Maturational, Environmental, and Constructivist Theories

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Maturational, Environmental and the Constructivist theories
PSY 104 Child and Adolescent
Shane Davis
5/21/2012

Theories of development are much more specific than paradigms or worldviews (Miller, 1993). A theory of development deals with change over time and is usually concerned with three things. First, it should describe changes over time within an area or several areas of development. Second, it should describe changes among areas of development. Third, it should explain these changes. No one theory has proved adequate to describe and explain learning or development. Numerous theories of development have influenced educational practices during the 20th century (Aldridge, Kuby, & Strevy, 1992), and currently a shift is affecting theories of child development and education. Some of the historical and current theories that have influenced education include Gesell's (1925) maturational theory, Skinner's (1974) behaviorist approach, Freud's (1935) psychoanalytic theory, Piaget's (1952) constructivist theory, Vygotsky's (1978) socio-historical approach, Bronfenbrenner's (1989) ecological systems theory, and Gardner's (1983) multiple intelligences theory. More recently, critical theory (see Kessler & Swadener, 1992) has influenced education and child development practices, even though critical theory is not a theory of development. Finally, postmodern conceptions have changed the way we think of children and how to educate them (Elkind, 1995, 2000/2001). There are several theories of a child development but three of them have a profound impact on kindergarten readiness practices. These three theories include maturational, environmental and constructivist perceptions of development. We will take a look to each one individually, and then we will compare them against each other. The maturational theory was highly developed by Arnold Gesell and continues to affect what goes on schools, mainly in early childhood classrooms. Arnold Gesell (1880-1961) followed the works of Darwin and other evolutionists, eventually developing the Gesell Maturational Theory. His theory contends that development in childhood and adolescence is primarily biological, or genetic, in origin. Biology and genetics inheritances determine predictable patterns of biological behavior that Gesell termed norms. He felt that children's development patterns opened automatically by biology, as the unfolding of a flower does because it is genetically programmed to do so in the right environment. As the flower requires proper soil and rain, children require a nurturing, stable environment, and little else to mature both biologically and psychologically. In the company of renowned author and physician Benjamin Spock, who wrote Spock's Baby and Child Care, Gesell was among the first professionals to compile developmental stage information with which parents could learn to understand their children. Because childhood and adolescent development is the product of millions of years of evolution, he mainly advocated sensitivity and understanding as parental approaches to development. Biology has already given children what they need to understand their own development. Gesell worked in a lab at Yale University, studying children and their developmental stages. He cataloged children's behavior at various ages and described the norms in their collective development. As such, his theory is often grouped with normative-descriptive approaches, because it uses norms of development to describe the process of maturation. Gesell’s theory was groundbreaking because it implied that learning, illness; injury and life experiences were secondary, if at all influential, to biology and the evolution of the genetics that program a child's development. Unless the child's environment were so distorted as to be harmful, he felt that children were born with all the information their bodies needed for development and maturation. Genetics determine the developmental process and the...
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