In order to decide how past philosophies, theories and educational models have influenced present ideas and practices related to early childhood education, we must first decide where we would like to begin. I will start with the ideas of Aristotle, because I believe his ideas on “mimesis” or imitations are evident in the evolution of early education, and will always be an integral part of effective learning. Once we understand that children learn and practice what they see in others, we begin to realize the need for dedication and devotion from parents and teachers.
Aristotle was a student of Plato who argued for the early removal of children from their parents so that they could be cared for in a school like setting. (Schwartz 1997) As we look back at history itself, we can see that the role of childhood education has been dependent upon the immediate needs and beliefs of a particular society. There have also been many individuals in the past 200 years who are responsible for creating theories and philosophies based on their observations of children and what is vital to them as they develop into adults.
However, it is important that we recognize how new ideas are not formed independently, but built upon old ones. As educators, we must utilize what we notice to be effective, as well as the things that impacted us most as children in an educational setting. The strategies and philosophies that I’ve implemented in particular are borrowed from several individuals including Erikson, Vygotsky and Gardiner. Erikson’s psychosocial theory covers eight stages, each one built upon, and reliant on its predecessor.
The first four are of greatest relevance, but the remaining four are worthy of a close look because it is important to know where you’re going when deciding upon the best way to get there. These stages also remind me of the importance of satisfying basic need, and of considering children as little people who need to believe in success before they can achieve it. It’s one of the reasons why I would occasionally go to recess with my students. I was able to observe how they treated and responded to others in a seemingly more relaxed, social setting.
For some children, recess is by far the most stressful twenty minutes of the day. The incredibly minimal amount of time given to my students was another reason I felt it was necessary to attend. I could get a kick ball game set up so they could make the best of what little time they had. However, I must be honest, I still love to play, and demonstrating good sportsmanship and a competitive spirit to my kids was as important as the preparation for any test we had to look forward to. Lastly, I had a sixth grade teacher who used to do the same thing and I remember it vividly and extremely fondly.
I find Gardiners’ theory of multiple intelligence extremely helpful while building confidence in kids whose gifts were not overly apparent on the field at recess. I have and will always encourage students to recognize and display these gifts while still maintaining a certain degree of humility. (Hyson 2004) I’ve always kept examples of completed activities inside and outside my classroom and anywhere else I could find space in order to, among other things, initiate discussions about pride as well as humility. Our classroom clearly demonstrated the fact that comfort and familiarity were held in high regard.
An equal emphasis was placed on respect, and this is the word that was constantly spelled out on the board. As my class or one of my students showed an obvious lack of respect, one of the letters would be erased. They would be put back as we were respectful of one another, and if the word was entirely spelled out on Friday afternoon, we would have a “social gathering” for the last half hour of the day. If we were to walk into most, if not all early childhood educational settings, we would find many things that were initiated or influenced by past theorists or philosophers.
We would notice blocks or other creative building materials. There would be areas to encourage cooperative learning, and most would reflect what is thought to be developmentally appropriate for the range of members in the class. When determining what types of play are developmentally appropriate, we need to consider all individuals, and the fact that differences will exist. Members of a class who are either gifted or struggling should not have to suffer because of what is thought to be developmentally appropriate. These differences should be expected, utilized and appreciated.
Computers, for example, will run programs with varying degrees of difficulty depending upon what is developmentally appropriate for an individual. As concerns continue to grow over bridging the gap between early education students, government intervention has and will continue to grow. An increase in assessments is inevitable, and even smaller amounts of time will be devoted to active learning, exploration and play. The changes that in fact need to be made are those that reflect the ideas of the great minds of theorists who dedicated their lives in order to determine the most effective methods of early childhood education.