Social-cultural approach to children’s development

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Children's Development and Social-Cultural Context

Children grow up in unique social, cultural, physical, historical, and economic settings that shape their development. B. Rogoff (2003). Years of research have demonstrated that children's social-cultural context has a significant impact on their development. Culture has an impact on how children develop. Children develop differently in different cultures (Montgomery, 2008). Development is a process of learning and improvement, which means that children can only develop when they are supported by others. This assistance could come from parents, instructors, or siblings.

Cultural-Historical Approach to Children's Development

A cultural-historical approach to the development of children.Children’s everyday situations and the conditions in the society contribute to children’s development and attempts to grasp the child’s perspective (Rogoff, 2003). Children’s development theory has to be anchored in the values of the society that is what different institutions value as a good life.

Child Initiated and Adult Play in Child Development

This literature review will examine child initiated and adult play as an aspect of practice. Children always learn through first-hand experiential activities. The play is used as a vehicle for achieving this. Children practice and consolidate their learning through their play. Children develop an understanding of themselves and the world surrounding them through first-hand experiences.

Cultural-Historical Perspective and Child Development

This literature review will be examining key ideas about cultural-historical perspective to child’s will also examine the extent to which child initiated and adult led play support and change children development. This review will also address the limitations of child-initiated play and its significance to children’s development.

Institutions and Learning

The histories of learning from different institutions are a key factor in development. According to Hedegaard, development is not just what you achieve for instance your social development, but development encompasses a child’s story of institutions, institutions’ practices and the consequences of demands we experience as we pass from one institution to another.

Children's Development in Societal Institutions

Hedegaard examines three issues pertaining to cultural-historical perspective to child development; that is society, the institution, and the child. According to him, children learn and develop through the many activities they take part in within these institutions. Cultures have a history; there is no clear starting point. There is also a historical element in children’s development intertwined in culture. Institutions and culture can help or be an obstacle to child’s development. Experiences will always be there but the manner in which adults approach them will change the motivation of the child and institution. Meaning adults are important in the institution.

Understanding a Child's Development

Hedegaard argues that children develop through their daily interactions in a societal institution. These institutions keep on changing making children’s development can be seen as a story of a journey through these many institutions and experiences that occur along the way. Hedegaard suggests that, when you want to understand a child’s development, you should look at the activities that take place in that institution. “What activities dominate these institutions? What demands do they put on children and what kind of crises do children go through when changing from one institution to the next?” (Hedegaard, 2009: 72)

Goals of Different Institutions and Good Life for Children

Hedegaard asserts that institutions will have goals for what they think good life should look like for a child. The challenge is, for different institutions child experiences may have different ideas of ‘good life’. This is the reason you should try looking at development from the societal point of view, institution and the child.

Development as Participation in Cultural Communities

According to Rogoff, people develop as a participant in cultural communities. Their development can be understood in light of the cultural practices of their communities which also change.

Learning Cultural Practices

Rogoff sees development as a day today's cultural practices that take place in cultures. This means that children development is through learning the practice of culture they grow up in. The impact of socio-cultural factors that the society is involved in, like the religion, education system, media for instance music, and other ethnic based practices normally impact on the overall development of the children.

Influence of Institutions on Learning and Development

According to Hedegaard, the institutions that children go to and the personal activities that they undertake to do influence the learning and development of children. A cultural- historical approach as proposed by Hedegaard looks into the traditions, values and the norms that appertain to education, religion and children’s rights and emphasizes that the different practices the adults engage in with regard to policies, values, codes of conduct and rules impact on the child’s development to a big extent.

Child Development through Socio-Cultural Interactions

Children will learn new skills such as reading from the minor day-to-day processes and activities that they go through in the institutions they go to. Factors such as individual personalities, confidence, and the interest of a child are determined by their socio-cultural interactions within their environment.

Relationship between Development and Culture

By this, Rogoff means that children development cannot be separated from the cultural communities they grow in.

