A well-known philosopher and educationalist, Jean – Jacques Rousseau, left great impacts in the Age of Enlightenment in France and around Europe. Apart from the Enlightenment period in 1715, which had an important scientific revolution, he also influenced the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and the thinking surrounding education. (Cultural Transformation, The Enlightenment, n.d) During the debate of the Enlightenment, philosophers did not tolerate faith and doctrine because they used to give priority to reason. They believed that humans could gain all knowledge from reasoning and by doing so, build the basis of an ideal future. Although Jean – Jacques Rousseau had an abnormal childhood and had not experienced formal education, his thinking regarding education had influenced other educational thinkers. Rousseau believed that every individual is born good but as time goes by, the individual gets manipulated by the troubles found in society (Doyle & Smith, 2007).
“Correct education disposes the child to take the path that will lead him to truth when he has reached the age to understand it, and to goodness when he has acquired the faculty of recognizing and loving it.” – Rousseau (Monteiro, 2005). Rousseau proposes the stages of human development by dividing his book into five stages. Four stages are concerned with an imaginary student named Émile, where he shows how a child must be educated. Rousseau greatly emphasized that one should not rigidly follow the traditional process of education. He challenged the traditional procedure by educating an imaginary twelve year old child who knew nothing. In three years times he stated that he would return the child with the same knowledge as those who had been educated from the very beginning of life but the difference will be that while the other children will know only knowledge, Émile would know how this knowledge can be used (What is the role of the teacher according to Rousseau?, n.d). To do so, Rousseau tries to eliminate any societal influence on this child as he believes that society corrupts the mind.
The first and second book define the Age of Nature from birth until age twelve, the third and fourth book define the transitional stages of adolescence and lastly, the fifth book defines the Age of Wisdom of ages twenty through twenty-five years. Rousseau states that this stage is followed by a final stage of development called the Age of Happiness which is not mentioned in the book of Émile (SparkNotes Editors, 2005). Stage one of Émile represents infancy from birth to five years of age. He expressed that a child must not have total control and must have more freedom so as to work more for one self rather than demanding on others. From a very young age, especially when children start pre-school and start to meet new people and new things, they should be allowed to have their own freedom. In this type of freedom children are trained to be their own master and to have their own self-control (Doyle & Smith, 2007).
In an early childhood setting this could be achieved by allowing the children to make their own decisions. By guiding their critical thinking, children will improve their problem solving skills. Instead of spoon feeding them, educators should not intervene immediately and should let them try resolve the difficulties they face within certain tasks. Furthermore, encouraging thinking in different ways by expressing their own interests and opinions will further develop their critical thinking skills. In early childhood education, preschool practitioners must be able to let the children experiment with different materials in order to learn (How to develop critical thinking skills in kids, 2014). For example when using scissors, although supervised, children must be left to try the task out themselves even though it will not come out perfect. Although scissors can be dangerous, teachers need not prevent children from exploring this material due to fear of getting hurt.
The second stage shows that during the ages between five and twelve, ‘negative education’ occurs where there is no ethical teaching or verbal learning. This is the most important stage especially for those in early years. Rousseau insisted that with first education the child should not be educated on the principles concerning truth and morality but rather educating based on protecting the child against immorality and delusions. He insists that the aim of education during this stage is for the child to develop their physical potentials but not overemphasize the development of the mind. The child must be left free to learn and decide if their own actions are right or wrong (Foxley, n.d). If during school hours, one particular child falls while playing and as a result has a scratch on his leg, the practitioners should keep their reactions under check and not over exaggerate as their reactions might make the child feel more anxious. Undeniably, it is the fear of what can happen that distresses human beings rather than the shock of what happened. When children are being comforted after any incident, they might think that they are seriously hurt while on the other hand if children notice that the teacher did not worry or over exaggerate, they are more likely to brush the accident off and think that the injury is gone. Rousseau believed that this will be the right time to teach the children a lesson, to learn that when one manages to get over minor illness without fear, by time one also learns to tolerate greater things and situations (Foxley, n.d).
Children need to take their time to learn and develop their skills therefore, negative education should not be rushed. Rousseau insists that the child should be given various opportunities for play such as pretend play, running and playing in the playgrounds. During these activities children are rebuilding pure and educated experiences as well as developing their critical thinking. He claims that the time spent playing is not time lost instead children will successfully gain from such activities in turn having a positive impact on their development (What is the role of the teacher according to Rouseeau?, n.d). Teachers as well as parents should not associate time spent playing as a waste of time because it is an essential implement for children to develop. Play will help children to develop emotional growth by structuring self-confidence and esteem and learning to deal with various emotions (Voice of Play, nd). Moreover, it is during play that children experiment with cause and effect prompted their critical thinking skills (Problem Solving Activities: How to develop critical thinking in kids, 2014). Rousseau shows his disapproval towards books as he states that “they only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about.” – Jean- Jacques Rousseau (What is the role of the teacher according to Rousseau?, n.d). He says that when resources are ready found in books, one can gain little advantage from it. This is one reason why in an early childhood curriculum it is important for children to be given various play opportunities as these hands on experiences contribute to the essential foundation of critical thinking (Problem Solving Activities: How to develop critical thinking in kids, 2014).
