This paper aims to construct a concept map that provides an overview of the most important theories and approaches in the field of early childhood education. This analysis will enable us to create a positive learning environment for a specific age group. Moreover, it will help us to single out the most important elements of childhood education. At first we need to focus on such educational theory as social constructivism. It originates from the idea that the person acquires new knowledge through interaction with other people and the environment. The major principle of this educational approach lies in the fact that learning must be closely linked with a person’s daily activities (New & Cochran, 2008, p 744). In other words, the person must be understand, how the knowledge and skills will help him/her at present or in the future. This approach is particularly helpful for the education young children who have only entered primary schools, but they do not understand to learn multiplication table or spelling rules. The supporters of constructivism theory insist that teachers should be able to explain the benefits of learning to children.
Another theoretical approach to be analyzed is cognitivism. The adherents of this educational theory believe that acquisition of knowledge and skills depends not only upon the environment but also on psychological peculiarities of the person like his/her memory (that can be visual, auditory or tactile), learning style, temperament, cognitive skills and so forth (News & Cochran, 2008, p 734). In this case, the key task of educators is to take into account these cognitive peculiarities of the child. It is particularly important for those teachers, tailoring assignments for primary school students, whose age ranges from 5 to 10. The thing is that children, belonging to this age group, differ immensely in terms of psychological development, and educator will need to find an individual approach to each of the students. For this purpose, understanding of cognitive theory will be very useful.
When we are speaking about cognitivism, we also need to discuss developmental stage theory, put forward by Jean Piaget. He believed that children’s psychological development progresses should not be viewed as a reaction to the environments; on the contrary, he believed that children actively explored the world and tried to form their own impressions about it (Piaget as cited in Keenan, 2003, p 119). The major advantage of Piaget’s theory is that it allows educators to understand how learn, for example, through sensory experience, imitation of others, logic or intuition. Additionally, Piaget accurately describes various stages of child’s psychological development helps to teachers determine what kind of learning activities would be more suitable for a specific age groups such infants, toddlers or young children.
To a great extent, the theory of experiential learning, developed by David Kolb is closely related to cognitivism. He believes that learning consists of four stages observation, action, conceptualization and planning (Kolb, 1984). From Kolb’s point of view, the process of learning can be most effective when a student passes through each of these stages. In this way, he/she would be able to analyze information, evaluate it, and apply it at a practical level.
In this paper, we also need to examine the ideas of such psychologist and educator as Lev Vygotsky. He introduced such concept as zone of proximate development. This concept can be defined as “the distance between the actual developmental level, determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined by problem solving by parent guidance” (Vygotsky & Cole, 1998, p 97). Vygotsky’s ideas can be particularly beneficial for educators who try to develop assessment methods. Vygostky argued that while evaluating students’ progress, educators must focus on their ability to apply knowledge, rather than ability to memorize facts.
Finally, it is necessary to discuss the theory of education, proposed by Rudolf Steiner; it is also known as Waldorf education. Rudolf Steiner set stress on the idea that a child must not be regarded as a passive recipient of information and learning should not be based only on observation and imitation. Steiner argues that the learner must be able to analyze information, assess it, and apply this knowledge. This educational philosophy attaches importance to creative problem-solving and imagination (Steiner, 2003). On the basis of this discussion, we can construct a concept map of these theories; it can take this form.
This concept map comprises two groups of clusters:
- educational theories that explaining the process of learning;
- the key principles of these educational theories.
The second group of clusters is organized in such a way that they would describe the major tasks of educators such as to assess cognitive development of the child, to tailor tasks that are most suitable for his/her developmental level, to promote the child’s creativity and so forth. Understanding of these educational theories is vital for any teacher, who must know about a child’s needs at a certain stage of development. The teacher must also know about the learning style of student and the process of acquiring new skills. Previously, we have discussed the Theory of Cognitive Development, advanced by Jean Piaget. He provides an accurate description of how cognitive skills of the child evolve during the first ten years of his life. For example, the educator, who wants to create a positive learning environment for an infant, a child, whose age ranges from two to seven. At this stage, they become interested in the inner structure and properties of things. This is why a teacher can provide the child with such toys as construction sets or puzzles as they can stimulate the development of the infant’s cognitive skills. This example demonstrates the importance of educational theories for creating a positive learning environment.
