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WHAT

WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


A Comparative Analysis of Influential 20th Century Theories on 21st Century Early


Childhood Education: What would Vygotsky, Piaget, and Erikson Say?
Hawa Latifzai
Front Range Community College

WHAT WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


A Comparative Analysis of Influential 20th Century Theories on 21st Century Early


Childhood Education: What would Vygotsky, Piaget, and Erikson Say?
Pedagogical theories are being taught to the early childhood education educators of
the 21st century at two and four year colleges and universities across the United States.
Both the book (Mooney, 2013) Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey,
Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, & Vygotsky and the widely recognized textbook (Feeney,
Moravcik, & Nolte, 2010), , Who I am in the Lives of children?: An Introduction to Early
Childhood Education, serve as an introduction to influential educational theorists such as
Lev S. Vygotsky (1896 1934), Jean Piaget (1896 1980), and Erik H. Erikson (1902 1994). Teachers use this knowledge in their role as educators in both early childhood
education and care programs. With this thought in mind, this paper will provide a brief
comparison of the pedagogical theories of Vygotsky (Sociocultural Theory of Child
Development), Piaget (Constructivist Theory of Child Development), and Erikson
(Psychosocial Theory of Child Development) against the case study of toddler Marcus,
24 months old and in childcare from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. five days a week. The
comparison will speak of Marcuss physical, emotional, social, and cognitive
development as influenced by pedagogical theory.
Lev Vygotsky/Sociocultural Theory of Development a secondary school literature
teacher, is known for his concept of the zone of proximal development and its influence
in shaping the field of early child development. He was born in Russia in 1896, graduated
in 1917 from the University of Moscow in literature, and then taught literature in
secondary school in Russia During his time as a teacher of literature, Vygotsky further
developed his interest in how people learn, with a strong interest in the association

WHAT WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


between how people learn and cognitive and language development. This interest grew to
include an interest in how the field of psychology influenced educational theory, although
he did not continue with any formal training in the field of psychology. Vygotsky studied
the works of his more famous contemporaries, Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, and Maria
Montessori. In his studies, Vygotsky came to believe that some children learned with a
little help, while other children needed more help from others as they learned. This basic
belief became the cornerstone of Vygotskys sociocultural theory and concept of the zone
of proximal development. Vygotsky unfortunately died young at the age of thirty-eight in
1934. While Vygotsky was living, his ideas were controversial and overshadowed by the
works of his better-known contemporary educational theorists. Vygotskys translated
theories have more recently been under closer scholarly review. His work was different
from that of the more famous Piaget while both Piaget and Vygotsky believed that
childrens knowledge was built upon their personal experiences, According to Mooney
(2013), Vygotsky further believed that personal and social experiences could not be
separated and together influenced learning, and that the world children inhabit is shaped
by their families, communities, socioeconomic status, education, and culture (p. 100).
Jean Piaget/Constructivist Theory of Child Development was a scientist with a
doctorate in biology (although he never worked in the field) and epistemologist (an
expert in the philosophy of the origin, nature, and methods of gaining human knowledge).
Like Vygotsky, Piaget was born in 1896, but in Neuchatel, Switzerland rather than
Russia, traveled to Paris in 1919 to study and work on a French version of the British
intelligence test. During his work with intelligence testing, Piaget noticed similarities in
the childrens wrong answers at specific ages. His time in Paris at the Alfred Binet

WHAT WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


Laboratory School set the stage for his continued study of children and their thought
processes. In his lifetime, Piaget wrote over sixty books and hundreds of articles in the
field of educational psychology.
Piaget is known for his theory of the stages of cognitive development and its
influence in shaping the field of early child development. Of interest to early child
education, are the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational
stage, and the formal stage. The sensorimotor stage is from birth to age 2; the
preoperational stage is from ages 2 7 years; the concrete operational stage is from ages
7 -11 or 12 years; and the formal operation stage is from ages 11 or 12 years and older.
According to Mooney (Mooney 2013) and based on Piagets 1973 book The Child and
Reality, the behaviors exhibited by children in of each of the four stages of cognitive
development are as follows: the sensorimotor stage includes how children from birth to
age 2 learn through the senses, reflexes, and manipulating materials in their immediate
surroundings; the preoperational stage includes the concepts that children from 2 7
years old form ideas based on their perceptions, can focus on only one thing at a time,
and tend to overgeneralize based on their limited experience; the concrete operational
stage includes the concepts that children from 7 11 or 12 years old form ideas based on
reasoning and limit their thinking to familiar objects and events in their lives; and the
formal operational stage states that children from 11 or 12 years old and older think both
conceptually and hypothetically. Piaget simply wanted to know how children know what
they know.

