This material is taken in part from a chapter, "Understanding Children" in Children & Books by Zena Sutherland, Dianne L. Monson, May Hill Arbuthnot.
Children are engaged in a continuous process of learning about themselves and their world. As they mature, that world expands from the their home and parents to siblings to peers and, eventually, to people and places they know about but may never actually see. In order to function successfully in society, children must learn to know themselves, to achieve self-identity. They must also learn about social interaction and recognize ways in which they are like as well as different from others. Those are psychosocial ways of thinking. At the same time, children are experiencing tremendous growth in cognitive abilites and in motor skills. Development continually goes on ini all three of those areas: thus childhood is a crucial stage of life.
Adults who are responsible for planning educational experiences will find that knowledge of child development is helpful in making literature a meaningful part of children’s lives. Developmental psychologists seek to discover what children are like at various stages of maturity. What are their needs? What are their value systems at different ages? What are children’s skills and abilities at different ages? What are their reading interests? Some of the questions relate more directly to literary experiences than others. Nevertheless, the research and theory based on these questions have much to tell us that is important to the study and use of children’s literature.
An understanding of children’s needs, cognitive abilities, psychosocial crises, and moral andsocial development can help us in selecting thekinds of books and reading-related activities that will be most satisfying to a child of a particular age. We shall briefly survey those aspects of the developmental theories of Abraham Maslow, Erik Erikson, JeanPiaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, and Albert Bandura that are most pertinent to experiences with literature.
Maslow’s great concern was for humanistic education and so his thinking focused on the individual’s self-actualization as fulfillment ofhis or her potential. Erikson’s psychosocial theories are concerned with the development ofindividual identity and also with the individ-ual’s ability to function in society. Piaget has written most extensively about children’s cognitive development, but his work deals with moral growth as well. Kohlberg’s work is concentrated primarily on moral development, describing a succession of stages through which an individual moves with increased maturity.Bandura has studied the influence of social models on children’s teaming. Such theories have implications for the selection of literaturebecause they suggest something about children’s interests and needs at various stages of development. They also help to identify cognitive and verbal skills which may influence ability to deal with such literary elements as pointof view, flashback, and foreshadowing. Knowledge of child development can be of use both in selecting books and in planning activities to enhance the literary experience.
Maslovv’s Hierarchv of Needs
Abraham Maslow’s views about the education of children were firmly based in a humanistic philosophy of education. He was most concerned with the discovery of identity and humanness, believing that, as we go most deeply into ourselves, seeking individual identity, we also recognize more clearly the whole human species. When we become fully human, we learn not only how we are different from others, but how we are similar to others. Although Maslow worked largely with adults, he had much to say about children as well, applying his ideas to people of all ages. Maslow believed that human needs form a hierarchy, from basic physiological demands to the need for self-actualization. Needs at the lower levels must be reasonably well satisfied before the individual will turn his or her attention to those at the higher levels. For example, a child who is al-ways hungry is not likely to develop much intellectual curiosity.
Maslow identified five levels of basic human needs: physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization, as well as cognitive and aesthetic needs. In what follows, we will look at some of the needs children have at various levels. Directly or in-directly, books can help children deal with these needs. This does not imply that books are meant to be didactic, just insightful. This is especially true of books written by sensitive, thoughtful adults who are perceptive observers of children and who remember their own childhoods vividly. Such books not only may help children better understand themselves and others but also should help adults better understand and empathize with their own children and with the children in their classrooms and library centers.
Children’s Need for Physical Well-being
A child’s sense of physical security ordinarily begins in a mother’s or father’s arms, includes the routines of eating and sleeping, and comes gradually to encompass everything that gives a sense of comfort and well-being. For both children and adults, material satisfactions may become the chief symbols of security. The old fairy tales were told by people who seldom had enough food to eat or clothing to keep them warm. So their tales are full of brightly burning fires, sumptuous feasts, rich clothes, glittering jewels, and splendid palaces. These are humanity’s age-old symbols of physical comfort and security. Undoubtedly some of the appeal of the old Elsie Dinsmore stories and of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Sara Crewe and The Secret Garden lay in this same incredible affluence which the characters enjoyed. Today, as in earlier times, material security is uncertain, and it continues to be one of people’s most pressing needs. So in books as in life, the lack of security and the hunger for it often supply the motive for the action and the theme of the story. In M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton, thirteen-year-old M.C. fears that a sliding spoil heap will destroy his mountain home; he plans ways to get the family to a safer place. In book after book, the search for securitywill spellbind young readers of the old fairytales or of the modern realistic books or of thebiographies of heroes and heroines, all the way from "Dick Whittington" to Tom Sawyer and Harriet Tubman.
Children’s Need to Love and Be Loved
Every human being wants to love and to beloved. This is, however, more than an idle desire: it is a profound need. This need is so pressing that when it is frustrated in one direction it will provide its own substitutes, centering upon almost anything from lap dogs to antiques. Children, too, set up their own substitutes. A child who feels out of favor or rejected may lavish an abnormalamount of affection upon a stray cat, perhaps identifying with the unwanted animal. .Consider Where the Red Fern Grows and examine that book in terms of this particular need. these relationships. Not only does children’s sense of security develop from these family patterns, but also their whole approach to other people and later their search for and treatment of a mate.
Sometimes stories about family life may interpret to fortunate children the significance of their own experiences which they might otherwise have taken for granted. A child may find traces of his own father in the father of Andy in Joseph Krumgold’s Onion John or in his . . . and now, Miguelu or share the longing of the fatherless boy in Charlotte Zolotov’sA Father Like That. She may recognize her own mother in Mrs. March of Little Women or a be-loved grandmother in Tomie de Paola’s NanaUpstairs and Nana Downstairs. Children may share the tender, protective relationship of a girl for a mentally retarded brother in BetsyByars’s Summer of the Swans or Virginia Hamilton’s older retarded brother, missing mother and father in Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush. Through reading books such as these, they may find that theirown family will mean more to them. On the other hand, children who have missed these happy experiences may find in family stories vicarious substitutes which will give them some satisfaction and supply them with new insight into what families can be. Remember Colin’s reading experience in The Secret Garden?
