Developmental theories to predict & understand children's responses to literature & media
This page reviews six developmental theories on children's growth through childhood and adolesence to adulthood and relates them to examples of children's literature that correspond to the developmental characteristics.
- Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial
- Development Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development
- Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
- Piaget's Theory of Development
- Social Learning Theory
- Caring as responses
Erikson's Theory of Psychsocial develoment
Erikson developmental model describes a series of five levels characterised by psychosocial crises, which individuals must successfully resolve for them to mature to the next level.
Of prime importance in resolving these conflicts are adults who care for the child and the interactions in which they are involved.
Maturation occurs as each individual progresses from one stage to the next.
|Infancy||birth - 18 months||trust vs. mistrust|
|Early childhood||10 mo. - 3 years||Autonomy Vs doubt|
- Children are becoming an independent self.
- Play is important as a means for developing autonomy, learning about other children and adults, rules and laws; which are important as social order.
- They like stories about parents and children.
- Tales of Peter Rabbit,
- Ira sleeps over,
- Alice in Wonderland,
- First Grade Jitters,
|Middle childhood||3-6 years||Initiative Vs guilt|
- Children are increasingly able to care for themselves and their possessions.
- They develop the ability to realize that others may be in opposition to their behavior.
- Guilt may result in resolution of the conflict.
- Play can be categorized in two general forms:
- solitary and dreaming and
- interaction with others in the form of enacting life.
- This enables them to think about their future as well as their present roles. Enjoy literature where characters experience conflict with others and their actions and motivations are communicated.
- Goggles; Ezra Keat,
- A Room of My Own,
- Alexander and the Terrible No Good Very Bad Day,
- Baby Sister for Francis,
- Nobody Asked Me If I Wanted a Baby Sister.
- Charlottes Web,
- Did You Carry the Flag Today Charley?, Rebecca Caudill
|Late childhood||7-11 years||Industry Vs inferiority|
- Are determined to master tasks.
- Learn to work together with others for a common goal.
- Are constantly engaged in activities that allow them to practice.
- Their being able to do results in industry Vs inferiority.
- Like how-to books and books about others trying to be better or as good as their peers are common at this age group.
- Enjoy stories about other children at this age and their interaction with their parents.
- Harriet the Spy,
- Ramona and Her Father,
- Friday Night Is Papa Night
- Summer of the swans'
- Wrinkle in Time,
- James and the Giant Peach,
- Summer of the Swans,
- Evens' Corner,
- Where Lilies Bloom,
- Prairie Song,
- The Boxcar Children,
- From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankenweiler,
|Adolescents||12-20 years||Identity Vs role diffusion|
Enjoy stories with search for identity is linked to becoming a person with identity: identity linked to a cultural, personalities, and a community (families, groups, sports, gangs...)
- The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson (1978)
- The Red Badge of Courage ,
- Little house books,
- Beverly Cleary books
- Judy Bloom books
- A Wrinkle in Time,
- The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond,
- Story of my life,Helen Keller
- I'm Nobody Who Are You,
Kohlberg's Theory of moral development
Kohlberg's theory is divided into three levels with two stages per level. Each stage is slightly more complex and more effective than the prior. As children, adolescents, and adults, assume more responsibility they may progress through the six levels.
People understand their present stage, all below, and the one immediately above. They may revert to lower stages during stressful times. If a teacher or person in authority uses a control strategy at a level below the student's current level, the student will feel humiliated and may regress to that level.
Essentially all good literature deals with values and can play a role in value formation. To do so requires situations that put the characters into conflict with the values of society and slightly above the current level of the reader/viewer to provide readers opportunities to compare and contrast their values against values of the characters that they admire.
Level one: Stage one (Preschool age 3-4) Stage two (K - grade 3)
Stage one is characterized by a pain-pleasure response for individual satisfaction. Control with the use of physical force for compliance. Short-term effect, physical constraint and physical abuse.
Stage two is characterized by the attitude: I want to appear fair, but come out ahead. Control with the use of positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement and abuse.