Rousseau also mentions habit formation, where he insists that the natural judgments and emotions which are primitive are more truthful as a foundation for action, than those reflections that come to mind when they are compared with other individuals. Therefore, one must not have any habits at all (Monteiro, 2005). In fact, he insists that the habits were one imitates direct actions of others, must be avoided. He also adds that modern society encourages dishonesty and pushes individuals away from appropriate human nature. According to Rousseau, educators should teach children to live by conforming to nature and not imitating actions of those around them. Therefore, preschoolers should be allowed freedom in every activity and when habits need to be shaped, they must be allowed to freely form natural habits. Rousseau provided a tutor to be an example for Émile where the tutor is impersonating the natural of Émile. When Émile is imitating what the tutor is doing, he is actually imitating his own actions. Rousseau believes that this type of imitation is the only one that does not lead to the danger of forgetfulness (Warnick, 2008)
Despite all of this, imitating positive habits can be very helpful and children tend to learn more through imitation. In my opinion, imitation of actions cannot be completely excluded because children will greatly benefit from imitating positive behaviours. Role-playing, in an early childhood education curriculum, is given great importance as this entails imitation in a natural way as well as encourages working in a team and improving expression of feelings. Furthermore, this also gives practitioners an idea of what goes on in the children’s minds, what difficulties they are facing and how they are tackling such situations. In preschools, opportunities should be given, where children can improve their critical thinking and imagination and this could be done through role-playing. However, it is important that practitioners allow the children to do this in the most natural way by letting them express their creativity with no limitations (Riebold, 2013). Rousseau makes it clear that the role of the educator is to control the environment and not the child hence teachers should prioritize the children’s interests arising from their different personalities.
As previously mentioned, Rousseau focuses on the nature and the child, which are extremely important in his philosophy of education and insists that there should not be social education. Rousseau believed that if one manages to carefully guide the child’s education and environment which is based on the physical and psychological stages of the child from birth until the reaching maturity, it is likely to reserve the original nature of the child. He debated that the growth of the person, aided by nature, drives the child’s learning (Doyle & Smith, 2007). In his most important educational book Émile, he wanted to bring man as close as possible to nature and therefore the purpose of this book was to “replace the conventional and formal education of the day with a training that should be natural and spontaneous” (Monteiro, 2005). During that period Rousseau wanted children isolated from society till they achieve the strength of reason and judgment to be able to defend themselves from the troubles of society. However, since children need to learn, they cannot be kept away from society since the latter presents many opportunities for learning and developing critical thinking. Moreover, being integrated into a society will also help the child improve social qualities which are innate in every individual so it is not ideal that early childhood practitioners remove social education (Monteiro, 2005)
Education should be based on the information concerning the nature of the individual because the rights of a specific individual can only be seen in the regulations of one’s own nature (Monteiro, 2005). Rousseau adds that teachers should not control the children’s education neither the environment from which one is brought up since the power for learning is linked with the development of the child. He also explains that human beings found in the state of nature are privileged with freedom. They experience this as there is no authoritarian controlling them (SparkNotes Editors, 2005). Having nature engaged when educating children in early childhood education curriculum, will lead to great educational outcomes. Open-minded opportunities are provided to children by having both indoor and outdoor areas for learning. In this way, children are encouraged to try new things and experiment with different reactions which in turn will further contribute to their critical thinking (Problem Solving Activities: How to develop critical thinking in kids, 2014).
Rousseau also emphasizes that young children should give priority to the physical aspect of education (SparkNotes Editors, 2005). This aspect will allow children to develop their physical senses. In the early childhood education curriculum, the use of the five senses are given importance as the senses aid exploration of the world around us. A good explanation of one’s senses can be done when the class engages in outdoor activities. Here, one can observe plants, animals and other characteristics found in nature (What is a Nature Preschool?, n.d). A well engaged lesson involving exploring nature can help children better observe their surroundings. Educators can increase the children’s knowledge by asking them questions about their surroundings while also encouraging children to explore things that are unusual to them. Instead of automatically giving answers to the children’s questions, it would be more beneficial to prompt them to think critically by asking questions in return instead of providing an answer. By voicing their ideas and opinions and having an adult that respects their reasoning, children will benefit greatly from such opportunities (Problem Solving Activities: How to develop critical thinking in kids, 2014).
Rousseau insists that “…the man must be treated as man and the child as a child”. He focused on the fact that a child is not capable of learning the same amount as adults. Thus, a child’s character is built slowly throughout the years and their beings will leave impacts on the rest of society as they grow older. Children should have their own space for discussions and Rousseau adds that children themselves should have a say in their own education (Rousseau and his Contribution to Naturalistic Educational Philosophy, 2014). Early childhood practitioners should be open to discuss different topics that their students come up with. This will allow the children to speak up and show their interests. Preparing lessons and activities related to such topics will help children engage more during the lessons as well as aid the development of their critical thinking skills. During discussions, the teacher must give priority to the children’s interests thus motivating them to maintain their interest in the topic. In these cases, critical thinking is encouraged when the children analyze the information presented to them. Along with this, curiosity and imagination is sparked and educators can use the children’s ideas to educate. For Rousseau, when children perceive a need of something, try to reason out things to see how to solve that problem and then through that reasoning they try to solve their issues. Rousseau pinpoints clearly the fact that for him perception about need is the center of education and that is why we must allow children to reason out things before giving them the answers (Philosophy of the week: Jean – Jacques Rousseau, 2009).
Rousseau’s work was associated with the society, education and traditions of those days. Rousseau started becoming comprehensive in his point of view and methods when individuals started requesting to be free from domination and hence Rousseau took the opportunity to help them be engaging with the environment without suppressing their development. The result of building great affection with nature was because he wondered from place to place without a home and used writing to express his thoughts. In today’s world teachers mainly focus on the subjects and syllabus that needs to be covered and often forget about nature’s way of educating. In the early childhood curriculum less demand on books and writing and more exposure to nature and opportunities that can be taken from it, will improve the children’s critical thinking skills and help them grow in a less demanding way. Although Rousseau’s statements would not all be acceptable today, we must remember that his goal was to give the child a better life. The philosophy of Rousseau gave importance to the child and the latter must always be kept in the center of all educational decisions (Monteiro, 2005)