Another aspect of this need to love and to serve the beloved is the recognition of this same need in other creatures. Stories about wild animals defending their mates or their young or the herd are tremendously appealing. So, too, are stories of pets, steadfast not only in their affection for their own kind but for their human owners as well. Such stories as Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey have played upon this appeal. A Heart to the Hawks by Don Moser is a moving example of a boy’s love for a wild creature. Fine animal stories of all kinds will undoubtedly contribute to breaking down the young child’s unwitting cruelties toward animals and to building sensitivity to their needs, and by extension to their own human needs as well.
Finally, the need to love and to be loved, which includes family affection, warm friendships, and devotion to pets, leads the child to look toward romance. In children’s literature, romance begins early but remains impersonal. The fairy tales, with their long-delayed prince or their princess on a glass hill, are little more than abstract symbols of what is to come. A flood of novels of romance for teenagers has been produced. While many of them areincredibly stereotyped and predictable, there are growing numbers of competent authors who write well and respect their young readers. They supply realistic pictures of family life,with boys and girls looking away from their families to a serious interest in someone of the opposite sex. And many of these books deal frankly with some of the heartbreaking problems of young people. Jolly in Virginia Wolff’s Make Lemonade handles the difficulty of not only being an unwed mother, but also being a high school dropout. This book examines the establishment of a desirable romantic attachment as one of the most important tasks of growing up, particularly when it is coupled with the dilemma of achieving an education. A well-written story that shows all the complications of romance, its pitfalls anddisappointments as well as its happiness, can provide young people with needed guidance inan approach to one of life’s most vital problems. Out of family affection and trust grows a kind of spiritual strength that enables human beings to surmount dangers, failures, and even stark tragedies. Such books as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder leave children with theconviction that decent, kindly people can maintain an inner serenity even as they struggle with and master the problems that threaten them.
Children’s Need to Belong
Growing out of the need for security is the need of every human being to belong, to be an accepted member of a group. "My mama," or "My big brother," the young child says with pride. At first these experiences are merely egocentric extensions of children’s self-love, but at least they are beginning to line themselves up with their family, and this acknowledgment of others marks their growing sense of belonging to a group. In time, these same children will identify with friends, school, and later with city and country, and perhaps with a world group. If readers have difficulty with the abstract idea of this need to belong, let me suggest that they read Eve Bunting’s Jumping the Nail. Readers will lie awake at night contemplating the concept of this need. So children’s literature reflects this expansion of the need to belong which includes family affection, warm friend-ships, and devotion to pets, and therefore leads the child tolook toward romance. In children’s literature, romance begins early but remains impersonal.The fairy tales, with their long-delayed princeor their princess on a glass hill, are little morethan abstract symbols of what is to come.
So children’s literature reflects this expanding sense of the group. It begins with stories about the family, the school, and the neighborhood in warm books such as Martha Alexander, Ezra Jack Keats, and Charlotte Zolotow write for the preschool child, Carolyn Haywood for the primary age, and Beverly Cleary for the middle grades. These represent happy group experiences. But there are also stories about children who must struggle anxiously to be liked by the people whose acceptance they long for. Eric in Malcolm Bosse’s The 79 Squares and Jessica in Marilyn Sachs’s A Secret Friend are good examples. The story of the child who wins a respected place in groups that once rejected him or her is a satisfying theme from "Cinderella" to Good-Bye to the Jungle by John Rowe Townsend.
With the growing consciousness of a world in which all people are brought closer by the developments in communications and transportation, with children’s increased awareness of such problems as war, pollution, and racial and social unrest, there is an urgent need for books in which ethnic groups gain not tolerance but respect, books that attack the injustice and discrimination and apathy still prevalent-in our society. The young today are aware of social ills. Exposed to the mass media and to the changing mores of the community, they need books that reflect the world in which they live but offer realistic and optimistic solutions. These books should not be social treatises; rather, they should point out the common spirit in all humanistic endeavors. JohnTunis, in his sports stories for the pre-adolescent and teenager, makes his young readers face fully the extra difficulties that beset youngsters of minority groups in winning a place on the team or in the community. This is the general theme also of Eleanor Estes’s The Hundred Dresses. In Emily Neville’s Berries Good-man anti-Semitism is candidly portrayed; in Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder. Hear My Cry, black people face prejudice; and in LaurenceYep’s Sea Glass, Craig Chin is a child who seems to be rejected by both of the cultures he identifies with. Sometimes the problem is not one of winning acceptance but of accepting. For example, in Ann Nolan Clark’s Little Navajo Bluebird, an Indian child passionately rejects white society and its ways and wants to belong only to her own tribal group. Books like these parallel the need of each individual not only to belong with pride to his or her own group, butto identify warmly and sympathetically withever widening circles of people. When a child from suburbia is stirred by Listen for the Fig Tree by Sharon Bell Mathis or wishes she could know Jean George’s Julie in Julie of the Wolves or Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins, her sense of belonging is widening. A good and honest book can strengthen pride enrich all who read it.
Children’s Need to Achieve Competence
The need for competence–the "organism’s capacity to interact effectively with its environment"–is a strong motivating force in human behavior. The struggle to achieve competencebegins with the infant’s visual exploration, withcrawling, grasping, and other primitive activities, and grows into the complex physical or intellectual performances of the expert athlete, mathematician, musician, or scientist. Competence is as satisfying as inhibitions and frustrations are disruptive. To be happy or well adjusted, the child or the adult must have a satisfying sense of competence in one area or another.
