The Process of Learning in Young Children
Aug 11, 2008 Young Learners 4970 Views
A week old baby wakes up in the middle of night, feeling the ache, want ready to eat. A toddler finally figuring out how to place that small piece of the puzzle back into the correct and fit able position. A child understands the process of actions and the consequences that follow the events when they do something they were told not to do. An adult thoughtfully placing a glass vase out of the reach of their jumping toddler. These are all examples of learning processes, we, as humans, have learned throughout our lives. Whether theses steps were built upon by learning in our different environments or conditions that were set forth before we were born, these patterns help create our ability to show the learning process and stages, or sequences, we eventually discover. There are so many theories about how we and why we develop certain behavior traits and whether these theories can solve our adult outcomes.
From Nurture versus Nature to Erickson versus Piaget, these theories can help the caregiver set guidelines that will establish patterns for children to follow to better help them succeed in life. Helen Bee, author of Child and Adolescent Development, explains, "To understand children's development, we must understand both change and consistency, both universality and individuality" (Bee, 2000). Each child's development is set forth in a pattern that can be observed through the study of children. These observations are the basis for the developmental outline and can be seen by the changes that coincide with age, or through the physical growth of the child. This theory can be described best by Erickson who psychosocial development have been used to understand the learning process of children. Robert Feldmen writes, "each of Erickson's eight stages is represented as a pairing of the most positive and most negative aspects of the crisis period" (Feldman, 2000). Each stage is set to a specific age criteria and can be observed and classified according that chart. Bee adds, "the child in a new stage approaches tasks differently, sees the world differently, is preoccupied with different issues (Bee, 2002). These stages developed by Erickson really pinpoint the exact age level and what the child will and should be doing at that time. His steps are to be used throughout adulthood and are classified as physical and social developmental theories. These theories are very helpful to teachers because they can better the manage and base lesson plans on the groups learning level. The teacher will be able to understand the "crisis" the child will endeavor during that school year and can really pinpoint the learning stages which can help advance the students. This style can be helpful because the cognitive development can be useful in determining a child's identifiable patterns.
Learning is defined in a psychology textbook as "a relatively permanent change in behavior brought about by experience" (Feldman, 2000). What this definitions explains is that learning is a behavior that can be seen and is best learned through experience and stages practiced throughout your life. Cognitive Development is described as, "the process by which a child's understanding of the world changes as a function of age and experience" (Feldman, 2000). Meaning that the child is in charge of the developmental change which is based on what the child has learned through trial and error rather than a set age limit, defined by Erickson. The best known theorist on this development would be Jean Piaget who, "maintains that these stages differ not only in the quantity of information acquired at each stage, but in the quality of knowledge of understanding as well" (Feldman, 2000). This theory is based on the child's ability to experience the world around them, with help from their primary caregiver, trial and error, etc. in order to form conclusions on why things happen and how they can control the situation. The child then builds on what they have learned and can be promoted to the next level of Piaget's theory, also known as scaffolding. This theory has more basis than other theories because it doesn't simple pigeon hole a child based on the age level rather it is based on the child's cognitive level and developmental ability. Children can progress at so many different rates and shouldn't be constricted to set categories in order to be thought of as educated. Both the psychoanalytic and the cognitive-development theory help parents, teachers, etc. show the need for understanding the child's process of learning and identifiable patterns. In order for both theories to be successful they need to be combined and thought of as guidelines, not strict standards, for the learning process. For example, the average child walks between the ages of 9-14 months, my child walked at 15 months, thus my son did not fall into this exact stage.
Erickson's stages do express the standards that children can meet at set age levels. It presents the important of developing trust in a child at a young age. I found myself thinking if I had incorporated enough interaction and positive re-enforcement for my child between the ages of birth and a year in a half, Erickson's first stage. I then looked to see if I could help my child gain independence and freedom in the next 2 years, his next stage. As these ages are set by Erickson very specifically, it is important to remember that children progress at different times and in different levels and it would be hard to say that at exactly age 3 they moved to a new level. The Cognitive-Development Theory's confirms the idea that children's learning is supported by their experience in life. This would explain why after 6 different attempts to climb up the entertainment system, my son found that his toy boxed worked the best for balance and achieving his goal. It is through the these two theories and combining them together will the best results be established. A child of age 7, who cognitive development would suggest is self-centered, and Erickson would suggest is increasing the understanding of the world, can be combined into seeing that this child is trying to figure out who they are and how they will impact the world.
In conclusion, adults need to understand the learning process and be able to identify the patterns children encounter throughout their childhood. A child needs to be understood, both physically and mentally, in order to gain the appropriate tools to succeed as an adult. Theories set guidelines that parents, teachers, etc. can follow in order to achieve that goal. Learning is a difficult thing, but because we have so many ideas and theories as to why children process it is easier to teach the necessary, age appropriate, environmentally correct lessons.
Bee, H. (2000). Child and Adolescent Development (9th ed.)
[e-text]. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing. Feldmen, R.
(2000). Essentials of Understanding Psychology (4th ed.).
Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts.