Aims | The Child | Task of teaching | First steps to integration
- Child   development   and learning
- Piaget
- Vigotsky
- Erikson
- Self-  regulated   learning
- In closing
- References

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The child: psychological and pedagogical considerations


Child development and learning: some considerations

Development means many different things to different people, and whatever definition we give, it will not be universally accepted. So, development refers a) to the changes in the structure and characteristics of behaviour which take place in the course of a lifetime; b) in part to the way individual talents, circumstances, events, and encounters interact to determine various routes to maturity and beyond; c) to a series of qualitative transformations, as though the developing person at different points functions in completely new ways. For others, the same principles govern behaviour at all ages, and development is simply the accumulation of additional skills.


Growth and development occur unevenly yet concurrently in the physical/motor, psychosocial, cognitive, and language domains. Inherent in much of this growth and development is the acquisition of knowledge and skills in the academic domains of literacy, math, science, social studies, and the arts. Recognising this, professional early childhood educators take a whole-child perspective that observes and facilitates growth, development, and learning in all these areas. Hence, they must pay attention to the fact that, although there are major similarities in the cognitive capacities and in the personality characteristics,  we may find significative differences between boys and girls concerning mathematics, visual, spatial and verbal competences, as well as in aggression (Maccoby e Jacklin,1974; cited in Neto, A. and all, 2000) . It seems that it is more difficult for girls to be competent in the spatial field but they have greater analytic and speech capacities (Cândido, Joaquim, 2002). These differences can be observed in that children of around two years old, when choosing toys and activities, vary in two inverse tendencies with age. In fact, girls aged four or five years don’t show new tendencies, but this does occur with boys, whose performances become more and more stereotypical. This is important, since three to four year old children know much about their gender characteristics and act according to them.


We can work from the assumptions (Puckett and Black, 2000) that young children: a) have an innate need to know and, therefore, are competent, eager, and trustworthy learners; b) can initiate and direct their own learning, within a supportive and enriched setting; c) construct knowledge while interacting with adults, with one another, and with meaningful materials and realia; d) develop physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually at different rates. However, at the same time, we should take their sex into account, as children tend to prefer playing with children of the same sex. This is more evident at the age level of four to five years (Silva, A. and all, 2000). In fact, until four years old, children learn the characteristics associated with each gender; from four to six years old, children develop more complex associations with the information about their own gender; but from six years old on, each child learns relevant associations regarding the opposite sex (Martin, et all, 1990).


The first eight years are critical ones for overall development, so it is important to implement quality and appropriate teaching for young children. As all learning has its foundations in early childhood, it is vital to recognise that there are different intelligences involved in learning: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and naturalistic (Gardner, 1993). Learning proceeds from the concrete to the abstract through (1) active exploration and inquiry (2) enriched learning environments, (3) social contexts that encourage interaction among learners, and (4) scaffolding by an adult or older child. The mind must be engaged if learning is to occur, whether we are dealing with a boy or a girl. Considering the Gender Problem, and relating it to the above mentioned process (1) of active exploration and inquiry, we must refer to the quotation from E. Rostand: «The fact of having played with dolls or with little lead soldiers is as important as the hormones in the psychic differentiation between man and woman» (cited by Tap, P., 1985). As for the social contexts referred to (3) that encourage interaction among learners, we may mention the research undertaken by Christine Morin (in Acioly-Regnier  et al., 2001), who concluded that boys had significantly better results when they worked in a mixed group, than when they were in a homogeneous group of boys. A similar effect was not observed in the girls. So the author concluded that the “mix factor” was clearly positive for boys, but not for girls. Elena Belloti also (cited by Tap, P., 1985,)  reflected on girls’ development process, when she observed that two years boys and girls were very similar, liking and doing the same things, but that three years later each sex group was already following the social rules.


In synthesis it is possible to affirm that a) knowledge is rooted in language, beliefs, and customs of different cultures; b) different kinds of knowledge exist: physical, logical-mathematical, and social-conventional (Piaget, 1952); c) both products and processes are important to the acquisition of knowledge; d) problem solving should supercede rote learning of facts if knowledge is to be meaningful and lasting; e) new knowledge  builds on prior knowledge and experience and is influenced by the individual’s perceptions; f) knowledge is more efficiently acquired in meaningful contexts; g) the acquisition of knowledge is a lifetime process; h) boys and girls neither behave nor learn in the same way, and do not even  develop the same interests.


Surprising advances in recent years in the fields of neuroscience and technology have resulted in new knowledge about the brain and how it develops, and  have revealed that the human brain becomes “wired” at an astounding rate during the early months and years of development, and is dependent on specific types of experiences during certain developmental periods. Findings from this research have focused attention on the importance of the early childhood period -particularly the first three years- in fostering this development. Plasticity is greatest during this period. The first three years are critical, and until about age ten the brain continues to create complicated neurological connections (Caine and Caine, 1994, Shore, 1997; Sylwester, 1995). During the early years the brain produces more connections than it needs, and those that are not used are eliminated. This creates both opportunities for learning in a variety of areas, and vulnerability to impoverished and adverse environmental conditions.


So it is essential to create specific types of experiences during certain developmental periods, the “windows of opportunity”. For example, at the age of one to five, in the domain of mathematical and logical thinking, the following are crucial

·         playthings and curriculum materials that encourage mathematical and logical thinking: i.e.., materials that can be manipulated, arranged, rearranged, sorted, grouped, sequenced, counted, and used to create and construct in a variety of ways;

·         adult- child interaction that employs inquiry, reason, logic and analytical thinking;

·         many and varied opportunities to solve “real-life” problems; formulate hypotheses; experiment with solutions; the eliciting of answers;

·         daily/weekly schedules and routines that are predictable.

Here we should also take into account the fact that girls are inherently more curious and logical.