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Day 1 - Theories of Development

Day 1 - Theories of Development

Alexis Ralphs Sep 29 • 7 min read

Welcome to Day 1! We're glad you're here.

How do children learn? We start with a very brief overview of some of the most well-known theories.

The Blank Slate

Some early thinkers believed that children's minds were empty vessels to be filled up by the parent or teacher. This view is of the adult as the instructor. The child simply absorbs the information.


Learning takes place when behaviour is reinforced by reward or punishment. A squirrel releases a nut by pressing a lever. Each time he succeeds, the behaviour is reinforced. He is more likely to do it next time. He has learnt.

Teachers used to punish bad behaviour to discourage it. Today's educators prefer to encourage good behaviour instead by rewarding it. Welcome to the land of the sticker chart.


Constructivists believe that we learn when our experiences don't match our expectations. A baby dropping food from a high chair expects it to stay on the floor. But what if she drops a bouncy ball? Or an egg? An unexpected result! This is new information that has to be added to the mental model of 'what happens when I drop things'.

If you're a constructivist, you don't teach. You offer novel experiences that will challenge your child's assumptions. Let them make discoveries and test them out.


This is the idea that children construct their knowledge in collaboration with others. The adult asks probing questions. The child is challenged to test their assumptions against the new information.

Which approach makes the most sense to you? Do you use all of them with your child or is there one in particular which resonates more?

As a teacher, parents often ask me about their child's development: How are they doing? What is normal? What comes next? What can I do to help?

The problem, of course, is that children develop at different rates and excel in different ways. It's perfectly normal for a four-year-old to make recognisable marks on a page, but you'll also find plenty of two-year-olds who can do it too.

Unless you've been a teacher or had several children, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a child is behind. You meet a much younger child and they are already ahead of your own.

If you understand a little theory, it protects you from these worries and gives you the confidence you need to offer the right experiences to extend your child's learning.

That's what this series is all about.

Here's the rest of the series:


Day 1 - Theories of Development

Day 2 - Stages of Play

Day 3 - Play is Multisensory

Day 4 - Gender-Neutral Toys

Day 5 - The Zone of Proximal Development

Day 6 - Heuristic Play

Day 7 - Spot the Difference

Day 8 - Sorting

Day 9 - Schemas

Day 10 - Ask good questions

Day 11 - Conservation

Day 12 - Seriation

Day 13 - Observation

Day 14 - Set a good example

Day 15 - Fewer toys = more focus

Day 16 - The Hundred Languages of Children

Day 17 - Plan-do-review

Day 18 - Practical life

Day 19 - Free-flow play

Day 20 - Executive functions

Day 21 - Spaced repetition

Day 22 - Independent play

Day 23 - Project-based Learning

Day 24 - The Environment As The Third Teacher

Day 25 - Start With The Child

Day 26 - Symbolic Play

Day 27 - Learning To Write

Day 28 - Blocks: the indispensable toy

Day 29 - Outdoor Learning

Day 30 - Play

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