Jean Piaget: founder of Constructivism

Jean Piaget 



“What unifies constructivists across the board, is the notion that children are active builders of their own cognitive tools, as well as of their external realities.  In other words, knowledge and the world are both construed and interpreted through action, and mediated through tool- and symbol use.  Each gains existence and form through the construction of the other. In Piaget’s worlds:”intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself ” (Piaget, 1937, p. 311). What’s more,  knowledge, to constructivists, is not a mere commodity to be transmitted—delivered at one end,encoded, retained, and re-applied at the other. Likewise, the world is not just sitting out there waiting to be uncovered, but gets progressively shaped and reshaped as people interact with it.

Most psychologists and educators of constructivist obedience indeed would agree that learning is less about acquiring information or transmitting existing ideas or values, than it is about individually and collectively imagining and creating a world in which it is worth living.” (Constructivism(s): Shared roots, crossed paths, multiple legacies – a brilliant overview of constructivism and constructionism by Edith Ackerman)

As we think about a world worth living, remind yourself that you are shaping the world as you interact with it.  That includes young children! That is a huge responsibility and privilege!

Have you given thought to what you believe, how children build knowledge? Take some time to revisit  educational philosophies. Are your beliefs in line with beliefs and values of the school or center where you work? Have some deep conversations with co workers.  What do they believe?


Piaget suggests that it is not the role of the teacher to correct a child from the outside, but to create conditions in which the student corrects himself.   What does that look like in early childhood education?  When you are about to “insert” yourself, stop and ask “Am I directing this moment?”  “How can I support the child, what conditions can I create?” ” Does the environment support the child’s development in this area?” By giving time and space to this idea before actions occur, will behavior look different?”

A concrete example might help.  Think of a classroom with 12 three-year-olds. In the class there are three trucks that children fight over.  You have a choice, you can insert yourself saying things like: “Take turns.” “You need to share.” ” Sometimes you need to wait.” We often think we are “teaching” children to share but we often are faced with young children who are frustrated, defeated, and confused by our words.  Brain science tells us that an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex makes sharing difficult for young children. (Scientific American Mind, July/August 2012) With that in mind,  it makes sense that our words  have no effect.

Or you could stop and  ask yourself, “What conditions in the environment would support the children?”  “Would  additional trucks bring joy to the children ?”  Then model sharing when it naturally occurs, setting a good example that will have more impact.  What are your thoughts on this?