The role of the environment including significant adults can have a profound effect on child’s holistic development. Discuss how the environment can impact on child development. In your response consider theoretical perspectives of child development and their influence on current practice within the Early Years Sector The role of the adult is a key factor in the developmental process of the child, whilst we understand the importance of the adult we have to consider the creation of a positive environment which in doing so provides vital opportunities in enhancing children’s development.
Also effective support and encouragement is crucial to children’s learning and growth. In relation to current practice, we need to evaluate the ideas of theorists surrounding the suggestion that holistic development and the environment impact on factors affecting the growth of a child. Holistic development means the development of a child as a whole; every child develops at different rates and there are many factors which can affect development. Development can be divided into different areas, social, language, physical, and cognitive development.
Each area of development needs to be connected and working in order for development to be successful and balanced. One of the most important theorists that influenced our current practice today is Piaget, who whilst being a protagonist of child learning is also the most famous for his four stages of cognitive development. Cognitive development is the development of the mind, how it works and the use of mental processes such as reasoning. Piaget suggested that children learn in stages in relation to their senses and their age, and they need to acquire mastery of each stage before they can progress to the next.
These four stages of cognitive development assess in what stages a child learns, and most of all is a guideline for practitioners today. Piaget’s first stage of development was Sensori-motor development 0-2 years which focused on sensori and motor skills, Johnston and Williams (2009, p. 114) state that at this stage of children’s development children are only concerned with their own needs and they begin to “suck and swallow” at this stage of development children can manipulate objects and “attain an understanding that objects continue to exist even though they cannot be seen” Trisha Maynard and Nigel Thomas (2009, p.
66) This is known as the concept of object permanence. Smith et al (2003 p 373) suggests that the knowledge and understanding of object permanence within a child’s cognitive development is extremely important as without this, they will not be able to understand that words have meaning and represent different things. When children develop to the pre-operational development which lasts from the age of 2-7 years they are capable of thinking symbolically such as they can use objects to represent different things and this can be incorporated into make believe play.
Trisha Maynard and Nigel Thomas (2009, p. 66) stated “ an example of make believe play would be a three year old holding a banana to her ear and speaking into it as if it were a telephone” this suggests that the child is able to imagine the banana as something else, to what it actually is. Therefore the young child has manipulated the object into something that it wants it to be. During this stage of development a child is also egocentric which means that the child can only see one point of view.
Once children progress to the concrete operational stage at the age of 7 until 12 years old, children are able to understand how mass, weight, length and volume work and they become less egocentric and are able to consider other people’s feelings. The final stage of Piaget’s cognitive development is formal operational stage, 12 years and older. Johnston and Williams (2009, p. 114) explain how in this last stage of development they can separate, order and combine different ideas whilst solving mental problems in abstract ways.
Overall there are tests that demonstrate these areas of development and this forms a basis of how practitioners know when a child is has reached that certain stage of development. These were called conservation tests which assessed whether or not children of different ages would be able to distinguish between the quantity of either liquid, mass, number or area remaining the same even though the appearance of it had changed. It was concluded that children below a certain age would not be able to recognise that the quantity remained the same, and believed that the test was some sort of test.
Piaget’s view of the development of children has provided practitioners with a useful framework in understanding and exploring cognitive development, and it enables teachers to match the development of children into their strategy of learning. However there are some criticisms of Piaget’s theory as a whole, studies have concluded that piaget underestimates the ability of children, as suggested in (Bee and Boyd 2010 p. 151) where it states that “ evidence suggests that pre-schoolers are somewhat more cognitively sophisticated than Piaget thought.
” as some children can clearly master certain tasks quicker than others and therefore should not be hindered in their learning, in regard to this he does not acknowledge abnormal development which would suggest that he doesn’t look into different ways of thinking. Also, Piaget bears little focus on the emotional and social development of children, as discussed earlier, social and emotional development is just as important as cognitive development, and all areas of development need to be working together, in order for holistic development to be balanced.
In parallel to Piaget’s theory Vygotsky, concentrates more on the social aspect and interactions in children rather than the aspect of thinking. (Duncan, 1995 cited in Bee and Boyd, 2010) describes how vygotsky was convinced that complex forms of thinking have their origins in social interactions. Vygotsky believed that in order to understand cognitive development we have to be aware of the social and cultural factors that can impact on children’s development.
In relation to Vygotsky theory, he believed it was important that an adult influences and structures a child’s learning experience. This Idea that the adult influences and structures children’s learning and development was advanced by Bruner who later called the term scaffolding. Learning with the assistance of an adult is best described within Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development.
Smith, Cowie,Blades (2003,p,497) state that “ The ZPD is the distance between the child’s actual developmental level and his or her potential level of development under the guidance of more expert adults…” the ZPD is split up into three sections, the first section is the child’s current achievement, this is what a child could achieve if the child was working on their own, the second section is the ZPD which is what a child could achieve with the help of an adult, and the last stage is the stage that is beyond the child’s current reach at present.
