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The Importance and Theories of Educating Young Children

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According to John Locke’s philosophy a new-born baby is born with a ‘tabula rasa’ which is Latin for ‘blank slate’. From birth the child imprints knowledge from their experiences to extend their ‘tabula rasa’. Children continue to learn from experiences with friends, family and teachers, whether this being in or out of a school environment.

Many different child development philosophers including Dewey (1859-1952) and Montessori (1870-1952) shared the belief in the importance of educating young children. Rousseau (1712-1778) emphasised that the education provided should follow the natural growth of the child rather than the demands set by society. The philosophers stressed that education should be child-centred, active and interactive. They also stressed that the child’s social world and community must also play a role in the child’s education. Dewey is very much associated with child-centred education. There is a regular confusion with his philosophy, many think it means supported free, student-led education. He still believed that children’s education still needed a clear structure, support and direction for it to be most successful.

Along with many other philosophers Dewey recognised that educators must acknowledge the differences of each individual child. Dewey believed that the uniqueness of each child was a result of both genetics and experience. He stressed that the curriculum should allow these differences and take them into an account.

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) who is a very famous philosopher within child development, has a different approach to how children learn and develop. According to Piaget, our knowledge is constructed within our mental activity through accommodation, assimilation, schemas and equilibrium. These terms help explain how we take in the information, process and store it. This process happened a lot more with children. Schemas are mental categories of information that expand when new information is gathered. Accommodation involves changing and adapting the schema. Assimilation is adding new information to the schema and equilibration involves the balance between external processes and internal thinking processes. As a child learns new things from their experiences, more schemas are developed and expanded.

Piaget also created stages of a child’s cognitive development. These include: Sensorimotor (0-2 Years), Pre-operational (2-7 Years), Concrete Operational (7-11 Years) and Formal Operational (11-15 Years). Piaget believes that every child must go through each stage in order, there are no skipping the stages.

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896-1934) is another philosopher who provided a theory on how children learn. Vygotsky had a central concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which gives an explanation on how children learn with the help of others around them and constructing their understanding of events in their community and the world. His theory is different to Piaget, as Vygotsky does not wait for the child to reach a certain age and then be ‘ready’, he believes that children learn from other knowledgeable people within different experiences.

In conclusion, there are many different theories that explain ‘How Children Learn’. There are also many different philosophers who take different approaches to the subject. Could the explanation be a combination of the theories?

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