Vygotsky's Theory and Cultural Activities

According to Rogoff, Hedegaard, and Bourdieu development and culture are bound together and are inseparable. Rogoff further expands the theory of Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development where children learn through taking part in cultural activities that that is supported by another. However, Rogoff thinks that Vygotsky put a lot of emphasis on children taking part in educational activities in school and did not account other activities children take part in like child’s play through which children still learn and develop.

Children's Participation in Cultural Practices

Rogoff asserts that children learn through participating in the practices or cultural activities that are done together. This is to mean that activities that are supported by others contribute more to the skills they learn and pick as they grow up. Children are not passive but will always observe and pick issues, questions, and concerns that they get from adults which always have an element of culture and ethics.

Structured Interactions between Children and Adults

Children and adults structure interactions during socio-cultural activities. For instance, Rogoff illustrates how parents can structure their children’s learning from their early childhood through the development stages from the time they play with toys, to reading, to understanding physical activities like farming or fishing until they choose and acquire their career. These interactions on the present activity determine their choices and he, therefore, emphasizes the importance of adults being role models in structuring the activities of the children.

Child-Centered Learning and Play

The importance of conducting child-centered learning practices during child development with the adult or the teacher supporting them so as to gain independence and autonomy in their learning has been emphasized in the Plowden Report (Central Advisory Council for Education, 1967).

Discovery Learning and Child Development

This Discovery learning achieved when children are playing also helps in developing a child’s potential and attributes in their environment with some guidance from the adult from a distance (Hall et al, 2008).

Child's Thinking and Play

Froebel’s approach to understanding children’s thinking as suggested by Edwards and Hammer (2006) was aimed at fostering understanding of concepts which normally unfolds when they play. Such concepts later assist or determine the performance of the said children when they go to school for their education. The role of the adult or the teacher and the materials they use drawn from the environment determines the lessons learned from the playing.

Importance of Adults in Play

According to Froebel, children's play helps in harnessing the flow of 'Gifts' and 'Occupations' which direct the child's occupation and talents since the child is let to do self-chosen activities hence it consumes their natural energy by self-will. Adults should only 'sensitively intervene' to ensure that the play is in agreement with the life of the child and his environment so that it turns out educative, meaningful and fulfilling. Through it, life becomes more relevant (p. 54).

Play as a Site for Experiment

May (2006) also argues that the early childhood stage where play is normally prevalent has 'always been a site for experiment' (p. 262), and this interestingly brings out the inherent capabilities that the children have and which slowly unfolds when given the opportunity.

Providing Experiences and Exposures for Learning through Play

According to John Dewey (1859–1952), who is a philosopher and educational reformist, it is very important to provide the child with different experiences and exposures so that they can learn through play. This should also be a process even as they grow up along the way. Just like others, Dewey believed in linking the natural interests and activities of children to directing them to the opportunities that would benefit them even as they become adults.


Researchers argue that Children learn through cultural practices that take place in their cultures. Children's development cannot be separated from the cultural communities they grow in (Rogoff 2006) Children’s day today's conditions in the society contribute to their development and attempts to grasp the child's perspective. Child's play contributes a lot to the development of children in the society. Their development can be understood in light of the cultural and ethical practices of their communities which also keep on changing.

A guided participation approach insists on adults working together with their children as it helps them adjust to the acceptable socio- cultural behavior in their environment and society in general.

The language that adults use to explain concepts to their children is replicated to what their children communicates to others in their conversations whether in school or at home.

It is therefore very important to always look at the socio-cultural atmosphere in whole when bringing up children to ensure they grow up and develop to be complete and all-rounded adults in the society.



Hedegaard, M., Fleer, M. (2015). Play, Learning and Children’s Development: University of Copenhagen: Monash University, Victoria.

Rogoff, B. (2003). Learning through guided participation in cultural endeavours: The Cultural Nature of Human Development: Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Jensen, L.A. (2015 ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Human Development and Culture: An Interdisciplinary Perspective: Oxford Library of Psychology, Oxford.

April 06, 2023

Psychology Sociology

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