Child Development and Learning
Child development is the psychological, biological and emotional changes which occur in human beings from birth till when adolescence ends as the individual progresses from being dependent to a state of increased autonomy. Child development is influenced by genetic factors and prenatal events. There are several theories of child development that have been put forth by different people. The first of the two major theories is the theory of cognitive development which was put forth by a Swiss theorist. The second is the theory of cultural-historical psychology which was put forth by Lev Vygotsky who was a Russian theorist. There are also other theories of child development such as Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development and the behaviorism theory by John B. Watson. All these theories attempt to explain the processes of child development and the factors that influence the process.
Piaget’s cognitive development theory
The child development theory that was put forth by Piaget talks about the nature and the development of human intelligence. It is also referred to as a developmental stage theory, however, it deals with the nature of knowledge and how humans acquire, construct and use it. Piaget also claims that at the center of the human being is cognitive development and that language is dependent on the person’s cognitive development DeVries, 1997()
Piaget showed that there is a link between behavior and cognitive development. He stated that for human beings to be able to adapt to their environment, they need to have a way of organizing their ideas. He continued to posit that children have different ways of seeing the world as it grows and as it changes along the changes happening in their biological bodies. Children begin their interaction with the world when the organize ideas into groups. This is similar to the reflexes which animals have and which they use to adapt to their physical environment. However, these human schemes go beyond these reflexes of animals and they involve the independent cognitive abilities of each person DeVries, 1997()
The theory also explains the processes of assimilation and accommodation. Piaget stated that intelligence is an evolutionary adaptation and that all human beings need to adapt to the environment. The strategies through which the human beings adapt to the environment are assimilation and accommodation. Piaget says that assimilation is the process of transformation of the environment for it to be fit for the preexisting cognitive schemes. A good example is how an infant knows how to such from a large bottle by sucking on a smaller one. Accommodation, on the contrary, refers to the changes that the person does in order to accept the environment DeVries, 1997()
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is organized in stages. These stages are based on biological development of the individual and Piaget believed that the chronological stages which one has to follow for mental development are also related to development and growth of the brain. The four stages of Piaget’s theory are the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage and lastly the formal operational stage Smith, 1985()
Vygotsky’s theory of social development
The theory of social development that was put forth by Vygotsky is also known as the cultural-historical psychology theory. The theory is gives a foundation of constructivism. It has three major themes. The theory plays a huge role in the cognitive development process and it states that social learning comes before development. Vygotsky stated that “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).” Roth & Lee, 2007.
The second theme is that of the more knowledgeable other (MKO). This refers to anyone who has a better understanding than the learner or has a higher ability level. This is in respect to a particular task, concept or process. The MKO is the one who is the teacher to the learner. The third theme is that of the ZPD (zone of proximal development). This is how much distance there is between the ability of the learner or student to perform a particular task under the guidance of an adult and their collaboration with their peers and the ability of the student to independently solve the problem Holland & Valsiner, 1988()
Vygotsky believed that child development consisted of a series of periods of stable development starting from infancy to early childhood then to the preschool age, to school age and lastly to puberty. Vygotsky also stated that there is periodization which essentially depends on the occurrence of specific structural transformation in the relation of the child to their social environment which also correspondents to the development of the child’s mental life Holland & Valsiner, 1988()
Comparison and contrast of the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky
Piaget viewed cognitive development from a biological standpoint where he believed that intelligence comes from the human being’s ability to adapt to their environment and to organize themselves accordingly. Piaget also believed that children organize ideas into groups which he referred to as schemes and he continued to assert that it is through these schemes that children learn to assimilate or accommodate information. Assimilation is for new information and accommodation is for information that already existed but does not fit into the existing scheme. Vygotsky’s theory, on the other hand, talks of cognitive development as the process through which children internalize information about their world by first learning and understanding a language. Vygotsky stated that social interaction of the children is the major force that drives development. According to Vygotsky, as a child hears a language, he/she learns to imitate that language till it becomes internalized in them. This is what then leads to cognitive development as the language becomes speech.