In Mary J. Collier and Eugene L. Gaier’s study "The Hero in the Preferred Childhood Stories of College Men,", the important factor the book heroes had in common was that they performed their unique feats on their own.Whether it was Hansel from the old fairy taleor the realistic Tom Sawyer, the hero’s competence was achieved without help from adults, and his independence was the quality that made him memorable and admired.Achieving competence may become the compensation for rejection and a step toward acceptance. This is a frequent theme in stories forchildren-the lonely child or the shy teenagerwho develops competence in some field and sowins the admiration and acceptance of thegroup. Taro Yashima’s Crow Boy, Eleanor Estes’s The Hundred Dresses, Nat Hentoff’s JazzCountry, and Allison Smith’s Reserved for Mark Anthony Crowder are all built upon this theme.The young child’s first book heroes and heroines are doers, from Edward Ardizzone’sTim, who survived shipwreck and found hislost parents, to David of the Old Testament,who slew the giant Goliath. In later childhood and adolescence young readers enjoy the com-petence of heroes and heroines in adventure, mystery, and career stories and the achievements of famous men and women in biographies. Carry On, A4r. Bowditch by Jean Latham is a splendid, true record of competence independently achieved. More and more books are appearing that describe the accomplishments of members of ethnic minority groups: biogra-phies of Benjamin Banneker, Sojourner Truth,Shirley Chisholm, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ce-sar Chavez, Maria Tallchief, Daniel Inouye, and many other Americans.
There is a negative aspect to this hunger for achievement. The struggle for competence may involve failures and complete frustration. Physical handicaps or mental limitations must be faced and accepted. In Bernard Wolfs Don’t Feel Sorry for Paul, there is no appeal for sympathy but a sense of purpose and a determination to overcome his handicaps on the part of a seven-year-old who requires three prosthetic devices. In this true story, Paul and his family have such commonsense and courage that he attends school, takes riding lessons, and achieves competence with vigor and joy. Jamie, in Joe Lasker’s He’s My Brother, is a slow child whose classmates tease him, although the older brother who tells the story makes it clear that Jamie has his respect and love. Emma Sterne’s Blood Brothers tells the story of Charles Drew, a black ghetto child,who despite discrimination persisted in his pursuit of a medical career and eventually became a distinguished pioneer in blood research.Stories of such persons who refuse to accept defeat help children in the task of growing up.
Children’s Need to Know
Parents often complain about the bothersomecuriosity of children. But this need to investigate, to know for sure, is a sign of intelligence.In fact, the keener the child is mentally, thewider and more persistent his or her curiosities will be. The need to know surely and accurately is a basic hunger and one which bookshelp satisfy. Books about Africa, desert Indians, birds, plants, stones, stars, rockets and jets, DNA, care of pets, do-it-yourself books, and, of course, dictionaries and encyclopedias properlygauged to a child’s needs are all available today. Adults need only discover children’s par-ticular interests to find books that will answertheir questions reliably, stimulate new curi-osities, and set them to exploring further to sat-isfy their need to know and give them, momen-tarily at least, a certain intellectual security. Some books not only provide fascinating in-formation but dramatically exemplify the hu-man need to find out, to know for sure. For ex-ample, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki tells the truestory of five young men who set out on theflimsy raft Kon-Tiki to prove their theory of theorigin and migrations of the Polynesian people.Hans Baumann’s Lion Gate and Labyrinth tells the story of Heinrich Schliemann, who also needed to know and whose persistent curiosity and zealous investigations led to the discoveryof ancient Trojan ruins.
Children’s Need for Beauty and Order
There is still another human need that seemscuriously at odds with humanity’s more utili-tarian search for competence and security of various kinds. It is the need for beauty and order. A wealth of books is available today to sat-isfy a child’s aesthetic needs-authentic poetry,fanciful tales whose content and style are per-fectly suited, books that are beautiiul in them-selves, books that provide various kinds ofaesthetically satisfying experiences, and booksthat help children grow in their appreciation ofbeauty and order. Shirley Glubok’s series aboutart in various cultures (The Art of China, The Artof the New American Nation, The Art of the North American Indian, The Art of Ancient Mexico) aresimply written and related to the way peoplelived. David Macaulay’s Cathedral, City, and Pyramid are remarkable for their beautifully accu-rate architectural drawing. Ballet: A Pictorial His-tory by Walter Terry and The Wonderful World ofMusic by Benjamin Britten and Imogen Hoistare fine examples of books about the performing arts written for children by experts intheir fields. Whether in music, dancing, drama, story,painting, or sculpture, the artist seizes uponsome aspect of life and recreates it for us in a new form. We see it whole and understandable; people, events, and places assume a new dimension beyond the mere chronicling of facts.
People are continually seeking aesthetic satisfaction in one form or another and at varying levels of taste. One may find it in the songs of afolk singer. Someone else finds it in a symphony which exalts the sorrows of life to cos-mic proportions. Aesthetic satisfaction comes to the small child as well as to the adult, and the development of one’s taste depends not only upon one’s initial capacities but also upon the material one encounters and upon how it ispresented. A child who has chuckled over Miss Muffet and the spider is getting ready to enjoy the poems of A. A. Milne, and to progress toWalter de la Mare’s and David McCord’s poetry. A child who has been charmed with Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit might be ready to appreciate the humor and beauty of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.
Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development
Erik Erikson’s developmental theory is basedon the belief that development consists of a series of psychosocial crises which individuals must successfully resolve as they mature. Those conflicts involve the person’s struggle to achieve individuality and, at the same time, to learn to function in society. The different stages of psychosocial development which Eriksonhas identified are produced by experiences each child has in interaction with his or her world.Of major importance in early life is the interaction between children and the adults who care for them. Play is also important to human development as children work toward reorganizing their inner perceptions to fit the external world in which they must function. According to Erikson, every individual moves through an orderly sequence of stages, each of which is more complex. Maturation occurs as the individual ascends from one stage toanother. At each stage, the individual is faced with a psuchosocial conflict which must be resolved before moving on to the next stage of development. These begin in infancy, with the Crisis Of trust versus mistrust. Erikson’s stages two through five are of most interest to students ofchildren’s literature. See also the theory of Melanie Klein regarding the development of the psyche of the child. Her theories are not as well known in the United States as are Freud’s, but her theories provide the psychoanalytic foundation for studies in England and other parts of Europe, explaining in part our basic quest/need for knowledge, our yearning for creativity, and our revised comprehension of the role of the child in our whole maturation process. Particularly relevant to this theoretical approach is the study of literature: psychoanalytic Kleinian critics apply their theories to literary works.
