Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education -- Child Development

Grades K - 3

The developmental characteristics of Children in
a developing Social / Cultural Environment

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Child studies at the turn of the 20th century impacted upon art education theory and practice, advancing a recognition of children's tendency to reflect upon and express their developing sense of self in the world.

Our ability to see, appreciate and to understand characteristics of childhood development in relationship to characteristics of the social/cultural environment contributes to the well-being and fulfillment of individuals who are vulnerable to social and cultural responsibilities. (Cohen 1989, Zigler and Finn-Stevenson 1987)

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The ways in which we regard children and childhood have changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time. "The uniqueness and separation of childhood as a special period is an unmistakable feature of our society (Larrabee, 1960), which has become increasingly more child-centered since the early 1900's." (Zigler and Finn-Stevenson 1987, p. 52)

Zigler and Finn-Stevenson point out that it is only in the 20th century that childhood became that "period of time protected for learning." (1987, p. 52) They go on to say that the 'baby boom' that followed World War II accelerated child-centerdness in our society when "strong child and family orientation was fueled in part by the persuasive arguments of researchers and childrearing experts such as Bowlby (1951) and Spock (1968) who wrote of the importance of the mother in a child's life and of the pleasures of childrearing." [1987, p. 53 ] They note that the 1950's and 60's were a period of affluence, and the family was supported by the father's income alone. Then the importance of family and children diminished in the 1970's and 80's, perhaps due to changes, including: more transient relationships to education, careers, and communities; conveniences in the home which changed domestic responsibilities and kinds of relationships with children; focus on professional opportunities for women; diminished means through which young families could afford a home and the time with which to focus upon the pleasures of childrearing. (Coon 1989, Zigler and Finn-Stevenson 1987)

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Contemporary developmental theorists stress a comprehensive perspective on child development. For example, different stages of development in childhood are defined by Zigler and Finn-Stevenson, in Children, Development and Social Issues, in terms of genetic predispositions and environmental influences in physical, cognitive, and social-emotional developments. Environmental influences impact upon physical development, for example, through diet, nutrition, and health care--in addition to specific genetic influences which determine growth patterns. Cognitive development is affected by both genetic and environmental factors which, together, determine children's attention and kinds of experiences essential to acknowledgement, association, and visualization--which are essential to memory, knowledge, extension and reflection. The Social-emotional development of a child is affected by kinds of interaction and exchange attributable to both genetic predisposition and environmental factors. [Coon 1989, Zigler and Finn-Stevenson 1987]

Studies based upon Piaget's philosophy of sequential stages in cognitive development as well as the effects of learning as researched by learning theorists "emphasizing the relationship between stimuli in the environment and behavior" [Zigler and Finn-Stevenson 1987, p. 24] serve as valuable references in our understanding of children. (Coon 1989)

Generally speaking, a child's relationship to the environment suggests that "a child's thinking is less abstract than an adult's. Children use fewer generalizations, categories, or principles. They also tend to base their understanding of the world on particular examples, tangible sensations, and material objects." (Coon 1989, p. 378)

Children acquire - in time - the breadth and depth of understanding --with valuable references in thought, memory and perspective --through which they will respond, as adults, to particular new examples, tangible sensations and material objects.

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The "physical, cognitive and social-emotional developments" (Zigler and Finn-Stevensen 1987) reflecting childhood experience K-3 are phenomenal. Children expand their language acquisition through reading and writing skills. The proportions of their body change, and all rapid physical changes slow down to a more steady development through which children acquire and perfect motor skills. Social/emotional and cognitive changes reflect children's tendency to learn, to empathize, to make connections, to develop a sense of self, to observe and to acquire roles. Most obviously, as children enter school they become less ego-centric as they become more socially orientated, and each child begins to recognize, acquire and test--through school--an important sense of self in relationship to an array of friends, activities, fields of knowledge, and skills [Coon 1989, and Zigler and Finn-Stevenson 1987]

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And, the environmental factors and contemporary issues which impact upon children's lives represent the norms within which they are interacting and developing.

The systems, procedures, technology and products of society and culture which impact upon the home, community, school, and professional spheres set parameters and impact upon exchange and learning. Demographic changes in society, with changes in lifestyles, create new patterns and procedures, dissolve patterns and complexes, determine anew the opportunities and constraints. These norms in a social / historical sense impact in very real ways upon the lives of individuals in family and school environments through special opportunities and constraints for the children in each generation. [Coon 1989, and Zigler and Finn-Stevenson 1987]

In the 1990's, for example, many contemporary issues address responses to new definitions of families, work environments and social responsibilities due to technical advances, especially the wide-spread use of communications media and computers through which knowledge is ever more rapidly exchanged and restructured with the development of multimedia, interactive programs--for example--in entertainment, news, education, and professional endeavors (i.e., business, geography, medicine, etc.], affecting human interaction and understanding. Perception of time, space, availability and probability are affected as well as local awareness of a multi-cultural world.

Increasing knowledge and understanding of diversity in kinds of human association are therefore accelerated and seem to deepen the necessity for an enrichment of broad concerns in regard to what is shared or common in human relationship.

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Social / cultural advancements in systems, technology and products tend towards a more even distribution of responsibility amongst peoples and to expanding opportunities for individual participation and enrichment. A sense of promise and, indeed, anticipation for the future is inherent in cultural advances which open the door to wider exchange and appropriate kinds of opportunities for enrichment and contribution--in the personal sense and for the world.

And, everything implied in the exchange [i.e., the content, the media, the processes of association--senses of time and space-- recognition--the absorption of ideas, synthesis and arrangement--the focus and application of thought--and reflection] are intrinsic in children's educational experiences which expand cognitive and social/emotional development requiring healthy bodies. (Coon 1989, Zigler and Finn-Stevenson 1987)

Stability is essential to the flexibility required in the give and take. Those children who develop within the context of stable and flexible human association and interaction at home are well-equipped to prosper, but those who struggle with poverty, stressful interaction, hunger, lack of attention and focus, with illness and other handicaps due to drugs or a lack of health care--they are especially vulnerable to change and are most apt to become disorientated, confused, overwhelmed, and incapable of adjusting to changing environmental influence. Some domestic issues, especially inadequate health care, can be compounded in school experiences, and the schools overburdened with special needs and with children who have serious attention deficiencies. (Coon 1989, Zigler and Finn-Stevenson 1987)

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In general, at the K-3 level children are making huge adjustments in their relationships to others, to educational procedures, and to their own increasing knowledge and skills in their understanding of relationships--in meaningful relationship to continued rapid technological development, exchange and diversity in our social/cultural environment. And, they are vulnerable to expectations--their own and others.

An understanding of development and the kinds of experiences of children at specific age levels--what interests them, what they like, what they can handle--is essential to teachers' choices in topics and dialogue through which to motivate and engage children in the realization of visual arts goals and objectives. And visual arts activities in which learning objectives focus attention and skill through selected materials and processes can provide children the kinds of opportunities which enable them to recognize, organize, and adjust the visual, relational and affective concepts (Burton 1980) which are intrinsic to their experiences and development--providing continuity to experiences in learning upon which new understanding and knowledge can be built.

Children build upon their understanding and develop confidence in themselves with deepening skills and knowledge necessary to their inquiry, observation, and expressive meaning--especially as they form and expand upon their own schemas in visual arts experience for sensible development meaningful and therefore useful to them.

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School programs are responsible for the stability as well as the challenges in children's adjustments as teacher's educational goals and objectives, topics and motivational dialogue engage another generation with self-concepts and opportunities for personal enrichment through kinds of association and interaction with people, ideas, knowledge, and skills.




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