Theories of Early Education

October 12, 2023 0 Comments

Early Education Theorists

Many different theories are used in early education. Understanding these allows educators to choose the teaching method that is most effective for each student.

Froebel’s play theory focuses on child-led play as the basis for physical, intellectual, social and emotional development. It also emphasizes the role of the teacher as a facilitator and collaborator.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was one of the most influential philosophers of the 18th century and the French Enlightenment. His work touched on many topics, including the state of nature, political philosophy and education.

Rousseau was born in the independent Calvinist city-state of Geneva to Isaac Rousseau, a watchmaker, and Suzanne Bernard. His mother died only days after his birth, and he was raised mainly by his father who inculcated his children with the ideas of ancient republicanism from reading historical accounts of such figures as Plutarch. He was self-educated, and at times he was a musician and music copyist and designed a new system of musical notation. He also wrote two important philosophical works, The Social Contract and Emile. He was a lifelong advocate of freedom and equality.

Jean Piaget

Piaget’s ideas have shaped constructivist theories of learning and child-centred pedagogies. He believed that cognitive change could be accelerated by providing learners with opportunities to engage in discovery learning experiences. However, his stages of cognitive development have been questioned, particularly the formal operational stage.

His theory emphasizes that children develop their understanding of the world through a process of accommodation and assimilation, which involves constructing new mental structures known as schemata. These schemata help them solve new problems.

He also emphasized the importance of social interaction and cultural context for cognition. This was influenced by Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and Urie Bronfenner’s ecological systems theory, which stresses the interplay between different environmental systems. Educators can use these theories to create enriching and supportive learning environments for their students.

Lev Vygotsky

Vygotsky’s theory was that learning was social and that the development of higher mental functions had a social origin. He believed that children have elementary cognitive abilities that they display for survival purposes, but they develop into a broader range of thought processes when they interact with more advanced members of their society.

One of his most well-known concepts was that students learn best when they collaborate with teachers or more experienced peers. This concept was later called ‘scaffolding,’ in which a teacher or more skillful peer helps the student move beyond their zone of proximal development.

He conducted a series of experiments in which he showed that children who worked with a tutor or mentor on problem-solving tasks were able to solve those problems more effectively than those who did not. He also developed a theory of learning that emphasized collaborative interactions and the importance of language.

New theories and approaches

There are many different theories of learning that impact education. Some have led to styles of teaching that are still used today. Others have become highly specialized teaching methods that require a separate accrediting system to ensure teachers adhere to the methods strictly.

One theory is based on Skinner’s operant conditioning, where a desired behaviour is followed by either positive or negative reinforcement. It also stresses extinction – when no reward is offered, eventually the behaviour will disappear.

Another popular theory is social learning, which focuses on the concept that children learn through observing others. For example, a student may see their older sibling politely asking for a snack and learn to do the same. This is a very useful philosophy for educators to consider when designing their classrooms.


Many different theories have been used to shape the learning of young children. Each one has its own unique approach but all are focused on helping children get the best possible start in life. These theories are used by parents, educators and researchers to help them create age-appropriate teaching materials. Studies have shown that high quality early education programs have a positive impact on children’s academic achievement, social skills and health.

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development encouraged discovery learning and used all the senses. His ideas helped to develop the Montessori method of education which is still in use today.

Froebel’s play theory also continues to inspire nursery settings. You can read more about her ideas on our Froebel Wiki page here. We also have a great Early Years Educational Theorists Staff Training Information Sheet which is perfect for keeping in your staff area to share with your team.

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October 11, 2023 0 Comments

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