Developmental Approach

Taking a developmental approach to learning means recognizing the qualitative differences between the thinking of children, the thinking of adolescents, and the thinking of adults. Numerous researchers have documented patterns in development that have very important implications for how children can learn at different ages.

Jean Piaget was a pioneer in the field of child development. He identified several stages of understanding through which children pass, apparently through natural experience. Children grow from a very physical and sensory understanding into the ability to make mental operations on what they observe. These operations are at first very concrete and literal. Only at the age of eleven or twelve do most children begin to develop formal thinking skills on an abstract level. Although some of his theories have been revised over time, most developmental psychologists still recognize the importance of his work.

Lev Vygotsky provided an alternative, social view of child development. He emphasized the acquisition of knowledge and skills through direct social contact with other people who display slightly more advanced skills. Through supportive experiences where the student is able to share in the greater ability of a peer or a teacher, learning can happen more readily than in isolation.

students outside

The Children's School applies these developmental theories through a concrete, conceptual, and collaborative approach to learning. While repetition and imitation may raise a student's performance of various tasks, that performance often does not reflect understanding. Children can benefit immensely from the use of materials (instead of words and symbols) to communicate ideas. They can also benefit from persistent reflection on their thinking and creative process more than their results. Finally, they benefit from complex social interactions with teachers and other students, which require them to adapt their ideas and communication to an ever-changing context.

These are the hallmarks of progressive educational philosophy, tested over decades of research and practice. We have found them effective in developing students who are poised, confident, flexible, and naturally curious about the world.