Early Childhood:Achieving Autonomy
Erikson’s second stage of development, described as Autonomy versus Doubt, generally takes place from about ages 18 months to three years. During this stage, children are involved in a struggle to be an independent self and yetnot to cut this self off from others. There is still a need for support from others, particularly from parents. Play is important for these children because it allows them a means for developing autonomy within their own set of rules.As children progress through this stage, theybecome more aware of adults other than the parents and of older children in the family. In the main, those who serve in the role of parentsare the important "others" and law and order is dominant in terms of the social order that prevails. Children of this age seem to like books that deal with relationships between parent and child, like Frank Asch’s Sand Cake, Robert Kraus’s Whose Mouse are You? and Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. In the latter, there is also an lament of law and order which probably reinforces what children are being taught at this stage. That is not to say that we should limit literature for these very young children to family stories that end on an orderly note, but Erikson’s concerns about the development of the individual in relationship to society might serve as a guideline in choosing stories to read aloud.
Middle Childhood: Developing Initiative
The next stage, which takes place at about ages three to six, is that of Initiative versus Guilt. During these years, children are increasingly expected to be responsible for themselves and for their toys and other possessions. As this new independence develops, so too does the realization that one’s behavior may be in opposition to the behavior of others. Whenever there is conflict with another individual, a sense of guilt is likely to arise. Children also grow toward the cultural mores as their consciences take onsome of the functions formerly performed by significant adults. During this period, children ask many questions and through the questioning begin to understand things which had previously been mysteries to them. Play takes on two forms: solitary daydreaming and play with other children in which life crises are enacted.Furthermore, imaginative play enables children to think about their future as well as their present roles.
Erikson’s description of children at this stageseems to suggest the importance of acquaintingthem with literature in which story characters, too, experience conflict when their actions throw them into opposition with others. Books will give children a chance to experience alongwith story characters what it is to gradually take more responsibility for their actions. The quality of play is present in many books published for children in the three-to-six-yeargroup. Many are light and humorous but othersare serious attempts to show how children playout their concerns. The child’s need to play outsome ideas through daydreaming suggests aneed to be alone at times. A book such as Evan’sCorner might appeal to some children who findit hard to be left in peace. Other books allowchildren to play out their fears and dreams,books such as There’s a Nightmare in My Closet, Where the Wild Things Are, and Benjie on His Own. It would seem essential to offer these children a good balance of realistic fiction and fantasy. Folk literature, too, deals inherently with many themes that have to do with the relationship of an individual to others and to society in general and so it, too, should be included in listening experiences.
Late Childhood: Becoming Industrious
Stage four in Erikson’s scheme compares roughly to Piaget’s concrete operations stage in terms of the ages involved. This stage, which is reached during ages seven to eleven, Erikson terms "late childhood." It is a stage of Industry versus Inferiority. Children operating atthis stage appear determined to master the tasks that are set for them. They learn to work together with other children toward a common goal and they are almost constantly engaged inactivities that allow them to practice skills the culture requires of them. The conflict of industry versus inferiority is related to a sensethat they are inferior if they cannot show that they are competent and so these children are constantly measuring themselves against their peers. Clearly, a good many of the books published for this age group pose situations in which children strive to be as successful as their peers. Anumber of books particularly recent ones, havealso focused one way in which children perceive their parents. The growing determination of children in this group to master new tasks points to the importance of informational books in their lives. Books that show how to identify birds, how to raise hamsters, how to cook, or how to play baseball all have a potential audience amongmiddle- and upper-elementary age children.Some children may work out the conflict of industry versus inferiority vicariously, reading biographies of people who did succeed or realistic fiction about people who overcome hardships. Colin Thiele’s Blue Fin involves readers with a boy’s struggle to prove to his father that he is a competent sailor. It is representative of the kinds of books which appeal to children in this stage.
Adolescence: Establishing Identity
Erikson’s stage of adolescence, ages eleven and upwards, is that of Identity versus Role Diffusion.As the name suggests, the focal point now is asearch for identity. The development of identity is linked with skill mastery. On a broader level, we might say that it includes cultural identity as well as personal identity, identity as a member of a community as well as identity as an individual. Inner demands often run counter to outer demands, leading to diffusion andsome instability. Adolescents grapple with the question of who they will become as well as the question of who they are. They often have aclose attachment to their parents, yet at the same time are searching for other associations. Inevitably, the question arises of whether theparents still control them and that, of course, creates friction. Play changes so that it is more likely to be arole playing and experimentation with attitudesand behavior of adults in society. Adolescents babysit, they participate in sports, and they also belong to gangs and to in-groups. Literature for this group includes a range of realistic fiction which can give them a chance to interact withsituations in which other teenagers are search-ing for identity. That means stories in which characterization is worked out with enough depth so that characters’ fears and joys areevident throughout as they strive to discover themselves and to experience success. WalterDean Myers’ The Young Landlords and Jean McCord’s Turkeylegs Thompson are two such books.
