Theories of Child Development

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2.3 The Theories of development
There are many theories of child development and each one has influenced practice in schools. Skinner’s theory of ‘Operant Conditioning’ suggests that behaviour which is reinforced tends to be repeated. In schools we reinforce good behaviour by rewarding it (house points, merits, Headteacher awards etc) and we “punish” poor behaviour to discourage it (warnings, sitting out, missing Golden Time etc). Piaget’s theory of ‘Cognitive Development’ has helped shape the milestones we expect children to reach at certain stages in their development. Bandura’s theory of ‘Social Learning’ requires adults in school to model the sort of behaviour we would like children to learn and imitate and in return, we reward children to encourage them repeating these good behaviours, such as listening to others, respecting other people’s opinions, being polite and saying thank you. Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ has had a strong impact on practice in schools. Abraham H. Maslow (a humanistic psychologist) put together a hierarchy of needs (see below) and he used this to show that people were not going to be motivated by any of the higher level needs (or growth needs) until the needs on the lower levels (physiological needs) of the pyramid had been addressed and satisfied.

In basic terms relating to children’s learning, if children are hungry, thirsty, cold, exhausted, scared or feeling left out or alone, then they will not be able to concentrate and access learning. Staff in schools need to ensure that basic needs are met so we can help all children to reach their full potential. The physiological needs at the bottom of the pyramid become predominant when they are not met. These include the need for food, water, shelter, warmth and sleep and are basic life needs. Our school caters for these needs by: offering a Breakfast Club; ensuring all children bring a bottle of water to school every day; providing snacks in Early Years and KS1; allowing the youngest...
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