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Arnold Gesell's Perspective on

Learning and Development

Gesell is a maturationist; his descriptions of
developmental patterns in childhood emphasize
physical and mental growth that he saw as
determined primarily by heredity. By carefully
observing children in his campus school, Gesell
established norms or typical behaviors of children
throughout childhood. He categorized these
typical behaviors into 10 major areas that he
called gradients of growth (Gesell & Ilg, 1949).
He pursued the task of observing and recording
the changes in child growth and development
from infancy through adolescence.
Principles of Development

-> The Concept of Maturation

forces affecting development:
maturation (genetic)
fixed prenatal sequences (e.g. development of heart,
then central nervous system, then arms and legs)
after birth - cephalocaudal:
lip/tongue control
eye control
neck, shoulder, arms, hands
while growth rates vary, growth sequence does not
environmental sequences:
temperature of the womb, oxygen
important, but unrelated to genetic sequences
after birth:
introduction of a social and cultural environment
follows a general pattern uneasily altered:
e.g. sitting, walking, talking all dependent on
sufficient maturation ... cannot "speed up" these
-> The Study of Patterns

patterns = anything which can be identified as
separate, or with a characteristic of its own
e.g. vision and hand-eye coordination:
aimless movement at birth
gradual ability to stop and stare
1 month - focus on an object near the face
4 months - coordination of visual focus and hand
actions with large object (e.g. rattle)
6 months - coordination of visual focus and hand
actions with a small object
10 months - ability to see and pick up a small object
with a pincer grasp
-> Other Principles of Development
-> Reciprocal Interweaving
since humans have many instances of two parts of
the body (e.g. eyes, hemispheres, legs, etc.), they
also have a tendency to develop between two poles:
handedness: explorations between one hand, both
hands and the other hand ... eventual preference for
one over the other
personality: repeated tendencies toward introversion
and extroversion ... eventual organization into a
comfortable personality structure
notion of equilibrium being repeatedly lost until it
"re-finds" itself in a higher level of organization
-> Functional Asymmetry

symmetry is not usual ... assymetry is the most
common characteristic
e.g. handedness
tonic neck reflex:
seen primarily in first thee months
supine position with head to one side, arm
outstretched with opposite arm flexed
-> Self-Regulation

ability of even newborns to regulate their own
e.g. demonstration of babies' ability to determine
their own best schedules for eating, sleeping and
being awake
e.g. tendency for children to "recover" by themselves
after tending too far in one direction (e.g.

-> Individuality

slight problem reconciling the notion of individuality
into the developmental stages discussed above
key point: developmental sequences are common to
all children, but there are individual differences in
the rates of growth
possible link between growth rate and personality:
e.g. slowth growth -> even-temperedness, caution
e.g. fast growth -> outgoing, happy, quick wit
e.g. irregular growth -> varying between over- and
under-cautiousness, mood swings, etc.