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Intellectual Development (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Apr 23, 2014

Vygotsky and Intellectual Development

The work of Vygotsky (1978) provides a foundation for understanding the social formation of learning. He theorized that children learn thought, language, and volition as they interact with others to master tasks or as they work independently on lesser complex operations. Specifically, Vygotsky believes that learning occurs, in part, when assistance from others is within the “zone of proximal development,” defined as “the distance between a child’s actual developmental level, as determined by independent problem solving, and the higher level of potential development, as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). As we observe our children at play, we discover how they are developing new concepts, skills, and competencies (Hoorn, Nourot, Scales, & Alward, 1999). One of Vygotsky’s most important contributions to understanding child development is his assertion that the “zone of proximal development” is the level at which the child is comfortable and confident when exploring a task or activity while at the same time not being bored or frustrated by it. Vygotsky believes that a child’s learning is optimal when functioning at this level. As children master tasks at this level, they will have the confidence and intrinsic motivation to engage in activities that require higher levels of thought and actions. Vygotsky also argued that every function in development begins at the social level through social interaction and then at the individual level (Vygotsky, 1978). This is one of the reasons why children should be encouraged to talk to and interact with their peers and adults. He believes that social interaction is the generator of thought. “Children not only speak about what they are doing, their speech and action are part of one and the same complex psychological function” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 43). It is through talking, discussing, listening, and problem solving that children develop new concepts, skills, and competencies. Children need activities that give them something about which to talk. This is one reason why it is important to establish a classroom atmosphere that encourages children to converse informally as they work together on a block-building activity; improvising sociodramatic play; engaging in kitchen play; or using objects to represent ideas, events, other objects, or situations. Our role as teacher is to facilitate discussions on how children worked on a project, how they got the idea for an improvisation, or why they decided to use yellow crayons to represent a certain food in the kitchen center. “As children talk, listen, and discuss shared experiences, they gain insights into one another’s perceptions of the experiences, how others view the world” (Seefeldt, 2000, p. 158). Vygotsky’s theory and his understanding of how social interaction relates to child development gives us even more reasons to stop giving children socially isolated activities such as ditto masters and premarked papers. Formula-laden and preprinted color-sheet activities undermine creativity and place emphasis on “alone work” and “being quiet.” These types of activities may keep the noise level in your classroom at a pianissimo, but they do nothing to challenge children’s intellectual development.

The Arts and Intellectual Development

How do the arts contribute to these rich and comprehensive theories of intellectual development? When children are involved in the creative arts process, they have many opportunities to expand basic concepts, memory, problem-solving skills, and language. At the same time, as we begin to see connections between children’s understanding and the creative arts, we will be more aware of how the arts may be extremely beneficial in the overall intellectual growth of a child.  The figure below provides a description of just a few of the opportunities for intellectual development through the arts.

Intellectual Opportunities Through the Arts

When children are engaged in the creative arts process, they have opportunities to

  • express what they see, feel, think and want to communicate
  • explore and experiment with sound, texture, color, pretending, and creating
  • express ideas and feelings about themselves, their environment, and the world as they understand it
  • strengthen their ability to imagine, create, and observe
  • learn to use judgement without criticism
  • use a variety of materials to solve problems
  • develop a more mature vocabulary to use in discussing, exploring, and inquiring about  different experiences
  • gain confidence in their ability to express themselves
  • define problems and seek solutions
  • make decisions
  • increase their awareness and use of kinesthetic experiences
  • develop visual, auditory and kinesthetic awareness and change it to artistic expression
  • form conepts of what they want to draw, how they want to dance or how they will act out a story
  • rearrange and alter materials for self-satisfaction
  • lengthen attention span and increase attending skills
  • practice resourcefulness and alternatives
  • gain a sense of self-direction, initiative, and independent thinking
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