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Early childhood education has evolved throughout the years as new research and indicators of school success have been discovered. In this post, we provide a brief overview of early theorists whose research in childhood development contributes to current programming in early childhood education.


As early as 1939, John Dewey stressed the importance of external experiences on learning leading to positive growth and the importance of young children participating in learning in a socialized environment (Dewey, 1939). Part of his pedagogic creed on education stated, “the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself.” (Dewey, 1940).


Best known for his theories of cognitive development, Jean Piaget’s early work as a researcher led him to ask children to explain reasoning for their answers on standardized tests (Brainerd, 1996). Piaget’s findings, especially in the area of early childhood language logic, have impacted early childhood programming, as he recognized the need for young children to explore and interact with their surroundings as they moved from an egocentric to a more socialized stage of speech, logic, and development. In an observational study of four year olds, children utilized more socialized language with their peers than with a significant adult (Piaget, 1959).


Dr. Montessori acknowledged the teacher-student relationship of Ann Sullivan and Helen Keller, as Ms. Sullivan removed barriers to young Helen’s learning experiences in order to allow her to explore and develop under her teacher’s guidance (Montessori, 1965). Similarly, Dr. Montessori’s approach to early childhood education encourages the teacher as a facilitator. The role of the teacher in Dr. Montessori’s pedagogy is to prepare an appropriate learning environment (Kayili & Ari, 2011; Peters 2009). The teacher then observes as students explore the activities, without interfering in the learning process of the children (Peters, 2009).

Reggio Emilia

The Reggio Emilia method of early childhood education is based upon many of Piaget and Dewey’s theories in which the child researches and internalizes knowledge through project-based activities (Hewett, 2001). Central to the Reggio Emilia philosophy is the concept of the child as a “constructor of knowledge” (Hewett, 2001, p. 96) and the instructor as a collaborative learning partner with the student.

All of these theories of early childhood education have been included, at least partially, in what we deem as quality early childhood education today. Even if not used exclusively or in their pure forms, most early learning opportunities contain elements of these theoretical concepts.

When we as educators ensure that our young learners are exposed to opportunities for socialization (Dewey), exploration, (Piaget), appropriate environment (Montessori), and collaboration between teacher and student (Reggio Emilia), the stage is set for quality early learning.



Brainerd, C. (1996). Piaget: A centennial celebration. Psychological Science (0956-7976), 7(4), 191-195.

Dewey, J. (1939). Experience in education. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company.

Dewey, J. (1940). Education today. New York, NY: Van Rees Press.

Hewett, V. M. (2001). Examining the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(2), 95-100. doi:10.1023/A:1012520828095

Kayili, G., & Ari, R. (2011). Examination of the effects of the Montessori method on preschool children’s readiness to primary education. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 11(4), 2104-2109.

Montessori, M. (1965). Dr. Montessori’s own handbook. New York, NY: Schocken Books.

Peters, D. L. (2009). That’s not Montessori. Montessori Life: A Publication of the American Montessori Society, 21(3), 24-25.

Piaget, J. (with Forward by Claparede, E.). (1959). The language and thought of the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

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