Learning Theories

A look into different ways to view child development


Over the years there have been many ways that people have thought about the many children in our lives. Different cultures have had different views about how children should be treated and raised. Western cultures, compared to other cultures, seem to have changed the most over many decades. I will take a look at three theorists and the ways they view child development. I will also show how one way can work in an early childhood classroom setting. (Chapter 1, page 5, Early Childhood development-A Multicultural Perspective)

Western Cultural changes

Early Western culture believed that infancy lasted til about 6 or 7 years, then they were considered to be little adults. This view changed during the Renaissance. Now children were view as "inherent evil" (M.L. King, 2007 Pollock, 1987) and different human beings. Their training was now all about getting the evil out of them. The 19th and 20th Centuries brought about changes in child development. Now children are seen as children that need to be cared for in the physical, social, and intellectual areas. Better healthcare has lead to lower death rate. (page 5, Early Childhood Development)

Behaviorist Theory

The founders of this theory are John B. Watson (1878-1958) and B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) In this theory, there are several ideas. Some that I agree with and some that I don't. The basis of this theory is that "All behavior was learned and that training was the way to change it". From this theory we learn that "it is better to pay attention to the behavior you want and ignore the behavior you don't want." For example if a child is supposed to be sitting and reading a story and there is a child who is not reading but instead maybe playing with the puzzles, the teacher would pay attention to the students who are reading and following what they should be doing. The teacher would purposely praise the readers and ignore the puzzle player. It is believed that the puzzle player would stop the puzzles and join the reading in order to get the positive attention. This can also be achieved by having rewards like stickers or stamps for those who are following the directions. I said earlier that I agree with some and disagree with other parts of this theory. I agree that negative behavior should be ignore to an extent-if the child is in danger or hurting someone I believe you have to intervene. My goal is also that the child learn to do the correct behaviors without needing a reward. That's not to say that I won't give out rewards but not to entice child to do the right thing. (page 38 Foundations)

Cognitive Development

This theory is based on the research from Jean Piaget (1896-1980). He believed that there were stages of development and that children needed experiences to learn and grow. He believed "in putting children together in a rich environment and letting them interact in an exploratory way." (page 23 Foundations) In this way the children worked out answers to their own exploration and figured out how things worked, or what happened when they did certain things. For childhood, Piaget has 3 stages. I will discuss two of them as they take children up to around 7 years which is what we would consider early childhood. the first stage is called the sensorimotor stage. (page 23, Foundations) In this stage children are between 0 and 2 years of age. Their body and senses are the main ways they figure out the world. From age 2-6 they are in the Preoperational stage. During this stage they are using pretend play, they are still egocentric and confuse fantasy and reality. "Hands on learning is more important than sitting and listening to the teacher." (page 23, Foundations) In cognitive development you use Assimilation and accommodation skills to help acquire new knowledge. Assimilation is fitting a new piece of information into what you already know. Saying the name of an animal that you know for a new animal is an example of assimilation. Accommodation is thinking that the animal is similar to a known animal but it has some differences so we need a new name for it. Changing what we know for something that we have just learned is another way to put this. (page 55, Early Childhood development) There is another stage that starts at age 7 and goes to 11, which carries children out of early childhood.

Ecological Theory

Urie Bronfenbrenner (1995) is leading the theory that encompasses many areas of a child's life and considers that all are important and contribute to the growth of the child. This theory is one that is new to me and I find it quite interesting. It indicates that the "...the family, local social service agencies, schools, state and federal governments, the medai and the current political thinking of the time...must be considered.." So not just one part of a child's life influences their growth but many different factors need to work together to give the child the best chance for developement. This theory has different layers. These are the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and the macrosystem. The microsystem are the influences that are closest to the child-including family, school, peers, etc. When these influences are strong and positive for the child it is called the mesosystem. The exosytem is made of close but not immediate people that are near the child including neighbors, extended family, mass media, etc. Again the better connected these sources are to the microsytem and the child the better the child can develop. The final layer is comprised of laws, values of a society, worldviews and other factors that are pretty far removed from the actual child. This theory determines that there are many factors that influence the development of children and that if they all work together, the child will benefit the most. (page 64, Early Childhood Development)

Classroom Application

For my classroom I would use the Cognitive Theory to encourage my students to explore, In a lesson I would set out many jars of paint, let them have spoons, empty jars, painting tools including brushes, rollers, sponges, etc. I would also let them have paper. I would then observe what they would begin to explore. I would use questions to help them communicate what they have done. "What happened when you put blue and red together?" "What does adding white to the color do?", etc. I would try to guide them to mix colors then be able to paint a picture (maybe based on a story or just their own design) using whichever tools they choose. At the end we could dictate how we came up with the colors and what we made for the picture.


For the assessment I would be using observation and notes. I would take pictures of the students mixing colors, I would note which students were confident in mixing and which ones were timid about it. I would note how they were using the spoons and the painting tools-proper grip for pre writing skills.


Gonzalez-Mena, Janet 2014 Foundations of Early Childhood-6th Edition, Mc Graw Hill

Trawick-Smith, Jeffery, Early Childhood Developement-A Multicultural Perspective 6th Edition, Pearson