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Chapter Seven: Education in Early Childhood

 Section 2: Infancy

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Bessie Oakley in Odissi Dance.


The world of the newborn is very different from our own. There are no objects, there is no space, time nor causality. There is no inside or outside. The newborn's world may be likened to a multi-sensory movie --except no self is watching it; it is just happening -- it is the original Heraclitian flux. The sensory apparatus is relatively undiscriminating and the motor apparatus consists of uncoordinated reflexes. In the next year and a half to two years (for most children), the sensory and motor abilities will be enhanced and increasingly coordinated with each other. Piaget calls this period the "sensori-motor stage of cognitive development".



One of the most striking aspects of Piaget's work is that he traces the greatest intellectual products of civilization to their humble beginnings such as sucking, grasping and orienting reflexes. While it is too much to detail the progression here, it is necessary to point out that adequate sensori-motor development in the first two years is necessary for later cognitive achievements. It is of critical importance that the child have ample opportunity to practice the reflexes, which may then become coordinated into more sophisticated system. This coordination helps the child integrate a sense of self and construct a sense of external reality. This leads to a primitive level of intentionality. By the end of the sensori -motor stage the child has structured a primitive space-time-object filled world. (Before the end of the period the child has not grasped that objects have an existence entirely independent of one's perception of them.)



Because the differentiation of self and environment is at first non-existent and then merely diffuse, the child's sense of well-being is closely tied with the environment's (read: "mostly mother's.) responsiveness to one's needs. The psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (Childhood and Society) identifies this stage as the trust V. mistrust crisis. In other words, he sees the first two years as largely determining the person's basic outlook on life for life.



Thus, the first year or so should be used to develop a basic sense of trust, goodness, and oneness in the child. These are the foundations for the individual strengths, trust, confidence and openness discussed in chapter six. There will always be enough rough times so parents need not worry about spoiling an infant. I would agree with those who consider character strength as an important asset, but consider it easier to build at a later stage upon a secure foundation.



 So far I have not said much that is not already in Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock (appropriately, a one-time US presidential candidate on the Human Rights ticket). A closer reading of Piaget would provide a clearer idea of what materials and activities would be appropriate at each of the six levels of sensori-motor development. However, perhaps because they are better understood, the next stages provide a base for more detailed and novel approaches to education.







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