- Little Red Riding Hood,
- Peter Rabbit,
- Tempelton in Charlotte's Web,
- Sister for Sam,
- Road Runner
Level two: Stage three (grades 4 - 8) Stage four (grades 9 - 12)
Stage three is characterized by a perception of the social order as a need to please, help, or conform for the benefit of the group. Control with peer pressure and concern for feelings of the group. Range from cooperation and working together and helping each other to ostracism and shunning or shaming a person and making them an outcast.
Stage four is characterized by a perception of a need of duty to obey social rules and regulations to maintain social order to have an ordered society. Control with individual responsibility. Legal systems with an over reliance on legalism and laws carried to extremes.
- There is a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom, Lois Sacher, and Me Elizabeth,
- The Great Gilley Hopkins,
- Island of the Blue Dolphins,
- Witch of Blackbird Pond,
- A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich,
- That was the, This is Now,
- Romeo and Juliet
Level three: Stage five (maybe grade 11-12 for a few? Stage six (?)
Stage five is characterized by individuals that attempt to define moral principles as social-contracts, or legal-contracts based on an understanding of principles of justice and a democratic community. Control is by governance and sanctions based on general democratic principles: fairness, equity, toleration, freedom of thought ...
Stage six is characterized by universal justice and ethical considerations that respect the dignity of individuals. Control is principled self-control.
- A Swiftly Tilting Planet; Madeleine L'Engle (1973)
- Let a River Be; Betty Sue Cummings (1978).
- On My Honor,
- The Scarlet Letter,
- Wizard of EarthSea trilogy,
- Gift of the Magi,
- The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,
- King of the Wind,
- Bridge to Terabithea,
- Day No Pigs Would Die,
- Freedom train, Harriet Tubman
- Uncle Tom's Cabin,
- Jump Ship to Freedom
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for Life and in Literature
Maslow was concerned with how people develop their identity and humanness. He believed people develop their identity as they have their needs met and those needs formed a hierarchy, from the lowest, basic physical needs to highest, self-actualization.
For example, a hungry child will not develop much intellectual curiosity. Lower level physical needs (hunger amount them) must be reasonably well satisfied before any individual will attend to higher levels (intellectual curiosity being among the self-actualization).
Hierarchy of Needs Levels from lower to higher:
- Physical needs,
- Safety needs,
- Belonging & love,
- Esteem and feeling of being recognized, and
- Striving for self-actualization or to reach one's best physical, social, and emotional ability. (need to know), aesthetic needs (need for beauty), social (need to be among others), and emotional (need for success and mental well being).
Knowing Maslow's Hierarchy of needs helps to understand literature; as good authors tell stories that are plausible and realistic because their characters are based on real life people who develop as Maslow observed. Therefore, knowing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs will help understand character traits, character development, how plots unfold, different themes included in stories and other characteristics, which will help you to better appreciate quality literature.
Physical and Safety Needs (level 1 & 2)
Physical and Safety Needs: physical security begins in mother's and father's arms, includes eating and sleeping and expands to what individuals need for comfort and well-being. Material possessions and physical setting can include symbols of security. Stories that tell of people with enough food and clothing. Tales of brightly burning fires, feasts, rich clothes, glittering jewels, and splendid palaces. The lack of security is one of peoples most pressing needs, very often it is central to the plot, motive for acting, or the theme of the story. Robinhood, Cinderella, Sounder, ...
Love and Belonging Needs (level 3)
Need to be loved: all human beings want to love and to be loved. In literature this need may also be met by animal substitutes or material possessions. Devotion to people, animals, grandparents, parents, children, or material possessions.
- I'll Get There, It Better Be Worth the trip, John Donovans (1969), Davy's devotes his attention to his dog, Fred, after his grandmother's death.