Piaget’s Developmental Levels
Jean Piaget is frequently quoted by educators who relate his developmental studies to curriculum planning. Piaget’s early training was in biology and so it is perhaps not surprisingthat his method of study depends to a large extent on observation and classification of behavior, He views intellect and affect as alwaystogether, like two sides of a coin, believing that human emotion, or affect, evolves from the same primary processes as cognitive development. Much of Piaget’s thinking about the child’s cognitive development is based on four kindsof operations. They are assimilation and accommodation, conservation, and reversibility. The first two are closely related, for Piaget’s stance is that the child develops units of knowledge about the world, called schemata. As the child takes note of new information about the environment, that information is assimilated into his or her thinking (schemata) and the thinking and behavior are accommodated (changed) to reflect those new perceptions. In assimilation the person adapts the environment to his or her own use, though that is limited by ability to consolidate the new experiences with previous experience. Accommodation, the reverse of assimilation, occurs when the individual modifies existing thought structures so as to incorporate the new experiences. Conservation and reversibility are also related, in a sense. Conservation has to do withthe child’s ability to deal with the difference be-tween appearances and reality, the difference between making judgments on the basis of surface characteristics and being able to make inferences about the real characteristics that underlie appearances. Piaget’s classic exampleis the young child who believes that a taller and thinner glass contains more liquid than a shorter, fatter glass, even though the child has watched as the water was poured from the short to the tall container. The tendency to deal with surface characteristics may extend, also, to social understanding so that the child forms ideas about people and social situations solely on the basis of outward appearance. Reversibility of mental processes is necessary if a child is to accept the fact that the water in the short and tall glasses is the same amount. That comes about when the child realizes that, by pouring the water back into the short glass, theapparent change (taller, thinner equals more)will be undone. Both temporal and spatial factors are operating in the ability to deal with reversibility.Probably the clearest application to a child’s response to literature lies in the ability to process flashbacks so that the child recognizes that the order in which events are described in a story isnot necessarily the order in which they really occurred. On a simpler level, it may have to do with the question of whether a wolf in sheep’sclothing is really a sheep, as it would appear, or a wolf, as is really so. Both conservation and reversibility of thinking are operating here.
Piaget’s observations of children’s behavior led him to believe that development proceeds in four major stages and that all children move through those stages in sequence, though not necessarily at the same pace. Although development is viewed as always proceeding forward, there is generally a stage of transition in which the child vacillates between earlier, less mature behavior and the newly gained competence. The earliest of Piaget’s stages is the period of sensorimotor intelligence from birth to approximately age two, or until the appearance of language. During this period, the child is particularly concerned with coordinating movement and action. Words come to represent objects and things. The second stage, the period of preoperational thought, spans the ages of abouttwo up to eleven or twelve years. Within that stage, Piaget describes the first phase, from about ages two to four, as preconceptual. In this phase, most behavior is based on subjective judgment. A second phase, between ages four and seven, he terms intuitive. During these ages,children begin to use language successfully to verbalize their mental activities and they are better able to generalize what they experience.From apprcximately age seven to eleven, children move into what Piaget calls the period of concrete operations. Children who have moved into this stage are able to work through a problem so that they combine performance with averbal explanation or an attempt to reason out the problem. They begin to apply logic to concrete experiences and things. They are able to handle conservation, as it applies to people as well as to objects, they can deal with reversibility, and they develop an understanding of space and time relationships. The period of concrete operations leads, at age eleven or twelve, to Piaget’s fourth stage–the period of formal operations, in which the young person is able to think beyond immediate experiences and to theorize about a wide variety of things. During this phase of growth, children develop the ability to apply formal logic to abstract constructions and to experiences which representan ideal and may be contrary to fact. The two phases of preoperational thought, the period of concrete operations, and the period of formal operationsare of greatest interest here.
In thinking of the relationship of Piaget’s developmental levels to the selection of literature and literary experiences for children, it is important to keep in mind that many of Piaget’s observations involve conceptual situations more related to mathematics and science than to the humanities. Much less work has been done in literature. It is important to note the intensely personal nature of responses to literature. Each reader’s or listener’s response to a story is colored by his or her background andexpectations. We need to keep all these things in mind when we consider Piaget’s, or any other, developmental scheme. Finally, it is important to remember that these are stages, not absolute age designations. Some children may enter a new stage earlier than others, and there will be some overlap as children are moving from one stage to another. That is, a child may perform at the pre-operational level in some situations and at the concrete operational level in others.
The Preconceptual Phase:Discovering the World
During Piaget’s preconceptual phase (ages two to four), children are busy discovering the environment. For that reason, concept books are important. Stephen Lewis’s Zoo City, and Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day aregood books for children interested in their sur-roundings. Children in this stage are basically egocentric. They are inclined to think in the same way as the children in Martha Alexander’s Nobody Asked Me If I Wanted a Baby Sister, Marjorie Sharmat’s I’m Not Oscar’s Friend Anymore, and Betsy Byars’s Go and Hush the Baby–the last about a child on the way to play baseball who is asked to take time out to quiet the baby. The play of two- to four-year-olds centers onhow and why. Activities that may seem fantasy to adults are realistic to these children. There is much imitation of the behavior of others(including the reading behavior of the adultsaround them). Imitative scenes in books like Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal show story characters imitating the activities of their parents and that, in a sense, plays out the fantasy-into-reality.
Children in the preconceptual stage often explain things that happen by giving life to in-animate objects, for example, if they fall, saying that a toy reached out and tripped them. The animism leads quite naturally to a love for nursery rhymes like "Humpty Dumpty" and "Hey, Diddle, Diddle." More common is anthropomorphism, or humanization of animals, found in many folk tales such as "The Three Pigs"and "The Three Bears." This delight in humanizing inanimate objects and animals is also related to a love for fantasy. Many children begin liking fantasy early, and the interest persists into succeeding stages of development.
