Gesell's Maturation Theory is one of many theories about childhood cognitive development. The theory was posited by American paediatrician Arnold Gesell. In brief, it states that early development is guided by heredity. Outside influences cause minor deviations, but these will not have as much of an effect on the child's development as his genetics. Gesell believed that an accurate timetable could be set for the growth of almost any child.
Nurture vs. Nature
The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, a contemporary of Gesell, proposed an alternate and opposing view. Piaget believed that a child is influenced by his environment more than his genetic disposition. Conversely to Gesell, Piaget's model says that a child whose parents spend more time with him is likely to adopt specific social and personal developments at a faster rate. While Piaget and Gesell had opposite views on child development, they are both considered to be important contributors to the field of study.
Often Gesell is criticised for not taking education into his theory. Similar to the idea of nurture affecting a child's development, education can have a considerable impact. Formal education places children inside a social setting while also giving them information they would not normally encounter. Because of this, the rate of development is increased. Some child psychologists consider education to be part of Piaget's theory, though Piaget never comments directly on education, only environment.
Length of Development
Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson and paediatrician Benjamin Spock put forth a model that challenged Gesell. Erikson and Spock's model held much more of a focus on emotional development and covered much more of the child's life than Gesell's. Gesell's model of development only lasted until the child was five years old. Erikson and Spock presented a five-stage model that lasted into the teenage years. Because Gesell's model does not bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood, it cannot be considered to be complete. Unlike Gesell's model, the Erickson/Spock model is very brief and does not go into the same week-by-week depth.
Both Gessel's and Piaget's models focus on motor and intellectual development. They almost completely ignore the child's emotional development. The more modern view on child development espoused by Erikson and Spock includes emotional growth and intertwines it with Gessel's and Piaget's models. Currently, no one maturation theory has satisfied all the various angles that go into the complex idea of childhood development. However, the Gesell Maturation Theory has lasted quite a long while and does provide some deep insight into the subject.
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- DrDnotes; Gessel's Maturational Theory; Richard R. Danielson; February 2007
- Psychology Campus; Theories of Cognitive Development; 2008
- Education.com; Arnold Gesell's Perspective on Learning and Development; M.L. Henniger; 2009
- Holistic Educator: Learning Theory and Observations of Cognitive Stages of Cognitive Development
- Learning Place Online; The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson; Arlene F. Harder, MA, MFT; 2009