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Major Theories of Physical, Social, and Emotional Development of Children

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Major Theories of Physical, Social, and Emotional Development of Children

A child begins to develop whilst in the mothers womb. The genetics (
the makeup) of the child are already in place. The child inherits
genes from both mother and father.

Piaget was probably one of most influential cognitive theorists.
Piaget was a constructivist which means basically that learning occurs
from actions rather than as a result of actions. Cognition generally
refers to any intellectual process within the human experience.
These processes include, attention the ability to focus, perception
the individual interpretation, memory, thinking and problem solving.
Constructivists or Cognitivists believe development is the ‘process by
which individuals acquire a more sophisticated and complex knowledge
of the world around them.’ It deals with the mental activity within
the brain and the formation of concepts. The knowledge is acquired by
doing rather than being given information.

Piaget described development as going through different mental
processes. He believed that all children pass through the stages but
environmental influences on children will vary the ages each stage is
reached. A child who is given more learning opportunities will
develop faster by progressing through the stages at a faster rate.
Therefore play and children activites facilitated by an adult increase
the rate of development. Check

The stages of development according to Piaget were, maturation and
adaptation these being the natural biological maturity over which
environment has no control and a child adapting its behaviours/actions
to its own environment. Adaption only occurs because of assimilation,
accommodation and equilibrium. Assimilation is the knowledge used to
confront problems needed to be solved, accommodation is the process of
changing what we already know to work in order to sole new tasks
effectively. Equilibrium is the state of feeling steady and in
control. Equilibrium comes from modifying our cognitive structures
when in a state of disequilibrium to create equilibrium. Schemas
are ways in which our knowledge is stored. They are like computer
files in our brain. They are abstract folders that store everything
we know. As a child learns, that information is held in one of these
folders and that knowledge is used when needed in new situations.
These folders are constantly being updated with new information or new
knowledge learned.

‘Piaget considered the interaction between the child and their
environment to be the main factor in influencing cognitive development
(the development of learning through thinking and problem solving),
and this active involvement in their own learning is described by
Piaget as series of schemas (principles).’ (green 2002)

Paiget outlined four stages of development, the Sensori-motor period,
the pre-operational preiod, the concrete-opational period and the
formal-operatioanl period. In the first two stages piaget noted that
children can only consider things form their own point of view and
cannot see that others may hold different view. This could explain
how young children do not accept another’s point of view and are
unable to sort out arguments between peers. The stages control
development which in turn control learning.

Les Vygotsky (1869 – 1935) had similar theories to Piaget. He also
saw an adult role as important in children’s learning. His theories
accepted that a child learns actively by using the information in the
environment but looks towards a more social setting for learning.

Vygotsky believed that

‘The same biological or environmentao factors may have very different
effects, depending on the people among whom a child grows up’ (Oates,

He believed strongly that language had an important part to play in a
childs learning, and that interaction between a child and others in
their community was hugely beneficial to a child’s language
development. He developed the theory known as the zone of proximal
development (ZPD). This is the time between learning or the next
level in development, he stated the next level was only obtainable by
a child’s interaction with an adult. This theory emphasises the
importance of a teacher in a child’s learning. His theory recognised
that adults in a child’s environment have an important part to play in
the child’s learning.

A second aspect of Vygotsky's theory is the idea that the potential
for cognitive development depends upon the "zone of proximal
development" (ZPD): a level of development attained when children
engage in social behavior. Full development of the ZPD depends upon
full social interaction. The range of skill that can be developed with
adult guidance or peer collaboration exceeds what can be attained
alone. (accessed 23/05/05)

The major difference between Paiget and Vygotsky were, Piagets
believed a child would learn through their environment quite
independently whereas Vygotsky put huge emphasis in the social setting
aiding the learning process. In my experience children do learn from
social experiences and a child will questions constantly, for example
‘what is that?’ ‘What are you doing?’ By adults interaction and
answering questions the child is learning.

Howard Gardner

Usually cognitive theorists believed intelligence was a single entity
and children were a blank slate that could be trained to learn
anything. Gardner born 1943, believed intelligence is made up of
multiple intelligences. His theory states humans have a unique blend
of intelligences that cannot be measured by IQ tests. He challenged
Piagets development stages. Unlike Piaget, Gardner saw that at any
one time a child may be at very different stages. Gardner formulated
a list of seven intelligences. The first two particularly valued in
schools. The following three usually associated with the arts and the
last two personal intelligences.

1. Linguistic

2. Logical – mathematical

3. Musical

4. Kinesthetic

5. Spacial intelligence

6. Interpersonal intelligence

7. Intrapersonal intelligence


Chomsky believed humans have an inate facility for language, that
humans are pre-progammed to develop language. This theory was
originally described as LAD (language acquisition Device)

His theories follow, language is uniquely human, we have a desire to
express ourselves. Language is a natural inate maturation which could
only be stopped due to disability such as hearing impairment or a
vocal disability.






Green, S


BTEC National Early Years



Oates, J


The Foundations of Childhood Development



opinion&story_id=398249&Type=0 accessed 23/05/05 accessed

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