Theoretical Perspectives on Child Development

The five major theoretical perspectives on child development, as outlined by Santrock (2013) are categorized as psychoanalytic, cognitive, behavioral and social cognitive, ethological, and ecological.  In regards to psychoanalytic theory, Freud and Erickson posit that early familial experiences play an important role, whether biological or cultural.  This is echoed in Piaget’s and Vigotsky’s ideas of cognitive structure – that childhood is an integral timeline in which interactions influence growth and development.  The ethological perspective also has a strong biological point of view, thus mimicking the importance of early experience, but going further to suggest that static nature of development after the critical period has passed.  This is in contrast to the behavioral and social cognitive theory, and ecological theory – both of which stress environmental interactions and on-going development at all life stages (Santrock, 2013; p 32).

As educators, I believe we can find truth and substance to each of the theories, but I have particular interest in Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory, which states that ‘children actively construct their understanding of the world and go through four stages of cognitive development’ (Santrock, 2013; p 25).  As a parent of toddlers, I witness the early stages of development at home:  my one year old is currently developing sensorimotor (walking, coordination) and preoperational skills (sounds, words, communication).  As a high school teacher, I see daily improvement in my student’s formal operational skills, specifically their ability to ‘become more systematic [in solving problems], developing hypotheses about why something is happening the way it is and then testing these hypotheses’ and to ‘move beyond concrete experiences and think in abstract and more logical terms’ (Santrock, 2013; p 26).  My goal is to consider this and then discover how one might best cultivate and foster abstract thinking in adolescents, essentially creating critical thinkers and thus a greater conceptual understanding in our learners.

Santrock, J. W., Children (12th ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

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