There have been many visionaries that have developed theoretical frameworks which give a basic, general approach to understanding the ways in which children develop. Doherty and Hughes (2009) recall that early childhood progression is most commonly presented in terms of specific periods of time. Therefore, this tends to relate to the idea of fixed and limited stages that are strongly linked with chronological age, moreover, providing a very specific ordering of change. The most frequently identified periods of development are prenatal, infancy and toddlerhood, early childhood, later childhood and adolescence. Generalised theories on child development came about in the 17th century, with John Locke’s ‘Some Thoughts Concerning Education’ (1693) forming a foundation where a child was born as a “blank slate.” Contrastingly, Jean- Jacques Rousseau’s ‘Emile’ (1762) explored the idea that children were born with a sense of morality. These two theorists provide the origins of generalised development, meaning that within these theories, children develop in the same way. However, using Gewirtz and Pelaez-Nogueras’ (1992) criteria for evaluating theories, generalised theories do not take account for individual differences that exist as children grow and develop. Thus, it could be suggested that these broad patterns are not likely to be very helpful.
Behaviourism, on the other hand, asserts that development of the individual can be achieved through observation of, and experiences in, the environment. It stipulates that development has to be based on observations rather than speculations about cognitive processes, which are by their nature unobservable.
One early proponent of this theory was John Watson, who, in 1913, published a paper exploring the idea that habits are the building blocks of development; he, like Locke, believed children were born as ‘blank slates.’ According to Watson’s hypothesis, children have no inherited tendencies and how they turn out depends entirely on the environment and how they are treated by people significant in their early lives. Watson believed that children do not progress through a series of distinct stages dictated by maturation, as others have argued. Instead he viewed development as a continuous process that is shaped by a person’s environment. To prove this theory, Watson and Rosalie Raynor (1920) presented a white rat to a nine month old boy, Albert. His initial reactions were positive and he showed no fear of the animal over a period of two months when he was allowed to become familiar with the presence of the rat. Then, whenever Albert moved towards the rat, Watson would make a loud noise behind the boys head and frighten him. As a consequence of this, Albert, over a period of time, came to fear rats.
Burrhus Frederic Skinner conducted the operant conditioning chamber which measured organism’s responses and interactions with the environment. Skinner believed that developments were largely shaped by...