To understand how and when children begin to learn, it is important to look at why we value the process of learning, as Peller (1946) expresses, “The function of early education is to initiate, support and accelerate developmental processes, leading from child to adulthood.”
It is also important to consider the environment that learning takes place in. This has been reflected in the work of such theorists as Maslow and Montessori. Maslow observed a hierarchy of needs; within this hierarchy he observed that by attempting to understand the needs of children, more children were able to achieve their full learning potential. He suggests only when basic physiological needs such as food and water are satisfied, then cognitive development can occur and the higher needs which he categorizes as 'Self-Actualization', such as remembering, understanding and problem solving can then be achieved. Although Maslow documented this Hierarchy of Needs in 1934, it is fair to comment that its principles are still applied to modern education today. For example, Government legislation now provides for free school meals for disadvantaged children of an income support background, enabling these basic physiological needs such as food and water to be met, highlighting the direct relationship between children's needs, and their learning. This was observed on SBW in two primary schools.
Theorist Maria Montessori, whose work provided the foundation for later theorists as Piaget and Vygotsky, also agreed children have an inherent desire to learn and that they would learn through self-instigated actions in an appropriate environment in which they are placed (Horn et al, 2006). Montessori believed a child friendly environment which is accessible and understandable to children, is the best setting for cognitive development and the learning process to begin.
The two main psychological theories which we can observe to study the process of learning are Cognitive Development theories, and Social Constructivism theories.
Cognitive development theory refers to knowledge generated through learner's active exploration of the world and environment. It focuses on developmental stages children pass through, and how learning expands with maturity. This psychological theory is most commonly associated with the work of epistemologist, Jean Piaget. The basis of Piaget's theory underpinned how children arrive at what they know (Mooney, 2000). The two main stages associated with early year's education are the Sensorimotor and Preoperational stages. Piaget proposed children arrive at rational thought when they pass through these two cognitive developmental stages.
From infancy, babies show signs of a strong urge to adapt to their environment. Piaget noted that children's thought journey was a process of adaptation, assimilation and accommodation (Morse et al, 1962). He observed this adaptation as a child adjusting their behavior to cope with the demands of the environment they find themselves in. For example, a baby will cry because of hunger, once presented with food, the hunger will go away. Through this adaptation, comes assimilation, the baby will take in from this experience that food combats hunger, and to aid hunger pains, they must eat. As Wood (1988) states, “The complementary process of accommodation enables the child to deal with new information or new experiences by adapting their experiences.” For example, the baby may recognize the banana in its yellow skin, but when the banana presented out of the skin, a child can connect the concrete object...