Thursday, September 23, 2010

Modern Metaphors of the Developing Child

Nelson, Katherine (2007). Young minds in social worlds, Chapter 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Competing Metaphors and Conceptions of the Developing Child
1. Piaget - "epistemic child":the child seeking knowl edge of how the world is structured and, in the process, constructing the structure of his own mind.
2. Vygotsky - "cultural historical child": this child, unlike the epistemic child, is thoroughly social, situated in a specific historical context and within a culture that might or might not nurture the mind through facilitative processes of interpersonal scaffolding.
3. The very young are "little scientists" or "child as theorists": children are said to be born with theories that guide their knowledge gathering but that the theories are subject to revision in light of new data

Problems with these models:
1. they do not account for biology or culture
2. doesn't acknowledge outside influences
3. children are not machines nor do they think like adults

Learning is viewed as ways in which the child comes to be conscious of more and more sources of meaning and to discriminate among them. Eventually, children accept things as meaningful that they would not have at an earlier point in development.

Memory is the conservation, organization and transformation of meaning. Children learn how conserve, organize and transform experiences that have meaning and significant in increasingly complex ways.

We are driven by two major motivations: to make sense and to make relationships. Gathering meaning from experience helps us with these two goals.

What we find as meaningful is affected by many things including our surroundings, culture, past experiences.

Nelson proposes a hybrid mind framework of different levels of consciousness. It differs from Piaget's stage theory in that all levels, once achieved, coexist. In stage theory, one doesn't revert to earlier levels once later levels are achieved.

One nice thing about Nelson's hybrid mind theory is that it easily incorporates other theories as mechanisms or process to explain what is going on at any given level.


  1. You write: "It differs from Piaget's stage theory in that all levels, once achieved, coexist." Thanks for this, Joe. I'm going to be doing a guest lecture on developmental models for a class in youth ministry, and this ties into a key point that I'm going to make -- people who actually work with teens know that it sometimes seems as though they slip to lower developmental levels for short periods of time. Erikson's model of psycho-social development, while problematic in many ways, predicts that sometimes young people will slip back to an earlier stage; however, he identifies this as being somewhat pathological, which I don't believe is always true.

    This post is a great summary of a more flexible way of looking at developmental theory. Now I guess I had better go read Nelson, in my copious free time....

  2. It's not just teens; it's axiomatic among parents of young children that they regress under times of stress. A four-year-old, long out of diapers, starts having accidents after the arrival of a new sibling; a child in the first week of preschool wants her parents to feed her like a baby. The stressor itself might even be the achievement of a new developmental level. This can be conceived as reversion or, in a slightly different framing, as our making use of past resources that we never lose. Our previous developmental stages remain in our toolbox.

    Thanks for the great blog, Joe, and the link to it, Dan!