The significance of early childhood learning seems to be largely underrated nowadays (Rivera, 2008). A range of parents prefer to leave the task of helping their child develop the required cognitive and analytical skills to teachers, which results in a child being completely unprepared for not only academic activities, but also for learning in general (Slavin, 2012). An introduction of a learning theory, which will explain the significance and the mechanics of early childhood learning, as well as the role of parents and teachers as educators in this process, will allow for increasing the students’ academic performance and developing the strategy that will enhance young learners’ motivation for academic progress (Bylund, Baxter, Imes & Wolf, 2010).
Learning Theory and Its Importance
The significance of learning theory is hard to underestimate. The principles outlined by Piaget in his study have allowed for identifying the key stages at which the process of learning occurs (Laurie, Garrett & Buka, 2004), thus, creating the opportunity for optimizing the [learning process and helping students acquire the necessary knowledge and skills at a much faster pace and in a more efficient manner. Moreover, the theory suggested by Piaget has spawned a range of teaching strategies, therefore, making the process of customizing the teaching strategies relatively easy (Slavin, 2012).
According to Piaget, the process of environment cognition and acquisition of the basic skills occurs since the day that the person is born and continues through the rest of their life. The sensorimotor stage, which takes place up until the age of two, presupposes that one cognizes the world around them by using each of the five senses (Levinowitz, 1999); based on the outcomes of the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage commences and lasts until one reaches the age of seven. During the preoperational stage, the absence of concrete logic is compensated through the active participation in games and other activities contributing to the development of logics and the key skills. It should be noted that the pre-operational stage is traditionally viewed as one of the most complex ones, as it includes two key substages, i.e., the symbolic function substage and the intuitive thought substage.
The former presupposes that the students’ capacity of retrieving information through symbols and images is used as the key to training their skills. While it does open a plethora of opportunities for teachers to develop unique strategies by incorporating modern media, the emphasis is usually put not on the symbolic function substage, but on the one that follows it. The evolution of students’ intuitive thought, or, to be more exact, the intrinsic understanding of the logical; principles that make the foundation of most scientific concepts, is truly fascinating. Finally, the concrete operational stage, which can be observed once a child reaches the age of 7 and up until the child is 11, should be mentioned. At this point, a student must develop the ability of making basic logical conclusions and carrying out the processes of deduction and induction (Blerkorn, 2011).
As an overview of Piaget’s theory provided above shows, the activities, which a child carries out before the third (operational) stage is reached, define their skills. In other word, by developing a unique approach that will help a student acquire knowledge and train the corresponding skills properly, one will help a child evolve into a full-fledged learner. The omission of proper training, in its turn, is most likely to have a drastic effect on a child’s progress as a learner and is bound to trigger major complexities in the child’s further academic life.
Piaget’s theory has admittedly been taken as the basis for the study, since it allows for a more detailed understanding of the cognition processes that children undergo as a part of their development. Piaget’s framework is perfect for creating the strategies that will trigger a learner’s enthusiasm in children; more to the point, it allows for determining the stages at which children should be taught the basics of logics, which is an essential part of becoming a learner. Piaget’s framework defines the teaching strategies, which are acceptable at each stage of a child’s development; as a result, it proves that early learning is possible and even essential for the future evolution of a learner (Blerkorn, 2011).
It should be noted that, apart from the theory suggested by Piaget, a developmental framework by Vygotsky and Erikson exist. While the latter is mentioned quite rarely due the specifics of the framework, particularly, its focus, Erikson’s concept of development deserves to be mentioned. In contrast to Piaget, who clearly paid more attention to the process of cognition that metacognition, Erikson, quite on the contrary, addresses the issue of a child’s self, or ego. Erikson’s theory of childhood development, though obviously introversive, provides an opportunity to consider the process of learning through the lens of a student.
As a result, the coordination of the personal and the academic development becomes possible. To design a comprehensive teaching strategy, which can be tailored to the needs of any student, it is crucial to take the evolution of the student’s ego into account; therefore, Erikson’s theory must be incorporated into the framework (Sokol, 2009).
In addition to Erikson’s and Piaget’s theories of early childhood development, the theory created by Vygotsky must be incorporated into the framework. There is no secret that, apart from his brilliant theory of child development, the researcher was also known for the idea of introducing a child to the world of cognition through playing.
Games are an integral part of child development, as Piaget outlined in one of his major works (Currie, 2001); Vygotsky, in his turn, took the idea of games as a part and parcel of cognition development and built his framework around the concept of a game as the major tool in teaching children the basic skills. Therefore, it will be reasonable to suggest that games should also become an essential part of any teaching strategy; moreover, the customized learning theory in question must be based on the concept of games as the key to teaching the students the basic knowledge. In addition, in connection to the previous statement concerning the necessity for parents to take part in their children’s education, parents must also include developing games into the pastime of their children.
Description of an Effective Teacher and Learning Environment
As it has been explained above, an efficient teacher must be ready to adopt a unique approach towards the students, who experience certain difficulties in learning the subject. Defining the proper learning environment that will facilitate the process of new information acquisition and the training of new skills based on the suggestions made above is quite complicated. The fact that two learning environments instead of one have to be modified seems to cause the greatest concern.
Claiming that school is the only learning environment for children would be wrong, since, according to Vygotsky and Piaget, a lot depends on the very first phase of young learners’ evolution, which occurs at home. Hence, the environment that students live in must also undergo slight modifications; particularly, the process of game playing must be related to acquiring specific academic skills, not to mention the fact that parents must take active part in shaping the young child’s attitude towards the process of learning and teach their children to be positive about the latter (Slavin, 2012).
Apart from interactive games, in the course of which a young learner trains the skills needed for them to be successful in their academic life, efficient communication with parents must be promoted. Researches show that the students, who are actively supported by their family members, especially parents, in their academic endeavors, attain success faster and easier.
At present, a number of strategies on enhancing the learning process exist. Introducing the strategies that include a learner-centered approach seems a legitimate step only at the stages where students feel independent enough to solve simple problems and apply theory to practice easily. Therefore, a learner-centered approach should be considered an option for the further stages of a learner’s development, i.e., the ones, at which a learner develops academic independence.
At the earliest stages of a learner’s progress, a slightly different strategy must be chosen. To be more exact, a constructivist approach should be encouraged. Thus, the setting for metacognition will be created. As a result, the students will be able to understand the very mechanism of learning. It is expected that metacognition will help students in acquiring knowledge in a more efficient manner by using the techniques that they consider most appropriate (e.g., drilling, modeling, etc.).
Needless to say, the developed theory is very “raw,” and it will require numerous alterations as soon as it is applied to practice. However, as a starting point for understanding the needs of students and encouraging their academic enthusiasm at the earliest stages of their evolution as learners, this theory is bound to bring certain results. The incorporation of a student-centered approach, parental involvement and the process of metacognition into the academic setting help coordinate all major factors that define a learner’s development; as a result, young learners’ enthusiasm is expected to rise. In the best case scenario, lifelong learning can be promoted among students.
Despite the fact that the issue of early childhood learning has been discussed quite widely, educators and parents need to be reminded of the necessity to develop children’s skills of analysis and synthesis, because the skills required for further academic success and lifelong learning are developed in the early childhood. The lack of emphasis on the importance of early childhood in the present-day education setting calls for a reconsideration of the existing learning theory and the creation of an updated and more relevant theory of childhood learning. Apart from the integration of new strategies into the teaching process, the significance of parental involvement must be reconsidered so that students could receive enough encouragement and support from their families; thus, the process of early childhood learning and the acquisition of the corresponding skills will be launched.
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