The second part of this paper will detail on educational models or the ways of translating theory into practice. The first educational model that we need to discuss is the method, was developed by Maria Montessori. This method is based on the premise that psychological and intellectual development of a child can progress normally, only if his/her individual characteristics are taken into account by the educator. This is why children must be provided with an opportunity of self-directed learning. Furthermore, the distinguishing feature of Montessori Method is that a child must derive pleasure from learning, this process must not be regarded a duty or obligation, imposed by someone else.
The method that has been worked out by Reggio Emilia is very much analogous to that one of Montessori. For example, it also attaches importance to the fact that a child must have a relative degree of autonomy. More than that, the very process of learning must be closely related to the daily activities of the infant. Finally, early childhood education must provide him or her with an opportunity for self-expression, as it is crucial for nurturing creative skills of the toddler. It should be borne in mind that this method strongly relies on active participation of parents, who are supposed to closely collaborate with teachers.
The developmental approach, advanced by the scholars of Bank Street College of Education, greatly resembles the methods of Maria Montessori and Reggio Emilia. It originates from the ideas of Jean Piaget, who believed educators must avoid intruding into activities of the child. This intrusion must be as inconspicuous as possible. According to this approach, at this stage of development, an infant acts mostly as an explorer who tries to discover the properties of things. The key task of parents and educators is to create such a learning environment that will prompt him to use his/her cognitive skills and rudiments of critical thinking. Again, the critical issue is that the child must not realize that he/she is being guided by someone else as this can trigger a negative attitude to learning. This technique is closely related to the High/Scope educational philosophy. The only difference is that High/Scope is primarily designed for the needs of institutional environment. It is particularly suitable for the needs of kindergartens and primary schools. Again, the main peculiarity of this model is that a child should learn through action, while parents and educators must be facilitators of this process, but not the drivers.
We must also discuss such educational program as Head Start. To some extent, it is similar to Montessori Method because it also appreciates the uniqueness of every child. However, this approach adds some very important elements to early childhood education, namely, early identification of any health problems and active involvement of parents. According to Head Start approach, early education of a child is a joint responsibility of teachers and parents. In addition to that, a parent has to possess certain skills if he or she wants to be an active participant of educational process. These features are the main distinctions of Head Start.
Finally, one has to consider such learning theory as Behaviorism because it gave rise to each of the previous models and approaches. It postulates that learning has to correspond to the normal behavior of child. The normal behavior of an infant is exploration of the surrounding world and play. The supporters of this theory emphasize the importance of giving a stimulus to the child. As a rule, such stimulus is called positive or negative reinforcement that either encourages or discourages certain forms of behavior. On the basis of this discussion, it will be possible for us to create a concept map. It can take this form.
Early Childhood Education
This concept map consists of two groups of clusters. The first one represents theories of learning that we have discussed in the previous section of the paper. The second group of clusters presents the principles of these theories and models. These clusters show how parents and educators can create an environment that would help to develop cognitive and social skills of the infant. In this diagram the arrows show the contribution of each theoretical model and the priority of each element. Overall, the creation of such concept map serves two purposes. On the one hand, it enables us to get a better understanding of various theoretical frameworks, dominant in the field of early childhood education. On the other, it helps us to better visualize the process of early childhood and single out the main steps that must be taken by parents and educators.
Keenan. T. (2002) An introduction to child development. London: SAGE.
Kolb D. (1984) Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. NY: Prentice-Hall.
New R.S. & Cochran. M. (2008) Early Childhood Education. NY: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Steiner. R. (2003). What is Waldorf education?: three lectures. SteinerBooks.
Vygotskiǐ. L. S. & Cole M (transl). (1978). Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.