Faculty Publications

Constructivist Approaches To Moral Education In Early Childhood

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Handbook of Moral and Character Education

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Constructivist approaches to early childhood education focus on developmentally appropriate practices for children from birth to eight years of age (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). The goal of constructivist education is to promote children’s development in all areas of the curriculum (science, mathematics, language and literacy, social studies, and the arts) and in all developmental domains (intellectual, physical, social, emotional, and moral) (DeVries, Zan, Hildebrandt, Edmiaston, & Sales, 2002; Fosnot, 2005). The term “constructivist,” as it will be used in this chapter, comes from Piaget’s theory of development. According to Piaget, children construct their knowledge and intelligence through interactions with their physical and social worlds (Kamii & Ewing, 1996; Piaget, 1970). Constructivist education is deeply rooted in the progressive education movement and draws inspiration from John Dewey (1909, 1913/1975, 1916, 1938) as well as almost a century of action research in the classroom (DeVries, 2002; Goffin & Wilson, 2001; Mayhew & Edwards, 1936; Read, 1966; Tanner, 1997; Weber, 1984). In their book, Moral Classrooms, Moral Children: Creating a Constructivist Atmosphere in Early Education, DeVries and Zan (2012) state that the first principle of constructivist education is to create a sociomoral atmosphere where mutual respect is continually practiced. “Sociomoral atmosphere” refers to the entire network of interpersonal relations in the classroom-child-child relationships, adult-child relationships, and adult adult relationships observable by children. The main goal of constructivist education is for children to become autonomous, lifelong learners. Autonomous people do not act through blind obedience. Their thoughts and actions are guided by reason, conviction, and commitment. A major premise of constructivist education is that children cannot become autonomous intellectually or morally in authoritarian relationships with adults. According to Piaget (1932/1965): If he [the child] is intellectually passive, he will not know how to be free ethically. Conversely, if his ethics consist exclusively in submission to adult authority, and if the only exchanges that make up the life of the class are those that bind each student individually to a master holding all power, he will not know how to be intellectually active.


Department of Psychology


Department of Curriculum and Instruction

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