Dissertations and Theses @ UNI

Award Winner

Recipient of the 2012 Outstanding Doctorial Dissertation Award.

To go to the Graduate Student Award Recipients collection page, click here.


Open Access Dissertation


Toddlers -- Education; Constructivism (Education); Problem solving in children; Child psychology; Learning, Psychology of;


Every day more six million infants and toddlers (children under 3 years of age) enter some kind of out-of-home care, with 22% of this group attending center-based programs. Studies on the quality of care in centers indicate that 40% of these children are in poor quality settings while 51 % are in mediocre to medium quality settings. Two factors contributing to these low ratings are lack of age-appropriate materials and lack of learning opportunities. To address these data Piaget's theory of constructivism guided the design of a study to provide evidence of construction of knowledge that occurred when toddlers were provided with interesting objects and were allowed to play freely with those objects.

The study took place in one classroom of a child care center located in a small rural town in the Midwest. Eight children 18 through 24 months old participated in the study. Materials selected for the study (clear cylinders and plastic spheres) were available to the children for two hours each day during activity time. Children were allowed to play freely with the materials. Adults in the classroom provided support but did not direct the activity. Two video cameras and descriptive field notes captured children's actions with the materials. Data were analyzed to identify actions and sequences of actions that indicated construction of knowledge or problem solving.

Findings from this study indicated that children progressively organized their actions as they explored the objects, identified problems, and worked to solve those problems. When given time and allowed to play freely with the materials, children were tenacious in their problem solving, often working on one problem over several days. The data revealed five components to the problem-solving process: exploration, contradiction, repetition, experimentation, solution. The types of problems children pursued were related to Piaget's categories of reality: space, time and causality. Based on the findings, implications are provided for teachers (both pre-service and in-service) and teacher educators.

Year of Submission


Year of Award

2012 Award

Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Linda May Fitzgerald


If you are the rightful copyright holder of this dissertation or thesis and wish have it removed from the Open Access Collection, please submit a request to scholarworks@uni.edu and include clear identification of the work, preferably with URL.

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (vii, 149 pages)



File Format