Saturday, May 28, 2011

Teacher Reading: Theories of Childhood

Book cover photo
I love to read and I love to learn things. I try to regularly read books about education and early childhood. (However, lately I've not been able to spend much time reading anything - except all those great blogs, of course!)

I recently finally finished Theories of Childhood by Carol Garhart Mooney. It's an overview of several educational theorists--John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky. In addition to giving a brief history and synopsis of each theory, Mooney also gives some practical connections and practices that grow from each theory. I was familiar with most of these theories and got some great reminders about them. I was most unfamiliar with Vygotsky. I found myself identifying with lots of what was communicated about each theory.

What was my takeaway from this book: Each of the theories discussed focused (in some aspect) on children learning through experiences and hands-on work. Play is a key component in most of the theories. Kids need real work to do and real tools to use to do it. Teachers play an important role in providing a suitable environment and helping kids expand their thinking. Teachers can help provide vocabulary and other tools to aid learning, but the real work of learning is made up of the child's experiences. (Note: This isn't any one theory or a consensus among the people featured. It's just my gleaning from all of the theories.)

I'd recommend reading this book. If you're looking for in-depth study of any of these theories, this book does not do that. However, to get a glimpse of these theories (and to find resources for further reading), this book is a good place to start. If nothing else, it will stimulate your thinking about kids, learning, and the environment.

(I'd be glad to send my copy to someone if you are interested in reading it. First person who asks for it in the comments can have it.)


  1. Is that a serious offer? Are you sure this isn't a book you will want to refer back to in the future? (I have trouble getting rid of books because I'm afraid I'll want to look back at them - I rarely do, of course.)

    I immediately went to Amazon after reading the first few paragraphs but would happily take your offer. However, if there are others who would like the book I am quite willing to get my own copy.

  2. Thanks for the review, it looks like a good refresher in people I love.

  3. It's a good book as an introduction but I found it frustrating that there no more up to date theorists in there. There has been a lot of research done since the "youngest" person in the book and some of the theorists have been debunked. However, as an introduction to how child development historically started and who the main players were it is a good start.

    Erikson, for instance, is very out of date. He wouldn't be refered to by child psychologists or developmental specialists because so much more is known now.

    In fact, only Montessori and Dewey are in any way current. Montessori because there is a whole system of education and Dewey because he hasn't been debunked yet.

    A really great book you might be interested in is Childrens' Minds by Margaret Donaldson!

  4. Jenny, I was serious. Email me your mailing address at sxwileyec [at] earthlink [dot] net and I'll send it to you.

  5. Annicles - I agree that there are other, more current theories to explore but I did enjoy this book. Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll add it to my very looong list.

  6. I think it's important not to be too negatively swayed by the date of a theorist's ideas, as many have some key ideas to offer us even if their conclusions are a little incomplete.

    For example Piaget is way 'out of date', yet I think back to learning about him in my teacher education course in the 1970's and realise that his concept of concrete operations underpins so much of what I believe about letting children DO stuff instead of just TELLING them about it.

    Similarly, Vygotsky's concept of scaffolding experiences for the children and then letting them go for it is a key factor in creating continual excitement in my learning environments. Theorists aren't gods- they just provide signposts.

    Thanks, Scott, for showing us the book- I will certainly look out for it.

  7. Hi. I'm Teacher Mayan from the Philippines. I came across this site from the Brick by Brick Fb site link. This book sounds great! Teachers here in early childhood seem to forget that our current practice root from the theories of these great people. Our role is not to choose one over the other but to combine the best features of each philosophy to achieve a child-friendly program. How I wish we could afford to buy this book.