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The aim of this essay is to discuss how critical psychology contests the traditional development accounts of child development. I will discuss how neuroscience has contributed to the ideas of traditional development theory, and what implications neuroscience and traditional theories have on furthering my understanding of child development, I will be referring here to theorists such as Piaget and Bowlby and how they influenced practices and then I will be critiquing traditional theory and neuroscience and what do they not consider? This will lead on to discussing my understanding of socio cultural theory and how this helps to extend my understanding of child development, I will be referring to socio cultural theorist here, such as: Lev Vygotsky and Barbara Rogoff from this I will be considering how these views conflict with views of traditional psychology .
'The idea that children go through sequential, predictable stages has been around for hundreds of years.' (Walsh, 2005:41) It is just rooted in human nature to belief this. Theorist's such as Piaget, Freud and Erikson are just 3 of many theorists who belief that children develop in stages. Other traditional development theories have also been key in us understanding child development such theories like the attachment theory; this theory is based on children needing to feel safe and secure, which will help children form good relationships later in life. Another key theory in traditional Psychology is children developing at different ages, the age seven come up a lot. The Greeks Belief that the number seven is the age of reason. Ignatius Loyola also states 'give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man' he believes that the experiences that children have before the age of seven can determine their future. (Smidt, 2006) These theories have all been crucial in child development, parents, teachers and other people who are working or researching into children all relate to these theories and compare children and ask questions such as 'are they developing correctly?' We have all become to belief such theories represent the truth of all children and also that it is applied to every child. (Cannella, 1997) There is assumptions that all 'human beings grow and develop in a predetermined manner.'(Cannella, 1997:47) Today this is imbedded in our thinking and such things like the 'red book': this is a book that mothers give to Health Visitors to write the babies weight and to check if their baby is developing correctly, this is a clear view that many people think that children should develop in a certain way and pattern, in 'sequential predictable stages.' (Walsh, 2005:41) If they are not developing correctly then we would automatically think that something is wrong. ' (Cannella, 1997)
Today many of these theories are enforced into practices, Piaget who focused on intellectual development came up with the theory that children go through stages these of which are the Sensorimotor, which is in the first two years of a child's life they develop a knowledge and understanding of senses mostly through action, these are sight, sound, taste, touch and smell the second stage he believes they reach is the preoperational stage, this is from the age of two to around the age of seven, children learn to manipulate the environment and represent objects with words, the third stage is the concrete operational stage which from the age of seven to around the eleventh year logical thought develops and the final stage is the formal operational stage which begins at the age of twelve and continues though into adulthood. Children and adults here can manipulate abstract ideas and make conclusions and see the implications of their thinking and that of others. Piaget's theory is used in practices, as when observing children on what they do or say, this can or should inform understanding of the child's intellectual development and this will tell practitioners whether or not the child needs support in certain areas. Criticism of Piaget's theory is that his observation was done on his own children; this therefore may not represent all intellectual development, for all children, of all cultures. (Pound, 2005)
Another theorist who has influenced practices is John Bowlby, this theory was the attachment theory. Bowlby states 'that attachment could only be formed between the mother and the child'. (EYE, May anniversary, 2009 p.29) This theory has developed and evolved over time and it is now accepted that, "A reliable substitute care giver could effectively provide for a baby's emotional needs in a parent's absence". (EYE, May anniversary, 2009 p.27) The Early Year's Foundation Stage (EYFS) has recognised the importance of a 'Key person' and their responsibility is to develop a bond with children, in addition practitioners are required to work together with parents as, "Successful relationships between parents and educators can have long-lasting and beneficial effects on children's learning and well-being". (The Nationtal Strategies, 1997) Bowlby also as well as Vygotsky failed to take into account different cultures and the way that they live as he only did his research on a section of the population who has been in a deprived environment. (Pound, 2005)
In most recent years neuroscience has become a big part in how children develop, because neuroscience is 'scientific' people tend to believe it more. (Smidt, 2006)
The first few years of a child's life are a crucial period for their learning and development. Neuroscientific Research has provided evidence which supports this view point. "Romanian babies reared in severely deprived conditions, with no sensory or social stimulation, are more likely to have delayed development of skills such as walking and talking, and impaired social, emotional and cognitive development". (Post Report, 2000, p.4) Development of the brain begins in the foetus, poor pre and post natal environments can hinder a child's capacity for learning. "Many young children rely on gestures, and facial and body language, to initiate interaction and express their feelings". (EYE, May 2008 p.19) Colwyn Trevarthen is a current researcher on brain development, he emphasised the importance of the process of communication between babies and their carers in the child's social and emotional development. From Findings such as these from neurologists, interventions programmes have been brought in by the government, such as the Sure Start centre programme. The government came up with this as they thought that because the brain takes more in, during the first years of life (being born) then this programme would set a child up for life for such things like developing cognitive abilities. However Bruer (1999) states 'that we continue to learn throughout our lives and the more synapses (which are connections through which nerve impulses travel from one neuron to another) we have tells us nothing about intelligence or ability to learn' (Smidt, 2006: 126). This says that trying to 'cram' more subjects to learn more things at a early age does not necessary make us more intelligent adults. (Smidt, 2006)