- Rainy Day Together; Ellen Parson (1971),
- The Hundred Penny Box, Sharon Bell Mathis (1975),
- Onion John; Joseph Krumgold,
- Summer of the Swans, Betsy Byars (1970),
- The Incredible Journey, Sheila Burnfords (1961),
- Little Women, Louisa May Alcott,
- travelers by night, Vivien Alcoc, steal an aging elephant to save from slaughterhouse
- Like Jake and Me, Mavis Juke, theme of love and understanding between a boy and stepfather
- Ramona, Beverly Cleary, traces of father
- Where the Red Fern Grows, One dies because can not live without the other's love
- The Giving tree
- Alexander and the Very Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day
- The Velveteen Rabbit
Need to belong: to be part of a group, For young children this starts as an egocentric desire or part of self-love. Children say with pride MY mama, papa, brother. Stories about family, neighborhood, community, school, Beverly Cleary for the middle grades. When a child wishes they could know the characters, help them, or be with them, they are widening their awareness of belonging and strengthening their idea of community and acceptance of others who may or may not be similar to them.
- John Tunis sports stories for the preadolescent and teenager makes young readers face fully the extra difficulties that beset youngsters of minority groups in winning a place on the team or community
- The Soul Brothers and Sister, Kristin Hunte, a group of black adolescents face prejudice toward and within themselves
- Little Navajo Bluebird, not winning acceptance but in rejecting whites and all their ways and only accepts tribal group
Esteem, Recognized, and Self-actualization Needs (level 4 & 5)
Need to achieve competence: begins with the infants exploration of talking, crawling, walking, and continues to the athlete, mathematician, artist, musician, or scientist. Need to interact effectively with the environment is a very strong motivating force. The important factor of book heroes is the unique feats they performed on their own. Found in the study by Mary J. Collier and Eugene L. Gaier "The hero in the preferred childhood stories of college men",
- Hansel and Gretal
- Tom Sawyer
- White Mountains trilogy,
- A Wrinkle in Time, Meg
- Carry on Mr. Bowditch, Jean Latham
- Most biographies
- Call it Courage, Armstrong Sperry
- How to Survive Third Grade, Laurie Lawlor
- Swiss Family Robinson,
- Mine for Keeps, Jean Little a cerebral palsy child comes home from five years in a residential school feelings of fear and self-pity, adjusts when helping another child
- Blood Brothers, Charles Drew a black ghetto child, who despite discrimination persist in his pursuit of a medical career and becomes a pioneer in blood research
- Ramona books
- Wizard of Oz,
- Bridge to Terabithia,
- Island of the blue dolphins, Scott O'Dell
- Sign of the Beaver,
- Courage of Sara Noble,
- Little Engine that Could
Need to know: child's constant curiosity and why questions. Need to investigate, to know for sure, a hunger for knowledge.
- All non fiction books
- Miss Nelson is missing,
- Curious George,
Need for beauty and order: music, dance, drama, story, painting, sculpture. The child seeks aesthetic satisfaction and the development of ones tastes by enjoying one piece of literature after another.
- Shirley Glubok's books about art in various cultures: The Art of Ancient Egypt, The Art of the
- North American Indian, The Art of Ancient Mexico
- Looking at Art, Alice Elizabeth Chase: discusses ways artist look at people, landscapes, or spatial relationships
- All I See, Cynthia Rylant: story of a painter who encourages a child
Beauty in Literature the interplay of the elements of literature and multiple themes organized in a fascinating story of intrigue and character development.
- A Wrinkle in Time,
- Charlottes Web,
- Tuck Everlasting,
- Owl Moon,
Piaget theory of development
People assimilate and accommodate information they sense. Assimilation of information happens when the information sensed is stored without changing existing mental structures. Accomodation happens when the information perceived causes a change in existing structure or creation of a new structure. As learners construct new structures they are able to process information in different ways. These different ways were characterized by Piaget as stages. See learning theory
- Sensory Motor
- Concrete operational
- Formal operational
Each stage has major characteristics associated with it.
Concrete operational - Three characteristics are conservation, reversibility, and tranformation.
- Conservation is the ability to question perception and reason about reality. To use logic instead of perception of what can appear to be obvious characteristics (definitions and nonliterature examples). Perception of characters based on the character's appearance rather than inner qualities and traits, may suggest inaccurate interpretations. For example:Beauty and the Beast.
