Gesell's Infant Growth Orientation: A Composite

By Daly, William C. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Gesell's Infant Growth Orientation: A Composite


Daly, William C., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Early child development sequences were studied in the beginning of the 20th century and in the process uncovered some relevant conclusions about early post-natal life. This might have been the very beginning of some principles of what has bcome known as Developmental Psychology or how humans grow. The writer has tried to codify the essentials of this activty from Gesell's infant research.

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Growth is a process of organization. It is a unitary and an integrative process; if it were not unitary, the organism would lack wholeness; if it were not integrative, the organism would lack individuality ... This principle (motor priority) is so fundamental that virtually all behavior ontogenetically has a motor origin and aspect. Vision, for example, has a motor as well as sensory basis; likewise, speech, mental imagery, and conceptual thought. Even emotions trace to motor attitudes and tensions." Arnold Gesell

What follows are interpretations of conclusions drawn from Arnold Gesell's analysis found primarily in "Infancy and Human Growth" (1928) and "Infant Development "(1949), and secondarily in class notes (1948-49).

Dr. Gesell helped establish the Yale Clinic for Children in 1911 when he joined the Yale staff. He continued his work until 1949. His interest in children and how they developed propelled him in this direction, resulting in many professional writings elucidating observations made through "'new media": movie camera, a "photographic dome" with moveable camera and an isolation cabinet for newborns. One-way vision screens were also considered quite innovative at the time. Concealed microphones transmitted verbal responses in the case of observations of young children. Technology of the times became quite effective in the studies of human development as well as other aspects of human relationships. The Gesell Institute of Child Development at New Haven continued his work from 1948 until his death.

The following focus is on concepts of infant growth, which can be considered as more than theory, especially today after 50 years of historical supportive research. Such concepts are the basis for Gesell's Infant Development Schedule, an evaluation instrument.

1. Maturation in the infant comes from genes. The central nervous system becomes dominant and unifies the total organism as the infant develops and moves from one cycle of growth to the next. One cycle follows the other in an orderly fashion. In like manner, infant behavior can be observed and recorded. Growth then is the process leading from one level to another level of organization; all infants mature in behavior roughly at the same time or the large percentage does. In other words, most children sit at six months, stand at nine months and walk at twelve months but not always. These then become expectations based on studies by Gesell and other researchers. This is also found to be essentially true of other aspects of motor development; reaching, grasping, rolling over, smiling and so forth.

2. Gesell also speaks of cepahlo-caudad growth in the infant which means children essentially develop from head to toe. The head he states is "very precocious"; the fetal head itself is near in size to the length of the trunk. At five months after birth the head can be controlled while the trunk remains flaccid at that particular time of development. The trunk then strengthens cervically and later in the lumbar region itself. Eyes and mouth as well are much in advance over hands and feet. The infant further advances from progress in prone behavior to creeping and then walking. If one takes note early postnatally, eyes are very much advanced and the infant can follow moving objects sometimes showing fear or joy for the presenting stimulus.

3. Another movement of growth, proximal distal is from the body axis out to the appendages or extremities. This direction can be found in the form of reaching for-and manipulation of objects, ultimately showing an ability to gross kinds of grasps and finally to grasps with thumb and forefinger. …

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