Child development theories

Theories of development are important as they help us to understand children’s behaviour and ways of learning. Below are some people who changed the way of teachers thinking and approaches to children

Jean Piaget – his theories looks at the way in which children seem to be able to make sense of their world as a result of their experiences and how they learn. He suggested that as children develop so does their thinking.

Piaget’s work has influenced early year’s settings into providing more ‘hands on’ and relevant tasks for children and young people e.g. children are ‘learning through play’. Teachers are working out the needs of children and plan activities adorning to their needs.

Vygotsky — his work has been included into the early year’s framework. He believed that a child’s environment and their experiences are very important for their development. He suggested that children were born to be sociable and by being with parents and then with friends they learned and gained understanding from them.

He suggested that people in early years setting working with children should extend and challenge their thoughts in order for their development to be achieved. As well as the need for adults to work alongside children Vygotsky also felt that children could guide and develop each other’s potential by encouraging them to do tasks together e.g. doing music sessions where they are encouraged to join in.

The behaviourist approach to learning suggests that behaviour is learned from environmental factors, rewards and punishments. The consequences of actions are

Positive: children are most likely to repeat this behaviour when they do something good e.g. clapping their hands for the first time and getting an adult’s attention and praise.

Negative: children will repeat this behaviour but it is repeated to stop something happening again e.g. they might used their hands to slow down the speed they are going on the slide

Punishers: will make a child stop that behaviour e.g. going on timeout or having a toy taken away from them.

The approaches we use to work with children and the EYFS have been influenced by:

Reggoio Emilia:
Children must have some control over the direction of their learning;
children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing, and hearing;
children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that children must be allowed to explore;
and children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves

schools s are to provide opportunities for child- imitated play
There is an emphasis on outdoor play
Emphasis on children learning through play with other children


The Montessori approach is designed to support the natural development of children in a well-prepared environment.
respect for the child,
the absorbent mind,
Sensitive periods,
the prepared environment,


teachers are meant to observe children individually in order to provide for their play and learning
Meant to ensure that children are challenged in order to progress with their learning


This approach begins in the United States, as a way of improving outcomes for disadvantaged children. It is an established model which influences children to be involved with decision making and taking responsibility.

High/scope recognizes the uniqueness of each child and develops their self confidence by building on what they can do.
Children are considered active learners so play is used as the model for learning. Routines are also considered highly important as children gain stability and consistency from this and respond better from this.
Building a strong relationship with parents is also a main principle of this approach along with the appropriate curriculum.


teachers are meant to provide opportunities for child-initiated play
teachers are encouraged to talk to children about their learning


The Steiner concept which involves a more holistic approach to education
Lessons are focused on spiritual, creative and social skills with less of a focus on intellectual skills


Play with natural objects is encouraged for babies and toddlers
Teachers are meant to plan adult-directed play and provide for child-initiated play

A key person will know the rate of a child development and will plan activities to help them move it along while also making sure that it is safe and suitable for their age

We must remember that all children are different and will have different ideas and opinions and we should respect them.

We might need to change the way we talk to child because of their age or disability e.g. we might have to sign a question or show a picture to explain what we are talking about or asking e.g. showing them a picture or a drinking to ask them if they would like one.

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