- Reversibility is essential to understand flashbacks and the order of events in time. (definitions and nonliterature examples)
- Transformation (definitions and nonliterature examples)
Is a wolf in sheep's clothing really a sheep? or a wolf? Is this both conservation and reversibility.
|Stage||Approximate Age||Major Features|
|Sensorimotor||0-2||Learn motor skills, out of sight out of mind, object permanence, words represent objects|
- Sensori motor experiences.
Books that squeak, talk, or make noise, Books that have
zippers or other manipulatives, Pop up books,
Nursery rhymes and songs with actions.
|Stage||Approximate Age||Major Feature|
|Preoperational||2-7||Subjective thought, intuitive thought, and
Use of symbols
- In the early phase of this stage children are busy discovering their environment, concept books are good:
Look Again; Tans Hoban, photographs of familiar objects
Freight train, Donald Crews,
Zoo City, Stephen Lewis,
The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats.
- Egocentric thought like in
Nobody Asked Me If I Wanted a Baby Sister,
Martha Alexander (1971),
I'm Not Oscar's Friend Anymore, Marjorie Sharmat (1975),
Go and Hush the Baby, Betsy Byars (1972).
- Stories that show children modeling behavior:
Blueberries for Sal, Robert McCloskey. imitative scenes of characters imitating their parents.
- Anthropomorphism leads to animal stories:
- Toward the end of this stage, or the beginning of the next, children begin to be able to take another person's point of view.
- They are able to project themselves into other roles, think in terms of other people, recognize differences between how things look and how they really are.
- Therefore they become interested in realistic fiction that allows them to relate to the characters or environment.
- My Brother tries to Make Me Laugh, Andrew Glass
- I'll Be the Horse If You'll Play with Me, Martha Alexander
- Hide and Seek Fog, Alvin tresselt,
- Wait for Williams, Marjorie Flack.
- Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley, Rebecca Caudill
- Howie Helps Himself,
- With learners being able to project themselves into different roles any dramatic experience like plays, puppets...
- That motivate students to talk about feelings and see the motivation of the characters and role play the plot showing character emotion.
- With well directed discussion can give a basis for perceiving conflict in the story from more than one character's point of view.
- With differences between how things look and how they really are.
- So learners can listen and enjoy fantasy and fiction without always worrying if it is real or not.
- I'm Terrific, Marjorie Sharmat (1977)
- Days With Frog and Toad , Arnold Lobel,
- George and Martha, George Marshall
- Ira Sleeps Over, Bernard Waber (1972)
- Sam, Bangs and Moonshine, Evaline Ness.
- Howie Helps Himself, Joan Fassler: help build empathy for disabled people
Animal stories for this age:
- Listen, Rabbit; Aileen Fiaher (1964)
- The Biggest Bear, Lynd Ward
- Millions of Cats,
- The Story of Babar
- The Web in the Grass, Berniece Frescher (1972),
- Big Ones, Little Ones, Tana Hoban,
- A Chick Hatches, Joanna Cole
|Stage||Approximate Age||Major Feature|
|Concrete||7-11||Students think, or reason, with the manipulation of concrete objects, can conserve, reversibility, and time space relationship|
Learners are better able to conserve, use reversibility, and transformations.
- Better able to understand conflict within themself and others.
- Through play they try to understand the world and conflict resolution.
- Books that show conflict within and among characters.
Books by Beverly Cleary and Mary Stolz present day
to day situations to which children can relate.
The Not-So-Wicked Stepmother, shows conflict within self and others
The Stone-faced Boy, Paula Fox;
The Bear's House, Marilyn Sachs
The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson
James and the Giant Peach,
Indian in the Cupboard,
Chronicles of Narnia,
- Time relationships are developing and historical fiction and biographies become important.
- Real life heroes and historical fiction of heroes:
Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink
The Cabin Faced West, Jean Fritz
Sara Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan
Island of the Blue Dolphins,
Where the Red Fern Grows,
Roll of Thunder Hear My Call,
Rest of the Story, Paul Harvey
- Able to sequence story events from the beginning to the end and back again.
