There has traditionally been a strong association between understandings about child development and early years teaching. This book is written, however, at a particularly exciting time in this regard. The relationship between developmental research and the practices of teaching young children is currently a rich area of growth and development. This book is an attempt to distil the current state of knowledge about the ways in which young children (up to the age of eight) develop and learn, to show how educational principles derive from this, and to illustrate these principles with practical examples drawn from work in early years classrooms. In this introductory chapter I want to show how psychological research concerned with child development informs the principles of practice exemplified throughout the rest of the book.
There is a long tradition of ideas about children and their learning in early years education. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these were largely developed by a number of outstanding and inspiring educators. Tina Bruce (1987) has provided an excellent review of the ideas of Froebel, Montessori, Steiner and others, derived ten common principles of early years education and attempted to show how these relate to modern research. These principles emphasise the holistic nature of children’s learning and development (as distinct from learning separated out into subjects), the importance of developing autonomy, intrinsic motivation and self-discipline through the encouragement of child-initiated, self-directed activity, the value of first-hand experiences and the crucial role in children’s development of other children and adults.
As we shall see, many of these ideas have been reinforced by modern psychological research; they have also been extended and developed in