Application of Piaget’s Constructivist approach to Early Years Settings

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Application of Piaget’s Constructivist approach to Early Years Settings

  • Piaget has had a great impact on the way childcare practitioners view a child’s learning and the way they are taught, particularly in pre-school and nurseries

  • Instruction–Teachers must emphasize the critical role that experiences–or interactions with the surrounding environment–play in children’s learning.

  • Piagets work initiated the process of ‘baseline assessments’ for children i.e. children are tested on their stage of development and then appropriate activities are provided to promote and extend learning. Practitioners should assess at what stage of cognitive development each child is at and provide appropriate tasks, resources and activities to encourage their intellectual skills.

  • He proposed that children's thinking does not develop entirely smoothly: instead, there are certain points at which it "takes off" and moves into completely new areas and capabilities. He saw these transitions as taking place at about 18 months, 7 years and 11 or 12 years. This has been taken to mean that before these ages children are not capable (no matter how bright) of understanding things in certain ways, and has been used as the basis for scheduling the school curriculum.

  • Having a comfortable and safe environment allows the children to explore and interact. Planned free play sessions encourages this exploration and allows them to re-enact and practise real life situations – many pre-school and reception classes encourage free play based on Paiaget’s work with children.

  • Constructivist (aggression):they have developed a faulty thought process i.e. they have learnt a flawed way in dealing with a particular scenario or environment.

Summary of how to put theory into practise:

  • Main role of practitioner is to provide opportunities for play and learning

  • Assess what stage of development the child is at in order to provide appropriate toys/resources

  • Provide opportunities for varied experiences

  • Encouragement helps child to engage

  • Allow free play with range of materials etc




Stage 1: Sensorimotor

At this stage they are starting their development of schemas. These allow the child to make sense of world but they cannot yet organise information. They are also egocentric and will not understand things from others view. At this stage the child gains knowledge of the world through basic senses.

Once a baby has developed object permanence (when something has gone we know it is still there) they may cry when there mum has gone – they are aware of her being and they want her back. It is the EYW’s job to employ distraction techniques i.e. taking the baby to the window, distracting them with toys etc

Children at this age love cause and effect games i.e. they drop something and you have to pick it up off the floor. They drop it because they know it will still be there and they find it funny that you have to pick it up – play lots of these kinds of games with them.

Children must be able to explore their environment using the senses – in order to learn fully. Provide activities for this i.e. a treasure basket with lots of different materials, water and sand play, gloop, colours, music, physical tasks such as dancing etc..
They process information visually as images – so use a variety of visual props

Stage 2: Pre-operational
At this stage they only see things as they appear to be. They have a simple understanding of right and wrong but this has important applications in behaviour management. At this stage they also believe that every object has a consciousness. They also use a lot of symbolic thinking i.e. using objects to represent something else, stick - wand

At this stage children are ego-centric (they can only see things from their own point of view). It is important therefore that the EYW is trained in listening to both sides of an argument. Practitioners must give chances for children to resolve their conflicts on their own to encourage their independent thinking.

The work of Piaget shows us that at a young age (and in some instances) children are not able to tell the difference between right and wrong especially when they can only see things from their own viewpoint (this will be before the age of 7) e.g. ownership of objects will not be automatic for children and they will need explanation as to why they cannot have everything that they see.

At this stage children show ‘symbolic thinking’ i.e. they will use a stick as a wand. EYW’s should allow this to happen and not keep activities structured around their purpose e.g. if children want to use threading beads as peas in the saucepan in the home corner they should be allowed in order for them to make sense of their world.

Animism occurs at this age – children think objects have thoughts and feelings. EYW’s need to encourage this i.e. let them draw smiley faces on their dogs. Let them play with dolls as if they were babies and have feelings. This encourages emotional development and understanding of the world
At this stage the development of language abilities enables the processing of information. Practitioners should provide opportunities to develop and use emerging language skills. tasks which involve developing the imagination: props and costumes, toys and stories will encourage language development
They are increasing their use of hearing as a means of gathering information so practitioners should provide appropriate activities for this e.g. songs, music, story time etc.

Stage 3: Concrete operational
At this stage they are beginning to use logic and complex reasoning but they still need concrete objects to base it on. They are becoming able to decentre and see things from others point of view. They are also beginning to realise that things are not always as they look

Conservation occurs at this stage. Promote activities in a school setting to do with shape, volume and number e.g. draw a template of a cube, cut it out and put it together.
Children of this age need to be able to see something in front of them to work it out e.g. tens and units/ number lines. This is why we see so much of this in primary schools – it is all down to Piaget!
Encourage the use of logic and reasoning provide activities such as simple puzzles

Stage 4: Formal operations

At this stage the child can use hypothetical deductions and logical thought which means that they are able to conduct thought processes in their mind and don’t need aids - abstract thinking

Objects are no longer required as tools for working things out. Children in secondary school are expected to do ‘workings’ in their head. Children in this stage can reason without having to manipulate something.
Curriculum–Educators must plan a developmentally appropriate curriculum that enhances their students’ logical and conceptual growth.

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