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Developmental Trends

Devon Radant

| Home | A Research Project | Critique of Education Headlines | ASSURE | Unit of Instruction | Assessment | VFT | Developmental Trends | Curriculum Standards | Curriculum Overview

Jean Piaget is perhaps one of the best-known educational psychologists.  His work changed the face of education.  “The legacy of Jean Piaget to the world of early childhood education is that he fundamentally altered the view of how a child learns” (Jean Piaget, 2001, 1).  Teachers, he proposed, were more than just transmitters of knowledge; they should be guides helping students construct their own knowledge.  Piaget asserts that children who are allowed to make mistakes often go on to discover their errors and correct them or find new solutions.  He concludes that children do not learn like adults.  Children are not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge, but active builders of knowledge, little scientists who construct their own theories of the world. 

Most elementary age children fall into Piaget’s third stage of development: Concrete Operations (approximately 6-11 years old).  In this stage, children can perform concrete mental operations with symbols and organize objects by their qualities.  In conclusion, Piaget suggests that children’s learning experiences should be hands-on and concrete. Children need to explore the nature of things through trial and error.

In addition to Piaget, many others have helped to forge developmentally appropriate teaching methods for young children.  Jean Jacques Rousseau believed that children should learn from their own experience and be responsible for their own learning.  Friedrich Froebel ascertained that individualization in the classroom was paramount for children and that teachers should provide an interesting and stimulating environment for students.  John Dewy stated that children need first-hand experiences to learn and that child-centered classroom was the best educational approach. 

The debated over child-centered versus teacher-centered is centuries old.  But the call for developmentally appropriate practice supports the child-centered environment.  Developmental appropriateness has two characteristics.  First, age appropriateness takes into account the predictable sequences of growth and change.  This provides a framework for teachers to prepare learning experiences.  Secondly, individual appropriateness acknowledges that each child is a unique person with individual pattern and timing of growth.  Therefore, a developmentally appropriate curriculum must:

      Provide for all areas of a child’s development through the integrated curriculum

      Be based on teachers’ observations and recordings of each child’s special interests and developmental progress

      Emphasize learning as an interactive process

      Offer learning experiences and materials that are concrete and relevant to the lives of the children

      Provide for a wider range of developmental interests and abilities than the chronological age range would suggest

      Provide a variety of activities and materials that increase in difficulty and complexity as the children develop understanding skills

(Dever & Hobbs 1998, 7-8)


The child-centered curriculum that is characteristic of most developmentally appropriate primary elementary programs is integrated, theme-based, allows children to make decisions, accounts for differences in learning styles, using quality reading material, gives the child time to express him/herself, offers opportunities to develop cooperation, and involves active learning.  Active learning can be defined as learning by doing (Stooksberry, 1996). 

Finally, Hashem Fardanesh (2002) gives us the characteristics of meaningful learning.  Meaningful learning is active, constructive, cumulative, goal-oriented, and self-regulated.  He suggests that there are a series of phases that a learner goes through when his or her knowledge evolves.  These phases include the initial phase, intermediate phase, and problem-solving phase.  Based on his ideas, educators must not limit themselves to one single approach to instruction.  They must have the goal of enhancing student learning and development and realize that no single philosophy or approach, behaviorist, cognitivist, constructivist, or otherwise, is sufficient. 



Dever, M.T. & Hobbs, D.E. (1998) The learning spiral: taking the lead from how young children learn.  Childhood Education, 75, 7-11.  Retrieved May 22, 2005 from Wilson Web. 


Fardanesh, H.  (2002).  Learning theory approaches and teaching methods.  British Journal of Educational Technology, 33, 95-98.  Retrieved May 22, 2005 from Wilson Web. 


Jean Piaget: champion of children’s ideas. (2001) Scholastic Early Childhood Today, 15, 43.  Retrieved May 22, 2005 from Wilson Web. 


Stooksberry, J. (1996) Using the kindergarten model in intermediate grades.  The Clearing House, 69, 358-359.  Retrieved May 22, 2005 from Wilson Web.