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Comparison Maslow and Erik Erikson

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I believe there have been a wide variety of theories and methods pertaining to early childhood learning and development throughout time. In chapter four of our text, Introduction to Early Childhood Education, six prominent psychologists, Erikson, Maslow, Piaget, Vygotsky, Skinner and Bandura, are introduced and discussed. I would like to compare these theorists’ similarities and differences and address their views on early childhood development and learning.

Erikson and Maslow’s theories are similar in that they both focus on social and personality development, as well as a child’s motivation to learn. They also both theorize that a person experiences different stages or levels of development throughout their life (pg.110). Although these sound like similar ideas, I have observed they do have their differences. Erikson focuses on stages where an, “individual confronts a major challenge or ‘crisis’” (pg.107). He suggested that a person experiences each stage at an approximate age and must resolve each stage in order to develop properly. Erikson speculated that, “If crises are not resolved positively at particular points in the life span, …that later problems will ensue” (pg.107). Maslow’s theory focuses on what he calls the “self-actualization theory”, which says that, “behavior and learning are motivated by a hierarchy of needs” (pg.109). While Erikson believes that a person experiences stages at a certain age (pg.107); Maslow theorized that a person’s “basic needs” must be met in order to move up the pyramid, or “hierarchy of needs”, and ultimately reach their “growth needs”.

One cannot reach the top of the pyramid, which is “self-actualization”, until they have achieved these goals (pg.109/110). My understanding of this is that a person may reach these stages at any point in life, and also may move back and forth between levels, according to their circumstances. In this sense, a stage could not be missed, because it is based on the needs of the individual person, rather than a developmental stage categorized by age. I feel both Erikson and Maslow have valid points, and have contributed important insights on how children develop and learn. I agree with Erikson’s stages and think they apply to the majority of children, although I do not believe they should be used as an exact science to be followed by early childhood educators. I feel his theory discriminates against children with disabilities and some cultures. I feel the strong point of both of these theories is the focus on social and personal development and how social interaction can promote a child’s awareness of their capabilities. In contrast to Erikson’s and Maslow’s theories are that of Piaget, whose theory focuses largely on cognitive development. He believed that, “children actively try to make sense of their experiences by building or constructing their own knowledge” (pg.111).

I think Piaget’s theory is important, because I feel it constituted a more hands-on approach to learning. However, I agree with our text when it suggests that his stages of cognitive developmental may have hindered some children’s learning due to, “Misinterpretations, …which caused educators to focus more on what children were not able to do rather than on their developing competencies” (pg.115). A theory, which I think relates to Piaget’s, is Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory. This theory is, “his [Vygotsky’s] belief that children learn from social interaction within a cultural context” (pg.115). I observed that this theory is similar to that of Piaget’s in a few aspects, one being that he believed, “Babies learn through their senses and by manipulating objects” (pg.115). Also, I think Vygotsky’s views are similar to Erikson’s and Maslow’s in that they promote the theory that children learn through social interactions. I believe Vygotsky’s term “zone of proximal development” (ZPD) is an important theory within early childhood education. Our text, defines ZPD as, “the distance between the actual development level an individual has achieved and the level of potential development they could achieve with adult guidance or through collaboration with other children” (pg.117).

I like this idea because I feel it promotes individual learning and growth and enables children to ultimately achieve new goals on their own through the encouragement of others. B.F. Skinner introduced a learning theory that differs significantly from that of Erikson, Maslow, Piaget and Vygotsky, because its focus is on behaviorism or behavioral learning. This theory suggests that, “learning is a change in behavior that is controlled by the consequences, either positive or negative, that follow the behavior” (pg.120). He referred to these consequences as “reinforcers”. A positive reinforcement is a reward following an action, which often causes the, “behavior to be repeated.” A negative reinforcement is, “an unpleasant consequence that is avoided if the person performs a desired behavior more frequently” (pg.121). Skinner’s theory differed from other theorists, because it focused solely on behavior rather than cognitive or social development. I believe focusing only on the behavior of a child may have its downfall in that an educator or parent may neglect other crucial aspects of childhood development. I think Skinner’s theory may be effective, but only in the sense of teaching a child the consequences of their actions.

The psychologist, Albert Bandura, proposed a theory that “bridged the gap” between all other theories previously discussed by generating a “social cognitive theory”. This theory suggests, “that people can learn efficiently from observing the consequences of another person’s behavior” (pg.122). I like Bandura’s idea of “self-regulated learning”. This concept says that people learn by modeling others behavior and observing their own (pg.123). I also find his theories of play interesting and agree with incorporating play as a tool for learning. I think Bandura’s theory encompasses many ideas and thoroughly covers social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral learning, which I believe are all equally important in the development of a person. After reading about and comparing these six theories, I have concluded that they all contribute beneficial information and ideas about the development of a person in early childhood and throughout the life span. I do not know if I think any one theory is perfect, but I believe incorporating key aspects of each theory could generate positive results in an early childhood classroom. I believe it would be useful for all educators of children to study these theories and draw out ideas that seem beneficial to them, and then implement their interpretation of these theories in the classroom.


FHS 2600 Introduction to Early Childhood Education, 2011, Pearson Learning Solutions, Boles, Danner, Briggs, and Johnson.

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