john dewey theory on early childhood education
A leading representative of the progressive movement in the United States and a founder of the philosophical school of Pragmatism, John Dewey was one of the most influential American educational reformers of the last century.
Dewey, John (1859-1952)
How unsettling this was for Dewey! He knew that, out of necessity, even the youngest children participated in household chores and activities, and he quickly recognized the wonderful learning opportunities these everyday experiences provided. He came to believe that the child’s own instincts, activities, and interests should be the starting point of education.
This article originally appeared in the October, 2000 issue of Early Childhood Today.
In this article, the work of John Dewey is recontextualised and proposed as a basis for contemporary early childhood education for sustainability (ECEfS). Five key themes are explored: experiential learning; curiosity and critical thinking; children’s experiences in nature; democracy and participation and classroom as community. In each case, claims are made through aligning the work of Dewey with exemplars from current early childhood practice. The focus is reflection upon the educator as facilitator of dynamic interactions between the learner and her/his experiences, fostering individual growth, influencing social change and, thus, creating possibilities for implementation of ECEfS within early years classrooms.
Thanks to Anglia Ruskin University Research and Innovation Development Office for a Research Funding Observatory bursary that enabled the author to attend the conference John Dewey’s ‘Democracy and Education’ 100 Years On: Past, Present, and Future Relevance at Homerton College and Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge.
Dewey agreed with Montessori and Piaget that children learn by doing and that a teacher’s role is to encourage experimentation and independent thought. Conversely, unlike Piaget and Montessori who, as we’ve already discussed believed that the environment was the main teacher, Dewey sided more with Vygotsky in that he believed that children learn best when they’re interacting with a More Knowledgeable Other, with other people. This is why I wanted to do Dewey before we move on to anyone else. He really was kind of middle of the pack. He was all about giving children the child-sized tools and enabling them to do it themselves but he felt that part of that was the teacher whose job it is to use their superior knowledge to help children make sense of the world. He thought that information coming from an experienced other was more useful to children than something they stumble upon by themselves.
Today is all about John Dewey. If you’re pretty much every parent who has no previous knowledge of child development than this name rings zero bells. He is not like Montessori who we know about from hearing it in social settings. He was a contemporary of Montessori and Piaget and Vygotsky though. Unlike those three who we’ve already covered, he wasn’t so concerned about child development. He was more concerned with Education. So his work wasn’t aimed at parents at all. It was aimed at teachers, but as parents, we can still take a lot away from it.
This is number 7 in my blog series on major learning theories. My plan is to work through the alphabet of psychologists and provide a brief overview of their theories, and how each can be applied in education. In the last post we examined the work of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on Flow Theory. In this post, we explore the work of John Dewey on experiential and interactive learning. This is a simplified interpretation of the theory, so if you wish to learn more, please refer to the original work of the theorist.
John Dewey is one of the giants in the history of educational theory, and it’s difficult to isolate one of his specific theories to discuss here. He was influential in so many areas of educational reform, that to choose one theme would do him a disservice, so I will highlight several of the areas in which he was ahead of his time.