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Theories into practice – EC learning & development

Nov 8, 2021 | Early Childhood

Theories into practice - EC learning & development

In this article, Bridie Raban discusses how early childhood educators have a significant role to play in children’s learning by supporting children’s change over time so that it does not rest with development alone.


Children change over time – that is indisputable. Their early experiences with their families, including everyday experiences like eating, sleeping, dressing and playing games, will support them in developing habits in daily life. The concept of ‘learning’ takes this trajectory further and is captured in the EYLF through the five Learning Outcomes. What children learn is determined by how others interact with them. It is also determined by the expectations of their social grouping. This grouping can be in their family, their community or their early childhood setting. Importantly, early childhood educators have a significant role to play in children’s learning by supporting children’s change over time so that it does not rest with development alone.

Changes in young children

Theories into Practice reviews the range of theories and perspectives early childhood educators draw on in their work with young children. However, those with a particular focus on stages of development fail to account for the impact that social, cultural and political contexts have on families and children. Because of this, educators can hold a ‘universal’ image of children’s change over time. This means they see all children as the same at a particular age, for instance. Or, they see those who are different as ‘abnormal’.

Changes in children’s behaviour as they grow older, therefore, is generated through adult support, the support of more knowledgeable others. A child experiences this support over time, which is followed by their individual accomplishments. From this perspective, children are competent, capable, active and constructive agents of their own learning and development. Educators guide children’s learning by tailoring intentional teaching for individual achievements. They engage children in a wide variety of experiences that encourage questioning and reflection.

Developmental vs socio-cultural theories in practice

In contrast to developmental theorists, who believe that learning follows development, socio-cultural theorists show that development follows learning. This is achieved through the support of more knowledgeable others, the educator and family members. In particular, the perspective of socio-cultural theorists emphasises the significant role of language in the development of abstract thinking. It sees the educator, therefore, as much more involved verbally. This perspective takes the child’s current understanding further by using language appropriately, thus leading to abstractions and further understandings.

The perspective of socio-cultural theorists emphasises the significant role of language in the development of abstract thinking

Educators have the responsibility for guiding the overall process and progress of learning and development and assisting children to participate in many diverse experiences. However, there will be times when they encourage children to take their own lead during an activity. Here both educators and children act as resources and enable children themselves to contribute to their own learning that will foster their further development into the future.


A well-known author in the Early Childhood and Primary Education sector, Bridie Raban is currently an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. She has recently been awarded an Honorary University Fellowship at Hong Kong Baptist University.

You can preview the foundational Theories into Practice resource on our website. For more on Early Childhood pedagogy and learning activities, see our other Early Childhood articles.

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