Looking at how the two theorists view the progression of development, we see that Piaget believes that development comes before learning. On the other hand, Vygotsky believes that development begins with the socialization of the individual which then leads to acquisition of language and lastly leads to developmental learning. According to Piage, the child’s learning starts from a self-centered position and it develops on their own accord as it moves from the child to the social world as the child continues to develop.
Piaget’s theory uses stages to model the process of development and show the connection between the biological and cognitive development of a child. The core belief that Piaget has is that growth of the brain relates to the chronological development of the person and it underscores the biological connection. Vygotsky, on the contrary, proposed that children need to first construct their knowledge from social interactions. He also stated that learning promotes development and that language is a major facilitator of social development and learning.
Application of the theories to education of children with disabilities
The two theories of Piaget and Vygotsky can be applied to the society and especially in the education of disabled children. Vygotsky’s theory was inspired by special education in the U.S.S.R. And this is also the foundation for its application to special education. To apply Vygotsky’s theory, there is a need to have an understanding of the disability and its socio-cultural aspect. For example in a child who is suffering from blindness, when applying Vygotsky’s theory, it therefore goes that we should look at the conflict that arise when the blind child is entering into school life and not to look at the blindness itself. Blindness is a primary disability since it is an impairment of the child’s biological condition.
According to Vygotsky, it is also important to look at how the impairment affects to social development of the child since according to his theory, social interaction precedes development Das, 1999.
Therefore, the child must be provided with the necessary knowledge and experiences for them to develop. Vygotsky’s theory has been the foundation of the concept of inclusion whereby children with disabilities are allowed to learn in the general education environment Terman, Larner, Stevenson, & Behrman, 1996()
Piaget’s theory can also be applied to the education of a child with disabilities. When applying Piaget’s theory, the teacher needs to help the disabled individual to construct their own knowledge. In other words, there is the realization that even though the child is disabled physically, they need to adapt to their immediate environment in order for the child to develop Roach & Elliott, 2006()
The teacher must thus create, assess and implement a curriculum which is inclusive for the children with disabilities. This includes assisting the disabled child to think in an abstract manner, to handle problem-solving, to plan and to organize their ideas. Even for a blind child, they need to be assisted by being provided with opportunities to recognize their differences and similarities with the other students and that this will help them to adapt Glidden, 2000()
Piaget’s theory also includes the acceptance of individual differences between the students. These differences are the ones which bring about differences in the progress of development of the children. The theory makes an assumption that children go through the same sequence of development though at different rates Lyon, 1996.
Therefore, teachers must make special efforts to arrange their classroom activities to accommodate the disabled children who may not be able to develop as fast as the others. For example, for the blind child, they should be provided with audio books and given longer time to complete assignments or even given fewer assignments to complete.
Das, J.P. (1999). Some Thoughts on Two Aspects of Vygotsky’s Work. Educational Psychologist, 30(2), 93-99.
DeVries, R. (1997). Piaget’s Social Theory. Educational Researcher, 26(2), 4-17.
Glidden, L.M. (2000). Adopting Children with Developmental Disabilities: A Long-Term Perspective. Family Relations, 49(4), 397-405.
Holland, D.C., & Valsiner, J. (1988). Cognition, Symbols, and Vygotsky’s Developmental Psychology. Ethos, 16(3), 247-272.
Lyon, G.R. (1996). Learning Disabilities. The Future of Children, 6(1), 54-76.
Roach, A.T., & Elliott, S.N. (2006). The Influence of Access to General Education Curriculum on Alternate Assessment Performance of Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 28(2), 181-194.
Roth, W.-M., & Lee, Y.-J. (2007). “Vygotsky’s Neglected Legacy”: Cultural-Historical Activity Theory. Review of Educational Research, 77(2), 186-232.
Smith, L. (1985). Making Educational Sense of Piaget’s Psychology. Oxford Review of Education, 11(2), 181-191.
Terman, D.L., Larner, M.B., Stevenson, C.S., & Behrman, R.E. (1996). Special Education for Students with Disabilities: Analysis and Recommendations. The Future of Children, 6(1), 4-24.
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