The Intuitive Phase: Relating to the World
As children move into the phase of intuitive thought, roughly ages four to seven, they shift frorn, the egocentric "it’s me" to "I see what’s happening," becoming able to react realistically to the environment. Their play shows a new, extended symbolic imagination so that they can project themselves into other roles and think interms of other people. They are moving toward conservation in terms of recognizing differences between how things look and how they really are. They are becoming interested in realistic fiction, particularly fiction that gives them a chance to relate to one or more of the story characters. This includes reacting realistically to the environment. Children have opportunity for that when they read books like Martha Alexander’s I’ll Be the Horse If You’ll Play with Me, or Alvin Tresselt’s Hide and Seek Fog. Marjorie Flack’s Wait for William suits the new shift from egocentric behavior to being able to observe what is happening.
At this stage, too, children become more able to project themselves into roles. They can relate to Charley in Rebecca Caudill’s Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley and they can also begin to appreciate Charley’s good and bad points. When they listen to books like Fassler’s Howie Helps Himself, they can begin to develop a sense of empathy for handicapped children rather than stereotyping them as "different." They project themselves into other roles, too, when they hear Ezra Jack Keats’s Goggles or Rachel Isadora’s Ben’s Trumpet. For younger children want to be like the older ones and, in these stories, they share the feelings of story characters. These children tend to perceive each attribute of objects (and very likely also story char-acters) as an absolute-e.g., a character is seen as brave or foolish, cunning, etc. This tendency may be dealt with in several ways in the curriculum. One way is to provide plenty of experiences with folk literature and its typically flat characters.
A second approach, which might be used in conjunction with folk tale experiences, involves selecting realistic and fanciful stories that have more fully developed characters and giving children experience with discussion and dramatic activities in which they enter into the stories, playing the roles of story characters: The growing ability to project themselves into other roles and to think as others think suggests a need for experiences with realism in literature. That means selecting books to read to themand books for beginning readers that might give opportunity for talking about the feelings and motives of characters as well as engaging inrole playing and other dramatic activities thatcan enhance response. Differences between how things look and howthey really are have not been completely workedout by these students. Children in this stage continue to love fantasy and they should be allowed to read and enjoy fantasy without always worrying about whether or not a story is "real." In today’s world the more we can "stretch" a child’s imagination the better.
The four-to-sevens in this intuitive phase like animal stories. Many of the stories theychoose are fantasy, with anthropomorphic representations of animals. Others, however, arerealistic. The older children in this group also enjoy nonfiction accounts. Exposure to many kinds of literature allows these children to test out someof their growing knowledge about the environment and continue to exercise their creative powers.
The Period of Concrete Operations:Organizing the World
As children enter the period of concrete operations, approximately ages seven to eleven,they reach a new level of self development that allows them to understand some of the waysthey are related to other people. Through playand language, they seek to understand the physical and social world. This seems to imply the importance of realistic fiction which will encourage children to interact with story characters and, through that interaction, to participatein conflict resolution. Books by Beverly Cleary and by Mary Stolz often present day to day situations in which children find that their selves are in conflict with other selves. Books like Paula Fox’s The Stone-faced Boy and Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins show conflict within self as well as conflict with others. For children in the concrete operational period, concepts of time are more fully developed than at the preceding stage so that ideas about the past, even historical past, become real and important. As children move through this stageof development, they grow in capacity to appreciate historical fiction and the biographies ofreal-life heroes such as Daniel Boone, RosaParks, or Cesar Chavez. Historical fiction set in the U.S., such as Out of the Dust appeal to children at this stage. Historical fiction set in other countries, such as Katherine Paterson’s The Master Puppeteer and Johanna Reiss’s The Upstairs Room, can appeal to children who are nearing the end of this stage of development.
During the concrete operational period, children also begin to move beyond one-dimensional thinking so that they are able to relate one event to a system of interrelated parts.They are now able to conceive of an event from beginning to end or, vice versa, perceive itbackwards from conclusion to beginning. Thiswould seem to suggest the beginning of ability to handle flashbacks in literature. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH appeals to older children in this group, as does Jean George’s Julie of theWolves or Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. A novel that works in almost total flashback style is Cormier’s fascinating book, Fade. Readers also would find Konigburg’s A View from Saturday which offers a riddle, puzzle format with disperate part, needing the reader to assemble them. If a reader is to process flashback so that it becomes an integral part of the story, it is necessary to hold all of the story segments in a sort of short-term memory and then to rearrange the parts sequentially, as they occurred. Such a procedure calls upon aspects of both conservation and reversibility, as Piaget views the concepts, and requires more sophisticated thinking than children at the early and middle sections of the stage can probably handle.
Just as children who are moving through Piaget’s concrete operational period begin to handle events of the past, so they also become able to think in terms of the future. That ability helps to prepare them not only for fantasy which may go back in time, but for science fiction, which generally goes forward in time. Time Windows and Tom’s Midnight Garden, which move between past and present, are often read by children at this stage. The more mature readers also enjoy Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and John Christopher’s The White Mountains trilogy,books which reach into the future.
Piaget says that the seven-to-elevens who are in the concrete operational period internalize moral values. At the later part of the stage (nine to eleven), they are very interested in examining the rules that govern their lives. They seem to have more respect for established standards than for adult authority. In most realistic fiction for this age group, however, a character’s personal desires still carry more weight than individual adults or established authority. The fantasy of Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Susan Cooper, and Ursula Le Guin also involves readers with situations in which conventional wisdom is brought into question. An examination of rules and what happens when rules and adult authority are rejected might be a logical topic for discussion of literature with children who aremoving toward the upper range of this concrete operational stage.
The Period of Formal Operations:Developing New Insights
From approximately age eleven to age fifteen, children progress through what Piaget terms the period of formal operations. As they movefrom the stage of concrete operations into this new stage, they make great gains in ability to think beyond the present and to formulate theories about physical and social aspects of life.They develop the qualities necessary for true communication so that they are able to take another’s point of view and enter into discussion to exchange knowledge. The ability to assume point of view is relevant to both social and intellectual growth. It suggests the importance of encouraging interaction with literary charactersand situations. Beyond basic communication, children at the formal operations stage are able to establish whether information is valid by comparing what they see and hear about things (their perceptions) with what they know and deduce about those things. In terms of literature, dearly there is a need to provide experience in contrasting fiction with nonfiction accounts, particularly contrasting historical and biographical fiction with real biography and historical material. There is an increase in ability to link parts and wholes, recognizing a sense of order and the rules that impose that order.This ability might make young people more aware of relationships within the structure of a story, as for example the way that episodes build toward a climax and resolution.
