There are many Theorists and Philosophies that influence early childhood education. Below you can find a list of my top picks that I have embraced when working with young children over the 20 years in the industry.

Loris Malaguzzi – The Reggio Emilia approach

The Reggio Emilia Approach began in the town of Reggio Emilia in the Emilia Romagna province of Northern Italy. Loris Malaguzzi set up the schools to reflect the parent and communities vision.


The main emphasise of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Education are that;

* Children are strong, interested, capable and curious.
* Children learn best when working with others: other children, families, educators and the community.
* Children have “the hundred languages” through which they show us what they know in many ways.
* The set up of the environment is crucial for learning.
* Educators listen to and observe the children closely, ask questions, and explore the children’s ideas through spontaneous and intentional teaching.
• Educators provide experiences that “provoke” children’s thinking and learning.
• Educators document the children’s work.
• Parents and communities provide ideas and skills, which make them active participants in the children’s learning.

The Hundred Languages of Children


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Maria Montessori – The Montessori Approach

Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. At the age of 28 she became the director of a school for mentally-disabled children (children with additional needs). These children were considered ineducable, however after two years under her guidance, these children, took a school examination along with normal children and passed successfully.

The main views of the Montessori Approach to Education include;

* Montessori education looks at multi-age grouping and 3 hour work periods.
* The Prepared Environment is crucial to the Montessori approach. Natural environments are important to learning.
* Educators are observers and respect the children’s abilities and that what the children are doing is considered their ‘work’.
* Work centres and environments are arranged according to subject areas, and children are free to move around the room at their own pace and with no timeframes.
* Children are given the opportunity to care for themselves, others and the environment.



Erik Erikson – 8 stages of development

Erik Erikson recognised the basic ideas of Freudian theory. Erikson believed that humans develop through their life span. The theory discusses the 8 psychosocial stages of development which humans move through during their life. These include;

* Trust versus Mistrust (0-2 years);
* Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt (3 – 7 years);
* Initiative versus Guilt (primary);
* Industry versus Inferiority;
* Identity versus Role Confusion;
* Intimacy versus Isolation;
* Generatively versus Stagnation;
* and Integrity versus Despair.

Jean Piaget – Stages of theory

Jean Piaget’s Stages of Theory describes the cognitive development of children. In Piaget’s theory, children develop through the processes based upon actions and later progresses into changes in mental operations. Piaget had 4 Stages of Development;

• Sensorimotor (birth to about age 2);
• Pre-operational – (2 years until 7 years);
• Concrete (7 years until around 12 years);
• and Formal Operational (adolescence)

Lev Vygotsky – Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vygotsky’s theory focuses on the importance of social interaction in the development of cognitive processes, and had a strong believe that community plays a central role in the process of “making meaning”.

Zone of Proximal Development is a concept that relates to the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what a child can achieve with guidance and encouragement from others.

Howard Gardner – Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is defined by “the ability to find and solve problems and create products of value in one’s culture”. There are seven intelligences which include;

• linguistic,
• logical-mathematical,
• spatial,
• bodily-kinesthetic,
• musical,
• interpersonal
• and intrapersonal.

How do you learn best?


Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is represented in a hierarchical pyramid with five levels. The four levels (lower-order needs) are considered physiological needs, and the top level of the pyramid is considered growth needs. The lower level needs must be achieved before higher-order needs can influence behaviour. The levels are represented below;

• Self-actualization – includes morality, creativity, and problem solving.
• Esteem – includes confidence, self-esteem, achievement, and respect.
• Belongingness – includes love, friendship, intimacy, and family.
• Safety – includes security of environment, employment, resources, health, and property.
• Physiological – includes air, food, water, sex, sleep, and other factors towards homeostasis.


Reflective Practices

How do you include the theorists and philosophies that you resonate with? Ask yourself these questions which can be found in the Early Years Learning Framework of Australia.

* What theories, philosophies and understandings shape and assist my work?
* Who is advantaged when I work in this way?
* What questions do I have about my work? What am I challenged by? What am I curious about? What am I confronted with?
* What aspects of my work are not helped by the theories and guidance I usually draw on to make sense of what I do?
* Are there any other theories that could help me to understand better what I have observed or experienced? How might these affect my practice?

You can add theorists into your documentation through a personal philosophy or by quoting a section from the theorist chosen. Why not use a quote from your favourite theorist or philosophy. Alternatively, link one of the stages to what the children are learning through the provocations and experiences. Good Luck!



* The Early Years Learning Framework of Australia