Child Care and Early Education Research Connections

Skip to main content

Theories of child development and their impact on early childhood education and care


Developmental theorists use their research to generate philosophies on children’s development. They organize and interpret data based on a scheme to develop their theory. A theory refers to a systematic statement of principles related to observed phenomena and their relationship to each other. A theory of child development looks at the children's growth and behavior and interprets it. It suggests elements in the child's genetic makeup and the environmental conditions that influence development and behavior and how these elements are related. Many developmental theories offer insights about how the performance of individuals is stimulated, sustained, directed, and encouraged. Psychologists have established several developmental theories. Many different competing theories exist, some dealing with only limited domains of development, and are continuously revised. This article describes the developmental theories and their founders who have had the greatest influence on the fields of child development, early childhood education, and care. The following sections discuss some influences on the individuals’ development, such as theories, theorists, theoretical conceptions, and specific principles. It focuses on five theories that have had the most impact: maturationist, constructivist, behavioral, psychoanalytic, and ecological. Each theory offers interpretations on the meaning of children's development and behavior. Although the theories are clustered collectively into schools of thought, they differ within each school. (author abstract)

Resource Type:
United States

- You May Also Like

These resources share similarities with the current selection.

Research Connections child care & early education glossary


Helping states, territories, and tribes implement developmental screenings in early care and education settings

Fact Sheets & Briefs

A summarized economic impact report on early education and child care services in Alaska

Executive Summary
Release: 'v1.40.0' | Built: 2023-11-07 08:40:06 EST