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Child development: Gesell

2015 July 30
by nannyjob

Arnold Gesell (1880-1961) studied children to observe and record their growth and development. He divided normative development into 10 areas, named gradients of growth. He was a maturationist, so ignored outside influences although he understood the conflict between nature and nurture, and identified the developmental milestones which are widely used today.

He categorised development into 10 areas.

  1. Motor characteristics
  2. Personal hygiene
  3. Emotional expression
  4. Fears and dreams
  5. Self and sex
  6. Interpersonal relations
  7. Play and pastimes
  8. School life
  9. Ethical sense
  10. Philosophical outlook

Gesell felt that children moved through stages of equilibrium and disequilibrium and recognised that young children moved between equilibrium and disequilibrium much faster than older children did. He described this growth as smooth (equilibrium) – break-up (disequilibrium) – sorting-out (equilibrium) – inwardising (disequilibrium) – expansion (equilibrium) – indwardising-outwardising (equilibrium).

How can we apply Gesell today?

Gesell’s work on physical development helps us identify milestones and pick up on potential problems if a child is developing more slowly than ‘normal’. He also influences how we divide up areas of child development, separating physical development from emotional development. His spiral can also explain why children seem to go through difficult periods at around 2.5, 3.5, 4.5, 4.4, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15.

This is part of a series of blog posts on child development. You can find other posts using the child development tag or here: Freud, Piaget, Erik Erikson, Bowlby.

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