There is a wealth of research on how young children learn and how this impacts the way teachers should teach. At Gee Whiz Education, our belief is that a balanced approach is best. You will find a short description of the main philosophies upon which the program is based below.
Piaget believed that young children learn through a series of developmental steps, using their senses to gain knowledge about their environment. Piaget discovered that children go through four stages of development: sensorimotor (birth-2), preoperational (2-7), concrete operational (7-11), and formal operational (11-16).
Piaget found that children use their senses and repetition to learn to differentiate between objects – how they are the same, how they are different, and how their actions on the object affect it. He concluded that all of this exploration helps children gain knowledge that they then apply when approaching new objects and situations.
Vygotsky believed that the teacher has a crucial role in learning. His or her role is to support the child’s learning until they become more confident. At this point, the teacher can reduce the level of support. This is often referred to as scaffolding.
Vygotsky also believed that language starts as a tool a child uses for external socialization but over time, becomes a type of “inner speech” he/she uses to work through complex tasks (e.g., talking to yourself in your head when doing a difficult task).
Erikson believed that children go through a series of stages of psychosocial development. For young children, the three stages are:
• Basic Trust vs. Basic Mistrust (birth-1)
• Autonomy vs. Shame (1-3)
• Initiative vs. Guilt (3-6)
Erickson believed that as children go through these phases, they develop a sense of initiative and empowerment. The teacher’s role is to create an environment where children feel safe to test their ideas and explore so they feel free and confident.
According to Smilansky, there are four types of play, all of which are very important to the overall development of children:
• Functional Play – Repeating actions or movements with or without objects
• Constructive Play – Building or creating with objects
• Dramatic Play – Acting out roles in a make-believe situation
• Games with Rules – There are rules that must be followed and they are established before the game begins
It is very easy to spot the different types of play. For instance, when given a cardboard box, most toddlers will just want to climb in and out. Another child, however, would be much more likely to turn that box into a boat or a car. Knowing that children engage in different types of play helps teachers plan experiences that are appropriate for them.