Children at the eleven-plus stage are moving from stereotypical thinking to greater ability to understand and empathize with others and to be more -aware of their relationships within the family and within the community. The Great Gilly Hopkins focuses on the experiences of a ‘foster child. Consider as well Ellen Foster and for a bit younger audience, The Lottery Rose. The formal operations stage might be described as a time when readers become more able to suspend disbelief and to enter into a story which is far removed physically from their lives but which embodies the universal concerns and beliefs these children are becoming aware of and able to incorporate into an expanded view of the world.
The Development of Moral Values
Piaget’s views of morality are mainly concerned with the individual’s respect for the rules of the social order in which he or she lives and with the person’s sense of justice. Piaget has suggested that the bases of moral judgment change with the child’s age, and he makes a number of predictions about reactions which might be expected at different ages. Intent is an important factor. An older child will believe that it is worse to break a tree branch while stealing apples than to drop a tray of dishes while setting the table, with the emphasis on intent. A younger child would think it worse to break the dishes because more damage was done, being more concerned with the result of the act. A younger child considers a particular actionto be "right" or "wrong" whereas an older child considers the behavior in its context. What is right in one situation may not be right in another. A younger child behaves correctly out of fear of punishment by others while the olde rchild’s proper behavior is a result of his or herown decision making. As to the nature of punishment, a more mature individual believes that the punishment should take a form that makes up for harm done or that teaches the person to be better in the future. More mature individuals also take into account the needs and points of view of others when deciding on an action.When misfortunes occur, the more mature person is able to evaluate their causes realistically and does not necessarily view them as retribution for individual behavior. One particular book that offers a frightening change in a young person’s moral code in order to survive is Robb White’s Deathwatch. This book also acquaints its readers with ecological systems operating in the desert.
Kohlberg’s Stages of MoralDevelopment
Piaget identified a number of developmental trends in morality. Lawrence Kohlberg iternatized Piaget’s thinking and developed a hierarchy of moral development. Although a number of value hierarchies have been developed, Kohlberg’s formulation is perhaps the most widely used. At this point, however, it is not clear whether people may function in more than one of his stages at a timeand whether they always progress toward a higher stage. There is some reason to think that children (and adults too) may regress to an earlier stage under certain conditions or in special situations. Kohlberg has recently become involved in the development of educational programs designed to facilitate moral growth interms of this hierarchy, even though some critics have been vocal in pointing out that such education, as Kohlberg structures it, may actually be a means of imposing "middle-class"values on society as a whole.,
Value Formation and the Schools
There was a time when teaching and learning moral values was an accepted part of schooling. The McGuffey Readers are good evidence of that. Values were prescribed and taught directly. More recently, however, even though some people have come to believe that the schools have no business dealing with personal values, others in the community cite a lack of values in the young as evidence that moral education is needed. That leads to the question, then, of how moral education is related to the study of literature. Essentially, all good literature deals with values. Children who read widely and hear stories read to them orally cannot help but interact with story characters involved in decision making, in formulating personal values, in learning to empathize with the difficulties of people the world over. We can help children to select books thatwill give them some experience with the valuing process. Even beyond that, we can take note of their responses and can encourage young readers to observe the actions of story charac-ters and to think through the motivations for, and consequences of, their actions. Going from there, children can talk about similar situations in their own lives and determine whether the outcome was good or whether they would behave differently if given another chance. Selecting literature that will play a role in value formation requires attention to characterization and to the kinds of situations that throw story characters into conflict with the values of their society. Such books as MadeleineL’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Betty SueCummings’s Let a River Be are powerful because of this. The advantage of literature as an approach to developing moral values is that the situations in well-chosenes as well as those of the story characte literature are realistic. At the same time, they are not as threatening to a reader as they would be if they were part of his or her life. That allows a degree of objectivity in deciding whether the characters acted morally and what alternate forms of behavior would have been more appropriate. Interaction with these stories allow children to objectify their own situations. The problems with a literature-centered strategy have to do with the selection of material and strategies that members of the community find acceptable.
Bandura’s Social LearningTheory
It is not possible here to deal with all of the theories of learning which maybe useful background in book selection for children. The study of children’s acquisition of social behavior has generated a good deal of in-terest, however, and warrants some comment even though it cannot be given full coverage. Traditional learning theory, particularly that of B.F. Skinner, has emphasized the viewpoint that behavioral change is based on principles of parent conditioning-that is, behavior that is reinforced (rewarded) in some way will be learned. Albert J. Bandura and other theorists, however, perceive human learning in a somewhat different way, asserting that children leam vicariously–that is, by observing the behavior of social models. Bandura has shown that learning may occur when a child observes the behavior of others even when the child does not reproduce the responses made by the model and does not receive any reinforcement. According to that theory of social learning,whether or not a child will imitate the behaviorof the model depends not only on the behavior but also on the consequences of that behavior—that is, whether the model is rewarded or punished. Therefore, vicarious reinforcement plays a role in the theoretical framework. Reconsider What Jamie Saw keeping these ideas in mind. It seems evident, too, that the differences between the sex of the child and the sex of a model have some influence on the extent of imitation likely to be seen. The prestige of the model plays a role, too, with high prestige models more likely to be imitated than low prestige models. Furthermore, the behavior of the model is more likely to be imitated when it is reinforced by a high-prestige person than by one with low prestige.
