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).
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.