.

This scholar viewed trust as the central building block that enables a young child to explore the unknown, bearing in mind that the people around will offer support whenever needed. Autonomy is the ability to act independently, exploration and reflection that compels a child to make resolutions. An initiative is an ability of a child to start and go through a situation and make conclusions of their new findings. Empathy is the ability that enables a child to acknowledge others’ conditions by relating to similar situations faced. Then lastly is confidence to believe in one’s capability to do a task. These traits are primary elements that child caregivers and early childhood educators must learn to facilitate through cordial relationships (Zygmunt-Fillwalk, & Hufffman, 2012).

Implications for teacher education

This section aims to help educators, parents and the community in developing more informed image about children and correspondingly enlightened learning practices. This section does not advocate for the most sophisticated or current perspectives and doing away with the conventional approaches. Contrary, this section advocates for a variety of developmental options that are flexible and probably best. A rigid, self-centered viewpoint on children’s learning can be eliminated if one moves from theory to theory in a bid to understand this phenomenon.

Vast research has explored how to assist teachers learn and employ developmental elements, but less is known regarding how to meet these objectives (Fleer, 2004). Based on the reviewed literature, this article suggests that developmental psychologists are uniquely endowed to overcome the barriers inherent in understanding and planning to foster teachers’ practice. However, further research is fundamental before firm recommendations can be passed.

Most of the available literature on teacher’s perspective among early childhood educators holds that teachers remain pessimistic. Despite undergoing sophisticated training programs, teachers’ perception of the child as a learner presents a pessimistic view. However, this trend is not uniform among all teachers since some present beliefs consistent with practices recommended by teacher educators. Based on these findings, it is recommendable that teacher-training programs incorporate screening to identify applicants’ broader image about the child.


The concept of standardized learning outcomes affects the way children are taught by not appreciating the role of a child as an active learner. Nonetheless, this backdrop should not limit teachers from unearthing and thinking of these critical ideas. The project-based model concentrates on inquiry and investigation based on credible and empirical subjects. On a deeper note, the Reggio Emilio approach introduces abstract ideas and the process of generating theories as a critical aspect of learning.

These two approaches are viewed as an upgrade of the traditional model rather than its replacement. This assertion holds because each model offers avenues to demonstrate learning outcomes even though from varying perspectives. However, it is upon the childhood educators to decide how to manage an image of the child an active and motivated learner. Ideally, teachers are in a position to influence the atmosphere where they can realize the strength and intensity of children’s knowledge, the capacity to indulge in learning and reasoning together.


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Fraser, S. (2012). Reggio Emilia in the classroom/the image of the child. In S. Fraser (Ed.), Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the classroom (pp. 1-48). Toronto, ON: Nelson Thompson Learning.

Hughes, E. (2007). Linking past to present to create an image of the child. Theory into Practice, 46(1), 48-56.

Mayall, B. (2001). The sociology of childhood in relation to children’s rights. The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 8, 243-259.

Siegel, M. (2006). Rereading the signs: Multimodal transformations in the field of literacy education. Language Arts, 84(1), 65-77.

Wood, E. (2009). Developing a pedagogy of play. In A. Anning, J. Cullen & M. Fleer (Eds.), Early childhood education: Society and culture (pp. 27-38). London, UK: Sage.

Zygmunt-Fillwalk, E., & Hufffman, R. (2012). A Picture literally is worth a thousand words! using documentation to increase family involvement. Journal of International Association of Laboratory and University Affiliated Schools, 2(2), 1-8.

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ChalkyPapers. "Children’s Early Learning and Development." February 12, 2022.