Home  > Education Schools for Auroville > Kindergarten Introduction > Chapter 3

Introduction  |   Chapter 1   |   Chapter 2  |   Chapter 3  |   Conclusion


Schools for
young children must
be developmentally appropriate

Developmental stage theory, a relatively new branch of psychology, assumes that in their growth from infancy to adulthood humans go through stages which are sequential, invariant and universal. These stages apply to growth in all domains: the physical, the mental (or cognitive), the vital (or affective) and the social. Some developmental psychologists have also posited moral and spiritual stages of development. Although the stages reflect a universal pattern for growth, human beings pass through these stages at different rates and with varying degrees of sophistication. One person may advance rapidly in social skills but be slow to develop physically, another may spurt ahead in the cognitive domain but learn social skills slowly. In a broad sense, however, it is not possible to jump a stage, or to be force-marched through it. Until a child is ready to make growth in a given domain and through a given stage,
all that loving parents and conscientious teachers can do is to prepare the environment; we can not “make” growth happen. Patterns of development are also strongly affected by the individual personality with which we come into the world, and with the conditions of the culture in which we live. Children brought up in a seafaring society may learn to swim very early; children brought up by highly verbal parents are apt to begin talking earlier.

Unlike the concept of childhood which was common a century ago, and still prevails in some societies, children are not thought of or treated like little adults. Childhood is recognized as a stage in human development with special qualities all its own. Psychological theory, supported by our own common sense observations of children, shows us that young children do not think like adults; they do not even think like older children. Their perceptions of the world are embedded in their own spontaneous actions and desires. They do not reason abstractly; they do not even reason logically as we understand logic, though within the range of their perceptions the thinking may be very logical. Ask your four year old whether he has a brother or sister. If he says yes, ask him who is the sister/brother of that person? It is not often that the four year old understands that the relationship is reciprocal; that if Jack is his brother he is also Jack’s brother. Ask him what happens to the sun at night. But don’t try to force him to learn the right answer because he does not yet have enough experience of the world, or the mental ability, to understand abstractly that the earth is moving when you can just look around and see that it isn’t. Even I have a little trouble with that idea when I think about it! No wonder the flat earth theory took so long to be disproved. The young child knows the world as he or she sees it - literally. That things may be other than they seem is a stage of thinking they will come to later.

At one of our kindergarten seminars we discussed guidelines for development in young children from the book Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 2-12 in which Chip Wood, drawing on the theoretical work of Arnold Gesell, Piaget and others, as well as on his own extensive experience with children, has described the common characteristics of children at each age from four to twelve. He describes these common characteristics in four domains: the physical, the cognitive (mental), the social, and in the realm of language. Within the physical domain he notes rapid changes in vision, with fine and gross motor ability as the child matures. For example, in four year olds vision and fine motor ability are still developing, and it is therefore unwise to expect the child to do close visual work, like copying from the board, or fine motor activity like embroidery. Six year olds, on the other hand, have gained increasing body control and are mentally ready for more abstract tasks - getting ready to be readers and writers as well as runners and singers.

Four year olds, he says, are “ready for everything”. They are explorers, adventurers, sparkling with energy, continuously on the move, full of exaggeration, using and enjoying many large muscle activities, if not yet ready for fine motor and close-up visual activity. Fives are more compliant and more comfortable, but they are also happier when the environment is structured and predictable, with bounded opportunities for exploration and free play. Sixes are “in an age of dramatic physical, cognitive and social change”. They are industrious, they thrive on praise, they can be extremist in anything, and they are at the threshold of large changes in their perceptions of the world.

In general the young child is egocentric and impulsive. He knows only the world immediately around him, and, embedded in his perceptions, he is clear about what he thinks he knows, he is also full of curiosity; he questions, he investigates, he expects the world to bend to his desires, and he is seldom capable of planning ahead.

(This is a very skimpy summary of a very readable book. Parents and teachers of children up to the age of 12 may be interested in borrowing it from the Teacher’s Access Centre at Transition. All of the other books mentioned are also available to borrow.)

As we looked at the defining characteristics of children at different levels of development we tried to match their needs and interests with the curriculum of the kindergarten, and for the most part found the curriculum a fitting mix for the changing developmental patterns of four to six year olds.

Introduction  |   Chapter 1   |   Chapter 2  |   Chapter 3  |   Conclusion

Home  > Education Schools for Auroville > Kindergarten Introduction > Chapter 3

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