- Hold parts of the story in their mind so they can process flashbacks.
- Able to project into the future and move backward in time. This also prepares them for fantasy that goes back in time or forward:
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
The White Mountains trilogy, John Christopher
Earthsea trilogy, Ursula Le Guin
The Night Gift,
|Stage||Approximate Age||Major Features|
|Formal reasoning||11+||Reason abstractly, use logic, don't need to reason concretely, but may need to if they have not developed schemata|
- Learners at this level are able to contrast all genres, link parts and wholes, recognize order and rules of literature.
- Empathize with others, understand complex relationships, interpret characters and story elements, formulate theories about physical and social aspects of life, and understand another's point of view and evaluate it.
- Determine if information is valid and logical based on a sense of order.
- See relationships within the structure of a story and how they effect the plot and the logic of the story.
Compelling stories for children to interact with problems and emotions of teenage characters in an expanding world.
- A Wrinkle in Teme, Meet the Austins, Madeleine L' Engle
- The House of Scorpions, Nancy Farmer future societies, cloning, and drug use
- Scorpions, Walter Dean Myers: story of the pressures of the drug culture
- Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Bobbitt
- The Giver, Lois Lowery
- Hold Fast to Dreams, Andrea Davis Pinkney
Social learning theory
Bandura and Vygotsky describe human learning as a social event of observing, modeling and interacting with others. Mirror neurons provide a powerful basis for humans to imitate and learn behaviors from others even with out reward or punishment.
Learning is also affected by how a child relates to others. Relating best to others who are similar to their personal view of them self. This being related to each person's cultural identity, racial identity, sexual identity, and the various roles each child choses. We look at people in these relationships as role models and the more prestigious the model is, the greater the impact may be. The desire to be like this other person may motivate a person to act, however the ability to understand and apply the behaviors will affect success and continued motivation.
It should be obvious that characters in literature are models of a variety of behaviors, many of them social.
Books are a windows into life where learners view many interactions, identify them as positive and negative, and make choices as to which may be worthy for them to try in their own life.
It would also seem likely that student's choice of literature and which characters they choose to imagine as models, for them, will be related to their experience with peers, heroes, and events they have experienced in their lives.
As they knowingly or unknowingly search for different behaviors to try out in their world, literature will provide a valuable source for their social and behavioral development.
Most books have characters who interact with other characters and provide a rich source of social behaviors, most of which are appropriate for children.
Authors have characters that usually change the way they interact socially. Sometimes the change is slow and moves along with the plot progression. Other times the character may stubbornly stay with the same interactions repeatedly making the same mistakes. Increasing the problem for the characters as the plot progresses until reaching a climax where change occurs.
Other times characters don't change, but there can be characters who oppose each other with opposite sets of interactions for the reader or viewer to contrast from one to the other. Change can be low key or used to propel the plot along or used as an important style element that sets the tone.
In Amelia Badelia the author's use of literal interpretations by the main character never changes and helps create a humorous tone as the main character interacts socially based on her literal interpretations.
In books like, There is a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom, the theme and plot rely heavily on the main character's social interactions. The author explores different behaviors and their social consequences through out the story with the main character.
The reader learns through the character's struggles and may relate to the character's desire to change as motivation to model and use similar behaviors in his or her life.
The style and tone is not didactic. It is based on logical consequence and encouraging understanding characters that are helpful in a low key manner. Slow progress or realization by the main character is often the case with no success until the climax.
This struggle becomes an important element of the theme, character development, style, and tone, however it does not have to be the driving force that moves the plot along. Nor is success usually expected or guaranteed as the story develops. The character may be successful at the end of the story, but the continuation of success may be questionable as to its likelihood after the story ends.
Some stories with strong characterization are:
- Lon Po Po,
- Horton Hatches an Egg,
- Horton Hears a Who,
- Charlottes Web,
- Witch of Blackboard Pond,
- Lizzie Bright and The Buckminster Boy,
- The Fourth Stall,
- What Happened to Lani Garver,
- The Mailbox,
- Ida B,
- The Danger Box