To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.
development is quite broad and is not the core of this book, I think it is helpful to review key points about development because they are central to my philoso- phy of early childhood environmental education. About Early Learners Much of today’s understanding of early childhood de- velopment is based on the work of a few well-known psychologists and scientists, including Jean Piaget, John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, and Maria Montessori. Although the specifics of their theories and contribu- tions differ, their ideas coincide in their emphasis on the importance of experience, or interaction with the real world around them, in young children’s develop- ment of knowledge. In the early years, a child’s expe- rience provides the basis and the frame of reference for all knowledge. The approaches of these thinkers recognize that children go through distinct cognitive and emotional stages of development and that those stages shape how children understand and assimilate new information. For example, from infancy until about age two, children’s understanding of the world is limited to what they take in through their senses and their immediate surroundings. As they grow through this stage, they gradually develop awareness of the world that exists beyond their immediate sur- roundings. Between approximately ages three and six, children still hold a strongly self-centered point of view on the world but are developing the ability to comprehend other points of view and to engage in abstract thought. They are putting together ideas and building on their own experiences. Children develop at different rates; however, these early years are a time when they tend to be fully immersed in their im- mediate surroundings and happenings. Therefore, it’s often difficult for young children to think in abstract terms or to conceptualize things that do not connect to their experiences (Copple and Bredekamp 2009). This general approach to children’s development formed the basis of constructivism or constructivist learning, one of the most widely used educational theories in modern times. Constructivism essentially means that all children construct knowledge through experience and interaction with their environment. Children gather their own real data from the world around them, and that real-world data forms the basis for their developing knowledge. Their knowledge is constructed from their experience, interactions with other people, and the environment. They constantly try to make sense of their experiences and observa- tions, sometimes in ways that make little sense to adults. For example, a young child may believe that the cloud she sees in the afternoon sky follows her wherever she goes. This idea may seem strange or even silly to an adult, but to a four-year-old it may make perfect sense. Wherever she goes, the cloud is there. Her experience leads her to form a conclusion. An adult who understands constructivist learn- ing will recognize that a scientific explanation is not necessarily what the child needs or wants. For an adult to give a correct or scientific explanation with- out connecting to the child’s real life experience would be abstract and virtually meaningless. The explanation might also alienate the child, if the adult is unable to relate to or share the child’s observation and world- view. Instead, it would be more meaningful for the adult to ask the child questions to further clarify her observations, add information to her experience, and help her refine her conclusion. For example, the adult could ask, “How do you know the cloud is following you?” or “Where does it go when you are inside?” Such thought-provoking questions will help the child make more observations, reflect more fully on what she knows, and identify more details about her experi- ence. These questions also empower the child, letting her know that her ideas are important and that she can trust herself as a learner. When an adult simply corrects a child’s “faulty” or naïve thinking by explain- ing or offering the “right answer,” it sends a subtle message to the child that he or she cannot trust his or her experience or observations. An adult may cer- tainly provide accurate information—and should certainly not introduce false information—about a phenomenon but should also be careful to validate the child’s observations and experiences. As educa- tors, our role is to support children’s development, to listen to them, to honor them, and to help them find their meaning in the world. Creating a Greener Earth 3