WHAT WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


Erik Erikson/Psychosocial Theory of Child Development, a psychologist,


psychoanalyst, and author, is known for his theory of the eight psychosocial stages of
development that had a strong and profound influence in shaping the field of early child
development. He was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1902, came to the United States in
1933 and joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School, and in 1936 accepted a position
with Yale University where he continued to develop his strong interest in the influence of
culture and society on child development. In 1950, Erikson published his first book
Childhood and Society. When Erikson died at the age of ninety-two in 1994, he was
continuing his work on development issues, devoting his later decades of life to the study
of living meaningful and productive lives as people aged. Erikson became known for
coining the phrase identity crisis. Erikson went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and National
Book Award in philosophy and religion for Gandhis Truth (1969), a book which allowed
him to focus on his developmental theory as applied to later live and old age.
Eriksons eight stages of psychosocial development cover the human lifespan from
birth through old age. Of interest to early childhood education are stages 1 4. Stage 1,
trust vs. mistrust, is from birth to 12 months; Stage 2, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, is
from ages 1- 3 years; Stage 3, initiative vs. guilt, is from ages 3 6 years; and Stage 4,
industry vs. inferiority, is from ages 6 11 years. In each age group, as children struggle
to develop, they either succeed or fail to develop strengths, which in turn influence their
later development. In Stage 1 trust vs. mistrust, hope is the developmental strength; in
Stage 2 autonomy vs. shame and doubt, willpower is the developmental strength; in Stage
3 initiative vs. guilt, purpose is the developmental strength; and in Stage 4 industry vs.
inferiority competence is the developmental strength.

WHAT WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


Toddler Case Study (provided by ECE 101 Instructor Alison Thielke of Front Range
Community College):
Vygotskys belief that cognitive learning is based in interactive experiences has great
potential for curriculum planning. Vygotsky believed that childrens cognitive
development is affected by not only physical interactions, but by their social interactions
as well. Children learn from each and adults alike. According to Vygotsky, teachers
should plan social activities with peers to scaffold learning. This concept would explain
why Marcus exhibits curiosity in learning in his care program he most likely has the
opportunity to interact with his peers and his teachers.
Piagets sensorimotor stage and his object permanence concept explain emotions and
why Marcus shows anxiety and clings to his caregiver much of the time while in daycare.
At age two, Marcus may not have yet grasped object permanence and may believe that
when his caregiver is out of sight, the caregiver no longer exits. Also, Piagets
preoperational stage and egocentric concept explains why Marcus whines when he does
not receive enough individual attention he thinks everything is about him self.
Eriksons autonomy vs. shame and doubt stage explains why at age two, Marcus is
sometimes able to act independently on a social level. When Marcus does not feel
comfortable in his surroundings, he has difficulty sharing with others, getting along with
other children, is insensitive to the feelings of other children, and screams rather than
talking when he is angry with his peers. When a 2-year old becomes angry with a peer
and starts to scream, based on Eriksons theory, the teacher should encourage sharing of
toys and help the child use words and not scream. By taking these actions, the teacher can
help the child achieve balance in his relationships with his peers.

WHAT WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


Case Study: Marcus, who is 24 months old, is in childcare from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
five days a week. An evaluation of his development in each of the four major areas
revealed the following observations.
Physical Factors: Marcus is 36 inches tall, weighs 35 pounds, has 20/20 vision, and can
focus and track across a line of letters fluidly. He has all 20 baby teeth, can stand on one
foot and hop, and is interested in toilet learning. He can throw a ball with each hand and
use a fork to eat.
Emotional Factors: Marcus clings to his caregiver much of the time and shows anxiety at
the presence of strangers. He is compliant and follows directions when he feels secure,
but he can become whiny when he does not receive enough individual attention. He has
difficulty understanding his feelings or soothing him self. When not involved with his
caregiver or other children, Marcus has difficulty being at ease.
Social Factors: Marcus has some difficulty determining what things are his, and he
cooperates with other children only when he has the full attention of his caregiver. He is
easily emotionally hurt by other children and cannot defend himself when they take
advantage of him. He is seldom able to be sensitive to the feelings of other children.
Although his language skills are sufficient, Marcus screams rather than using words when
his peers bother him.
Cognitive Factors: When he feels secure, Marcus is curious, explores his environment,
and gains a lot of physical knowledge. Although he has some difficulty interacting with
peers, he participates in active, creative pretend play and exhibits a logical sequence in
the stories he makes up. He uses double substitution in play and understands four- and
five-direction sequences.