Neuroscientists have also come up with the fact that children need to learn things by a particular time in their life, the age seven comes up again here. Bruer here describes critical periods 'as a contribute to the survival of the species through providing for the development of essential skills and behaviours. Vision, hearing and language are species-wide abilities' (Smidt, 2006:127) Almost all children will learn these things. However, the children that do not develop these may have been deprived of everything, for example feral children. In a recent lecture, I watched a video on feral children, there was one girl in particular that fascinated me in the way that she developed. This girl was named Oxana Malaya and she was neglected at the age of three by her alcoholic parents, from the age of three to the age of eight, Oxana lived at the bottom of her garden in a kennel with dogs. The dogs treated her as if she was a dog and they were Oxana's carer, she developed mentally and physically as a dog would, she 'barked', ate and walked on all fours like a dog would do. Oxana was found in 1991 at the age of eight and she is now living in a Baraboy Clinic where she works with farm animals, and at the age of twenty three Oxana can talk, however because of late development Oxana has the mental and physical age of a six year old. Although Oxana missed her critical period of developing speech and other essential skills, she did actually learn to talk. This concludes that the learning and developing of these critical skills before the age of seven is not entirely necessary. However on the other hand Oxana is very far behind other people at her age and she also has to have supervision from her carers to be able to live some kind of normal life. (Telegraph, 2006)
Neuroscience has had a large impact on child development, neuroscientists are providing us with hard evidence that children who have early quality relationships with their parents have higher oxytocin levels (a hormone, which increases feelings of love and affiliation and a sense of relaxation) (James, 2009) and also less likely to be psychologically distress later in life, although it has hard evidence to back this finding, it can be really hard some parents who live in low socio economic places to stay with their baby at home, as they have to get back to work and earn money to support the child economically. (James, 2009) Although neuroscienftic evidence has positive effects for some, not all people and children will benefit from it. Some Neuroscientific evidence has not necessary been totally correct. Research I have done shows that children can develop after the age of seven even if it is a slower process.
Other views on child development, is social cultural theory. We have convinced ourselves child development and the viewing of children is the same all over the world. (Cannella, 1997) This is not the case, and is explained in socio cultural theory that different cultures have different believes, values, manners, normative behaviours and young people who are born into their community are viewed as 'gradually appropriating the knowledge and then the psychological tools of the peoples comprising their communities' (John- Steiner and Mahn, 1996, 193) The view is that Children are 'socially and culturally defined' instead of 'Socially constructed' (Fleer, 2006)
Vygotsky is a very significant theorist in drawing attention to the importance of culture and social interaction with others. Vygotsky describes that social interaction is between two planes of psychological development, the inter and intrapersonal planes of development. The quote by Vygotsky describes this. 'Any function in the child's cultural development appears twice, or on two planes. First it appears on a social plane, and then on a psychological plane. First it appears between people as an interpsychological category, and then within the child as an intrapsychogical category. (Vygotsky, 1986, p163)
Social interactions with others in their social environment was key for child development, Vygotsky believed that it leads to increased knowledge and understanding. (Edwards, 2005)
Vygotsky has played a significant part in the way that teachers plan their lesson as teachers often get students to work with another person or group, I feel they do this to increase their knowledge and understanding of a particular task. Working together brings different ideas together and may help children understanding something better.
Vygotsky believed that human history is based and created around the construction and use of cultural tools. These cultural tools can either be physical or psychological, things such as signs, diagrams and numbers are known as cultural tools also the use of language is a cultural tool. Cultural tools helps children to develop their mental capacity and help create their own unique behaviour and attributes. (Pound, 2005) Everyone has cultural tools; it is what makes humans, human, and us all different to one another.
Rogoff (1998, 2003) would argue that 'Development occurs on three planes, rather than the two planes which Vygotsky states. They include 'the child him/herself, the community which the child lives in and the sociocultural context defining the manner in which these same people engage in the process of knowledge sharing and production' (Edwards, 2005: 39)
Rogoff (2003) argues that when we learn about another culture we automatically learn more about ourselves. When looking at child development in countries such as Central Africa, their view of child development is as a social competence rather than their age. (Rogoff, 2003 in Fleer, 2006) It is not out of the ordinary for children to be taught as young as 8 - 10 months how to throw small spears and to use small pointed digging sticks. Whereas Western cultures are more likely to see this as very dangerous or that parent or carer is not taking proper care for that child. (Department of education and early childhood development, 2006) Rogoff also believes that cultural tools are important in child development; she recognises that language is one of the key cultural tools.
Socio cultural theory contests the traditional developmental theory and neuroscience in a way that I would have never thought. Socio cultural theory is very much based on the cultural world surrounding the child making the child who they are. Traditional theory does not think about cultural influences. Traditional theorists believe that every child develops at the same time and all the same way. Neuroscience says that children develop at particular ages; because neuroscientists have scientific evidence about how a child should develop it seems clear that children should develop in this way. However my research has gone against this view and I feel that children do not develop by a particular age, some children may be slow learners and in some cases not had the advantage that some children have had, such as growing up in privileged areas. Personally I think that cultural aspects should be a major concern to be taken into account when looking at how a child should develops.
Some of he views I have looked at during this assignment I would have considered looking at when looking into child development. I always thought that traditional theory is what most people refer to when researching child development. Now I have researched into socio cultural theory I have began to realize that it plays a big part in understanding children's development. Neuroscientific research is important as scientific backup. However I think that all views of child development should be taken into consideration.
Having now looked into all the different views of child development I can now conclude by saying that although traditional development theory is still the more dominant view, there are views which we can now consider such as socio cultural theory and neuroscience. I believe that all the views of child development all have a great part in understanding children's development, from this we can gain a more holistic view of what a child needs and how he/she develops.