Geselle Institute of Human Development

For well over fifty years the name Gesell has been associated with better understanding of child growth and development.  Gesell research has provided fundamental knowledge about the behavior of children between birth and sixteen years.  Gesell schedules continue to be standard benchmarks for children’s physical growth, language development, socialization, and overall adaptive abilities.

A major focus of Gesell work also has been children in the school setting.  For the past thirty years we have been cautioning parents and teachers alike that schools must not treat all children as ready for the same thing at the same time.  Differences in rates of growth should help to plan and guide school structure and curriculum.  Schools should be made to fit children as they are, not the other way around.  In our books, articles, and training seminars, we have vigorously argued for flexible school programs that can meet the needs of all children as they grow and develop through the stages of childhood.

 A Developmental Approach in the Classroom

Gesell Institute believes the aim of education is to promote the total development of each child.  Language, motor, personal-social and intellectual growth must all be major considerations in the classroom.

Unique to Gesell theory is the concept of “adaptive” development.  Adaptive development reflects the child’s capacity to integrate all the areas of growth. It is the child’s ability to profit by past experience and to initiate new experience.  Children show their adaptive behavior through their intelligence, memory, and problem-solving skills.  By drawing attention to all areas of development through adaptive behavior, Gesell theory focuses on the need for balance in a child’s school program.

Teachers who understand adaptive behavior develop classroom programs that seek a balance between active, child-initiated learning and teacher-directed instruction.  The success of this approach rests on the teacher’s ability to bring to the classroom an understanding of child behavior, developmental learning theory, and curriculum content through the following principles:

Respect for individual differences:

All children, but young children especially, learn best in environments arranged with attention to developmental levels of growth.  Therefore, teachers who understand all areas of growth as well as stage theories of development are better able to trust children and themselves in the learning process.  Since children grow at different rates, the ability to assess these differences is also essential to classroom planning.

Information from many sources:

Evaluation of children’s growth should be gathered from a variety of sources:  parents, classroom observation, developmental assessment and other appropriate records.  Such information can assist teachers and administrators in determining individual programs for children and in determining flexible class groupings.

Keen observation of behavior:

Teachers need to be good observers of children’s readiness for new levels of content, skills, and activities.  A clear understanding of the developmental value of given activities and their relationship to a child’s present level of development is essential.  Teachers’ perceptions need to be communicated beyond the classroom to parents and administrators.

Trust in children’s initiative:

Classrooms with a developmental approach should be structured with trust in children’s natural abilities.  This encourages learning on their own through active participation and interaction with the teacher, classmates, and appropriate materials.  Such a structure nurtures the child’s innate drive for purpose, competence, autonomy, and responsibility.  Therefore, we encourage teaching that allows for physical movement, freedom of expression, active communication, plus individual and group problem-solving.

Initiative is also nurtured when all of the classroom is accessible to the children.  The resulting choice and decision making produces interest and motivation and leads to learning which is meaningful, relevant and life-long.