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Demonstrate your understanding of average child development using detailed knowledge of one child development theory and making links to two of your observations.

You are expected to demonstrate the usefulness of child development theory for social workers including relevant legal and policy context (e.g. Every Child Matters and the Children Act 2004).

You must include how you reflected on anti-oppressive practice in relation to your observation.

I will discuss my understanding of child development using knowledge from the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky and link them to my observation. I will also explain why it is important for social workers to grasp the range of theories used to explain child development. Adults are obviously more powerful than children, when observing a child in their own environment it is important to be aware of the imbalance of power. I will discuss how I reflected on anti-oppressive practice in relation to my observation.

Child development is the study of changes in children from birth to adulthood. These changes can be represented either in age related phases or by referring to domains of development-physical, cognitive or social/emotional. (Doherty & Hughes: 28). Cognitive development is the changes in a person’s mental abilities throughout the life span. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget spent many years researching children’s cognitive development using observations and small scale experiments. Piaget developed a model of cognitive structure. In Piaget’s theory, cognitive development is represented as unfolding in four stages, sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years), pre-operational stage (2 to 7 years), Concrete operational stage (7 to 11 years) and formal operation stage (12 years upwards).( Doherty & Hughes 2009: 261). Piaget’s structures are sets of mental operations known as schemas. Piaget used the term organization to refer to the inborn capacity to coordinate existing schemas and combine them into more complex systems. Piaget observed his son attempting to strike a hanging object, by the age of six months the child possessed the mental structure that guided the action involved in hitting a toy. (Smith et al 2003:392). For a child to move from an existing schema to another requires a process known as assimilation and accommodation. Through assimilation the child takes in a new experience, for example the child might have learned that all four wheeled vehicles are cars. From experience and other people’s responses this would then prompt the child to accommodate and reorganise ‘car’ into two new concepts ‘car’ and ‘lorry’. Accommodation results in growth and change, it returns the child to a more comfortable state that Piaget calls equilibrium. Equilibrium is the process of finding a balance between those things that were previously understood and those that are yet to be understood. Adapting a new scheme as a result of new experience children can develop their understanding of how the world works. Piaget believed that children build their own understanding of the world by the things they do, he did not believe a teacher could teach young children to understand a concept, he used the expression “construction is superior to instruction”. (Mooney 2000: 61).

However Russian Lev Vygtsky who was also interested in cognitive development and the relation to learning clearly disagreed with Piaget’s theory of child development. Like Piaget, he saw the child as an active constructor of knowledge and understanding, though greater emphasis was placed on the social context, in which children explored and learned. Piaget viewed the child an experimental scientist whereas Vygotsky seen the child as an apprentice, acquiring knowledge and skills of a culture through interaction with those who already process that knowledge and those skills. (Doherty & Hughes 2009:268). It is as a result of the social interactions between the growing child and other members of that child’s community,...
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