WHAT WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


Erikson first wrote Childhood and Society in 1950, later published a second
edition in 1963, and then thirty-five years from first publication, wrote
Afterthoughts 1985. At this time, the World Wide Web had not yet been invented! In
1989, about 20 years after the first computer connection was established over what
is today known as the Internet, the World Wide Web was invented, just 4 years after
Eriksons final update to his book Childhood and Society was published. According to
Erikson himself (Erikson, 1993), his mother tongue was Danish, his language during
his school years was German, and he was still learning English as he was writing his
many books. Erikson understood what it was to be a second and third language
learner. The early childhood students of the 21st century now have computers,
smart mobile telephones, the World Wide Web, and the Internet at their fingertips.
If Erikson, Vygotsky, or Piaget were alive today, one must wonder how they would
update their early childhood education theories in light of the global influence of the
World Wide Web and in support of second and third language learners? What would
Vygotsky, Piaget, and Erikson say? In conclusion and listening to the voices of the
20th century early childhood education theorists, here are a few words of wisdom:
In the words of Vygotsky (1967), A very young child tends to gratify his desires
immediately. Any delay in fulfilling them is hard for him and is acceptable only
within certain narrow limits; no one has met a child under three who wanted to do
something in a few days hence. (p. 7). Also according to Vygotsky (1978), That
childrens learning begins long before they attend school is the starting point of this
discussion. Any learning a child encounters in school always has a previous history.
For example, children begin to study arithmetic in school, but long before hand they

WHAT WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


have had some experience with quantity they have had to deal with operations of
division, addition, subtraction, and determination of size (p. 32).
In the words of Piaget (1932), Childrens games constitute the most admirable
social institutions. The game of marbles, for instance, as played by boys, contains an
extremely complex system of rules, that is to say a code of laws, a jurisprudence of
its own. Only the psychologist, whose profession obliges him to become familiar
with this instance of common law, and to get at the implicit morality underlying it, is
in a position to estimate the extraordinary wealth of these rules by the difficulty he
experiences in mastering their details (p. 1). Also according to Piaget (1928),
Naturally, there is no question of asking the children what is life? Or even what
does being alive mean? This would be to expect them to process the power of
making abstractions, an it would be absurd to conclude from the lack of such power
of the inability to be conscious of meanings and to give definitions (p. 150-151).
In the words of Erikson (1993), Muscular maturation sets the stage for
experimentation with two simultaneous sets of social modalities: holding on and
letting go. As is the case with all of these modalities, their basic conflicts can lead in
the end of either hostile or benign expectations and attitudes. Thus, to hold can
become a destructive and cruel retaining or restraining, and it can become a pattern
of care: to have and to hold. To let go, too, can turn into an inimical letting loose of
destructive forces, or it can become a relaxed to let it pass and to let it be (p.
208 - 209).

WHAT WOULD VYGOTSKY, PIAGET, AND ERIKSON SAY?


10

References
Erikson, E. H. (1993). Childhood and society. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and
Company, Inc. (Original work published 1950)
Feeney, S., Moravcik, E., & Nolte, S. (2010). Who I am in the lives of children?: An
introduction to early childhood education (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson
Education.
Mooney, C. G. (2013). Theories of childhood: An introduction to Dewey, Montessori,
Erikson, Piaget, and Vygotsky (2d ed.). St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Piaget, J. (1928). Judgment and reasoning in the child. (Marjorie Warden, Trans.).
(Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/judgmentandreaso007972mbp
Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgment of the child. (Marjorie Gabain, Trans.). Retrieved
from https://archive.org/details/moraljudgmentoft005613mbp
Vygotsky, L. S. (1967). Play and its role in the mental development of the child. Journal
of Russian and East European Psychology, 5(3), 6-18.
doi: 10.2753/RPO1061040505036
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Interaction between learning and development. Readings on the
development of children, 34-41.