Vygotsky’s emphasised the importance of children being able to explore different aspects of knowledge, this is where children would be aided in their understanding of the world. Vygotsky contrasted piaget’s idea that the child can only progress to the next stage of development once he or she has mastered a certain phase, vygotsky did not wait for a child to be deemed ‘ready’ by society, he disputed that “ children [should] learn from other people who are more knowledgeable” Smith,
Cowie,Blades (2003,p,497) This shows that the role of the adult is extremely important in a child’s development and in today’s society, as a child looks to an adult for guidance and support, the adult supports the child in giving them challenges which are still achievable, but would not be something that they would be able to achieve on their own without the support of an adult, this then gives the child experience and furthers their range in the ZPD. Vygotsky’s ideas of the role of the adult were developed by Bruner who was a social constructivist.
He proposed a concept of ‘scaffolding’, within this concept Bruner suggested that children make their own learning with the help of the adult which is very important, however the adult needs to realise and understand that the child needs to experience the world for themselves. Bruner argued that cognitive development cannot happen in isolation and that social interaction is crucial to a child’s holistic development, therefore it is stressed that the role of the adult in aiding learning is so important.
The scaffolding theory was a frame set up for children, where the adults were the frame and support the child’s learning, so when they are very young, they would need a vast majority of adults support. “As a child becomes more independent in the mastery of a new skill, the adult is able to gradually remove the scaffolding until the child no longer needs it” Smith, Cowie,Blades (2003,p,503) The framework of the role of the adult is extremely important as the adults guide and influence children throughout their development.
The influence that adults have on children is an important aspect that we need to consider in the understanding of children’s development. Albert Bandura a social theorist conducted a study within young children from the ages of 3 to 6 to demonstrate that children can learn and imitate behaviours that they have observed by other people. These groups of children were split into three groups, within this scenario they were subjected to a short film where they would witness a plastic doll being exposed to violence and aggression.
Each group had a different ending, one was that violence and aggression was rewarded, another was punished and the last group no action was taken at all. The children were then allowed to play with the doll themselves. Bandura found that the children that were exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to act in an aggressive way than those who were not. Bandura came to the conclusion that children observing adult behaviour are influenced to think that this type of
aggressive behaviour is acceptable within society. Oates, 1994:24 cited in Johnston and Williams (2009, p. 214) this therefore suggests that “observation and imitating result in learned behaviour” In relation to learning language and behaviour, there are language milestones, these milestones are all dependant on the opportunity the child receives during their development as a young child. The environment children are placed in can have a profound effect on the development of language.
Most children follow a relatively predictable sequence in their progress of speech and language; however there are many exceptions to this, as children with disability might not learn at the same rate as children without. By the time children are three years old, most children’s vocabulary will have grown, as by now they are able to talk in sentences and will have learnt to say several different words, having progressed from babbling as their form of communication. However the progress of their vocabulary growth will depend on the opportunity that parents give their children and the environment.
Skinner was a behaviourist theorist, and he developed John Locke theory that every child is a ‘tabula rasa’ a tabula rasa is a blank sheet “which social interaction writes upon or develops” Johnston and Williams (2009, p. 28) children were not born with experience and were not made to behave in a certain way, experience and parental guidance determine whether or not a child develops to their full potential. Skinner focuses on language development and he suggests that language is a learnt behaviour that is acquired by conditioning and reinforcement.
Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning was discovered after studying rats, this theory occurs where behaviour is learned as a results of a reward or punishment, for example if a child asks to have a drink but does so without saying please and then the adult gives the child the drink, this will reinforce bad manners, however if the adult tells the child that they haven’t said please and will only receive a drink if they do so, this will reinforce good manners and thus is rewarding good behaviour which is socially acceptable.
In regard to language, Skinner argues that children learn language because adults reinforce the correct use. Learning a language and the impact the environment has on a child raises questions as in some way the environment has to be responsible to how we learn and speak. This is explained in something as simple as different languages and dialects, how else would we be able to explain how children can learn and speak different languages in relevance to where they live.
In contrast to Skinners idea about language, Chomsky suggested that we are born with language and that it is within us from birth, we are given the ability to understand and grasp basic language, so in order to develop this language that we are given from birth we have to be given the correct stimulation from our parents, peers and role models, however this will depend on what kind of environment the child is placed in, whether or not it is a positive environment Chomsky stated that “Language learning is not really something that the child does; it is something that happens to the child placed in an appropriate environment…” (Chomsky 1987, p.
519) Chomsky recognised this and believed that environment does play a part in a child’s development. During prenatal development the environment that the mother is placed in can have a profound effect on the development of a child. Prenatal development is where nurture, the influence of experience and the environment, and nature the influence of our genes combined with behaviour impacts on how a child develops.
During prenatal development there are many conditions that can affect the development of a child. Nutrition is an important aspect of the development of a child as an adequate diet is important “and the presence of key nutrients are critical to prenatal development” (Bee and Boyd 2010 p. 53) A mother needs to be well nourished as lack of the vital nutrition needed can greatly increase the risk of infant death, low birth weight and a risk of their child being stillborn.
However there are many other factors that can contribute to this, for example smoking during pregnancy can cause genetic damage to the foetus and the nicotine within a cigarette can damage the blood vessels, reduce blood flow, and damage and alter the cells of the un-born child’s developing lungs.
“Prenatal exposure to tobacco also appears to have long-term effects on children’s cognitive and social development” Bee and Boyd 2010 p, 51) It is also suggested that women who smoke during pregnancy can affect their children’s possibility of being diagnosed with ADHD. The effects that drinking can have on the foetus, can result in a child being diagnosed with Foetal alcohol syndrome where there are distinctive physical abnormalities and deformities.