There is a fairly obvious extension of social learning theory to selection of literature and literary experiences for children, for many books have models with whom young readers canidentify. If the factors described above are indeed operating then it would be important to provide books with high prestige role models and books in which the protagonist’s behavior is reinforced by a high prestige person. For young children that might suggest books inwhich the models are parents and other adults in positions of authority. For older children and certainly for adolescents, it would sugges books in which models are peers or cultural heroes such as athletes or people associated with popular culture. Further, it would seem to suggest the importance of characters and situations in the stories which are closely enough related to children’s own lives so that they can identify closely with the motivations for behavior and the outcomes of the behavior.
Books to Help Children Grow
We have looked at some information about children’s development based on the theories of Abraham Maslow, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, and Albert J.Bandura. That information highlighted aspects of social, psychological, and cognitive devel-opment, including moral development and so-cial learning. Since children are maturing in somany ways as they progress through the elementary grades, all of these theoretical bases can be of use to people who work with children. We must look, therefore, into books that are appropriate for the various levels of development, considering the many theories that we have examined here. These, it must be emphasized, are not complete, nor do they tell the entire story. Consider also a new book, Reviving Ophelia that speaks of the difficulties that beset young adult women and how our culture adds to this phenomenon and Real Boys that depicts the ways in which society has made lasting problems in emotional security for its boys.
Below you will find a chart that further explains the prose that you have just read. Please read this as well as the explanations in sentence form.
Physical Stages of Child Development:
|Infancy||Birth-18 months||Walking, simple language, attached to parents|
Early and Middle chlidhood
|18 months–6 years||Language well established, knows gender differences group play; ends with readiness for schooling|
|Late childhood||6-13 years||Many cognitive processes become adult except in speed of operation; team play|
|Adolescence (young adult)||13-20 years||Attains highest level of cognition; independence from parents; sexual relationships|
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Child Development: Maslow’s hierarchy states that the lower, primary needs must be adequately satisfied before the higher need can be addressed and "self-actualization" achieved.
1. Children need to experience security and physical well-being.
2. Children need to love and be loved.
3. Children need to belong.
4. Children need to achieve competence.
5. Children need to know.
6. Children need to experience beauty and order (aesthetics and cognitive knowledge).
The diagram below indicates proportional values as well as incremental ones.
Erikson’s Psychosocial Development: Erikson sees maturation as a series of psychosocial conflicts, each level of conflict must be resolved before the child can move to the next level.
|Trust vs. Mistrust||Birth-18 months||Children require security (through physical comforts and affection)|
|Autonomy vs. Doubt||18 mths-3 years||Children must establish own individual identity in relation to others.|
|Initiative Vs. Guilt||3-6 years||Children realize their own responsibilities and become aware of interpersonal conflicts.|
|Industry vs. Inferiority||7-11 years||Children’s determination to achieve success, often in concert with others|
|Identity vs. Role Confusion||11-18 years||Children involved in discovering personal, cultural and social identity|
|Intimacy vs. Isolation||Young Adulthood||Young Adults strive to form strong friendships and to achieve love and companionship. Failure to form an identity during adolescence may now result in difficulty forming intimate relationships.|
|Generativity vs. Stagnation||Adulthood||Generativity includes such respons- bilities as raising and caring for children and productivity in one’s work. Adults who cannot perform these tasks become stagnant and often depressed.|
|Ego integrity vs. despair||Maturity||Older adults achieve ego integrity if theycan look back on their lives and view life as productive and satisfying. Disappointment leads to despair.|
Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Levels:Piaget sees a person’s intellectual or mental development occurring in steps, each building on the previous one. He divides intellectual development into four major periods some of which are divided into stages.
|Sensorimotor Period||Birth-2 years||Children incapable of establishing object permanence and are entirely egocentric|
|Preoperational Period||2-7 years||Children establish object permanence; two stages: Pre- conceptual stage (subjective logic) and Intuitive Stage (Developing language skills, awareness of world around them).|
|Concrete Operations||3.7-11 years||Children use rudimentary logic and problem solving. Begin to understand time and spatial relationships.|
|Formal Operations||11-15 (?) years||Young peole capable of formal logic, exchange of ideas, comprehending view point of others, understanding social relationships which require human interaction. No longer bound by concrete problems, have the ability to deal with abstrations and consideration of hypothetical questions.|
Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development
Three levels of moral judgment and their stages.
Level 1: Moral values reside in external happening, in bad acts or quasi-physical needs rather than in persons and standards.
Stage 0 Premoral
Stage 1 Obedience and punishment orientation. The child defers to superior power or prestige, or wants to stay out of trouble.
Stage 2 The child realizes that right action satisfies its needs and occasionally others’ needs. Self-interest is paramount. Trade-offs are valued: "You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours." Loyalty and gratitude don’t enter the picture.
Level 2: Moral values reside in performing good or right roles, in maintaining the conventional order and pleasing others.
Stage 3 The "good boy-nice girl" orientation. The main thing is to get approval by pleasing and helping others. The child conforms to majority or "natural" behavior.
Stage 4 The "law and order" orientation: doing one’s duty, respect for authority, and maintaining the social order for its own sake are seen as "moral" actions.
Level 3: Moral values reside in principles separate from those who hold and enforce them, and apart from a person’s identification with the enforcing group.
Stage 5 The legalistic orientation. The rights of others as well as individual rights are recognized. Rules agreed upon by the whole society are accepted as binding, yet looked upon as subject to change. Rights and duties are derived from social contact.
Stage 6 The conscience or principle orientation. Universally agreed upon ethical standards rather than "rules" guide moral conduct. The ideas of justice, respect for others, and equality are examples or moral "ideals."
Stage 7 Cosmic orientation: reason. To be true to universal principles and feel oneself part of a cosmic direction that transcends social norms.
Bandura’s Social Learning Theory:
–It is good to keep in mind that Bandura and other like-minded theorists assert that children learn vicariously–that is, by observing the behavior of social models.
–Books, then, can and do play an important part in a child’s physical, social, moral, and intellectual development. It is very important to choose good books for them by using the information regarding child development before us .