An Overview of Early Childhood Development Theory and Theories

child development theorists

Child development theories are a complex group of ideas that have been developed over the years by some of the most respected educators of all time. Theories by no means exhaust the available diversity, but they can be a good place to start for the new or budding child development teacher. In most cases, child development teachers are required to take a particular theory and apply it to their classes. Below is a short list of some of the more prominent child development theories that have stood the test of time.

Social Play And Early Education

A young boy sitting on a table

According to one of the more prominent theorists, children develop through social play. The theories of this thinker, Morris Rosenberg, include several elements. First, he believes that children begin to understand the world around them as early as two or three years of age. Second, he suggests that this understanding is not limited to understanding the external world, but extends to their internal world as well. Finally, he believes that the ability to understand these concepts begins to diminish as they reach four or five years of age. These ideas have been proven to be very helpful in a variety of classrooms.

Many of the early education and Montessori movements focused on early childhood education and its importance of social interaction. One of the most noted Montessori theorists was Maria Montessori. Like other early education practitioners, Montessori believed that children develop at their own pace, and that the best education occurs when they have the opportunity to play. To that end, she encouraged educational systems to provide an abundance of child-centered play experiences.

The Montessori Thinkers And Different Approaches

A little girl sitting at a table

Another important Montessori thinker was Lucien van den Houtte. Like other early education practitioners, he believed that children learn from basic interactions with adults. He also believed that these interactions should be engaged within an interactive context. To that end, he advocated the use of role-playing games and other natural human behaviors to foster learning opportunities. Several schools of thought adopted this approach, which has become a popular method among many educators.

In addition to having different approaches to child-centered play, many of the Montessori schools of thought emphasized the importance of natural interaction. They encouraged students to take part in natural social play experiences, such as playing with classmates or other groups, taking natural group walks, playing musical instruments, or simply spending time together as a group. All of these activities fostered a significant amount of social interaction and promoted the important role of human contact.

The Theories Of The Early Childhood Educators

The theories of Vygotsky and several of the other early childhood educators who followed have had varying degrees of success. Vygotsky believed that all children learn through different stages of life. He called these stages intellectual ification, organismification, and organismization, and believed that these stages worked together in predetermined patterns. The experience of growing up involved being in different environments, interacting with different sets of people, and learning to use various communication methods. Each of these activities was associated with learning something new, and each one resulted in experiencing something new as well. Therefore, he believed that we could model our teaching techniques after these patterns so that children would learn effectively and quickly.

However, Vygotsky’s ideas were criticized by some prominent educators of his time, including Meyer Feigl and Paul Tillich. In their view, the educational methods applied by Vygotsky included classroom rote learning and rote memorization. These methods had been used for over fifty years before Vygotsky’s time, and to them, the concept of an educational program based on natural developmental patterns was not new. These teachers felt that Vygotsky and the other early childhood educators needed to learn from the mistakes of others.


There are still many scholars of child development today who feel that these early childhood educators deserve credit for developing concepts like self-control, self-esteem, and discipline. But there is no doubt that some of their ideas were wrong, and that some social norms developed later were not well suited for today’s world. Vygotsky is also credited with having founded the theory of Vygotsky’s Law, which states that children develop through four stages of development, before they enter adulthood. These stages can be viewed as a social ladder, where the children of parents who have more money can climb faster than the children of parents with lower social status and education.

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