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Every child is different, meaning that they will all develop at different rates; some may develop at a rate that is beyond their age group and beyond their ability but it is achievable. Take for example the school in which I completed my placement, where for the majority, I was placed in the FS1/FS2 class, and the varying abilities were astonishing. One FS1 child was of the same ability level as the higher ability FS2 children, and was able to complete the FS1 tasks with ease and didn't have much difficulty with the FS2 tasks either. For example she took part in the phonics activities with the FS2 children, even though they should have been beyond her ability. However where there are children that develop quicker and beyond the ability of their age group, there are children that are the opposite, and develop slower and below the ability of their age group, and of course those that are right on target.
Piaget believed that "the child is an active participant in the development of knowledge, constructing his own understanding." (Bee and Boyd, 2007, p. 150) This I believe is true as children must be willing to participate if they are going to develop knowledge, without the will to learn they will not, and that is why some children develop faster than others.
Vygotsky aimed to define the levels of children's development by using two levels, the lower of which reflects what the child can do independently already and the higher level being what the same child can do with assistance. Vygotsky called space between the two levels the 'Zone of Proximal Development' The 'Zone of Proximal Development suggests that if a child does not receive proper instructional assistance, they may function at a level lower than they are capable of.
This is similar to Montessori's, who believed that if children do not receive instructional support, children who are mentally deficient and those that are educationally deprived children may function at a similar level.
Since Montessori and Vygotsky were constructionists, meaning that they believed that children construct their own knowledge.
I think however children do need encouragement to learn, and beginning their own knowledge base. One child who I studied during my placement was eager to learn but needed the push to begin educational tasks. She would play with counting beads, draw a picture, play with building blocks, as long as they were already out, and did not seem to take the initiative to get them out by herself, and she often preferred to play by herself, or with adults, rather than work with the other children in the class.
Montessori believed that a child's construction begins when they develop a natural interest in learning in a properly constructed environment. Whereas Vygotsky believed that there is nothing biologically determined in a child that at some would not be shaped by the social context. Therefore, for Vygotsky a child's construction of knowledge is based on co-construction, and that a child's environment and other people shape a child's budding mental functions. Vygotsky's ideas mirror my own, in that he believes that children need encouragement and aid to begin and continue their learning.
Piaget, also a constructivist, believed that children's understanding is gained step by step through active contribution and participation due to them accepting ideas they could later realise are wrong.
Piaget also had some interesting ideas regarding language development. He believed that for children, language is just a way of representing their familiar worlds, a reflection of thought, and that it does not contribute to the development of thinking.
Chomsky worked with the theory that humans are born with a special biological brain mechanism, called a Language Acquisition Device, whereby experience using language is only necessary in order to activate the LAD. He believes that babies have an inborn ability to learn language, and that nature is more important than nurture.
I do disagree with Piaget slightly, as I believe language does contribute to the development of thinking, because through language, children can ask questions, receives answers, and gain knowledge, which develop and change their way of thinking.
However some children do not need language to develop their thinking as was proven in my placement. The child I studied for the 'cognitive/ use of language' section of my placement 'Child H' (See Appendix One) rarely spoke, especially to other children, and seemed to prefer the company of the adults in the room, rather than spending time with her peers. She got frustrated when other children joined in, or spoilt her games, but rarely expressed this through language, but rather walked away after a few minutes. When she did speak for longer periods, she was intelligent, answering questions correctly. However, most often her answers would be yes or no ones, and if during circle and was asked a question, she would stay silent, until the teacher asked a question with which she could answer yes or no, or simply nod or shake her head. Her development of thinking was proven by the fact that she did not shout at peers who spoilt her games, but remained calm and just walked away, and also through her advanced intelligence.
I looked at the same child for 'social skills' (See Appendix 2) as I thought it would be interesting to specifically focus on how she interacted with others.
Bowlby focused on 'attachment theory' whereby children develop special emotional relationships. He suggested that there are four distinguishing characteristics of attachment, these being; 1. Proximity Maintenance - the desire to be near the people we are attached to; 2. Safe Haven - returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat; 3. Secure Base - the attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment; 4. Separation Distress - anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure.
I believe that 'Child H' developed an attachment to the adults around her in the class, especially since her mother wasn't there, and she appeared to have a very close attachment to her, so therefore may have developed a close attachment to other adults surrounding her as a way of replacing her mother while she was not present.
With regards to interaction with other children, I found that 'Child H' rarely interacted with them, she sometimes joined in their games and activities, more often if they were teacher led, but nonetheless she rarely spoke, and often stayed on the outskirts of the group, only answering if spoken to directly, never answering questions directed to the whole group, available for anyone to answer. When joining in games without an adult present, she seemed to enjoy herself copying what the other children did, but even though the other children were loud, noisy and boisterous when playing, she stayed calm, and for the most part, silent.
For 'Physical Skills' I studied 'Child R' who was a very active, imaginary, lively child, who I observed during her P.E. lesson and also while in the role play area. According to Piaget's preoperational stage of cognitive development, which occurs between the ages of two and six, children become increasingly skilled at using symbols, which is shown by the increase in playing and pretending. For example, a child can use an object to signify something else, a saucepan can become a hat, or a cardboard box can be a cave. 'Child R' enjoyed role playing the most, and also playing outdoors on the equipment. In the classroom there was two role playing areas, a permanent home area, which was set up as a kitchen, and an area that changed depending on the topic they were studying. 'Child R' spent great amounts of time in these areas.
I feel that through studying the children in the different areas of development that I have learnt a lot about how children develop and I feel this can be implemented in the way that I teach in the future. Such as involving all children in class discussions will development their social and language skills, and even if they may be reluctant to join in with some encouragement they will answer questions directed at them, and if they receive praise for answering they will feel more confident in answering more questions, therefore developing their language and self confidence.