Arnold Gesell was the preeminent authority on child developent in the mid-twentieth century United States. His books with Ilg and Ames, including Infant & Child in the Culture of Today and Your Child from Five to Ten, were best sellers that influenced Dr. Benjamin Spock and child-centered parenting approaches. Written in a style that was accessible to parents, the books described normal development of children based on extensive research on a small group of high socio-economic children in New England.
A student of Stanley Hall and proponent of biological and evolutionary theories of human development, Gesell's work fell front and center in the nature-nurture debate in psychological theory. As biological theories from the early twentieth century gave way to the systems theories of the latter half of the century, Gesell's work faded from the studies of child development.
Gesell and his co-researchers pioneered the use of film, along with other observational and developmental measures of the day, to follow children from infancy to adolescence. Later, Ames expanded the research with children of other socio-economic backgrounds; and in the 1977 revision of The Child from Five to Ten states that 'the child of five to ten still grows in the same way and acts in relatively the same way as he did thirty years ago, and for many years before that.' (Gesell, et al, 1977)
Reading the book today, one is struck by the recognition that in most ways children of today follow the same patterns of development, though the culture and environment are dramatically different. To disregard the value of these extensive observations of normal child development leaves a void in our understanding of child behavior that is irreplaceable by any subsequent research in the field.
The books of Gesell, Ilg, and Ames, including the age-level books by Ames listed below, are filled with valuable information to guide parents to understand the process of their child's development through the elementary years and into adolescence. Their descriptions of 'growth gradients' in areas from emotional expression to school life and philosophic outlook give parents a picture of where their child has been, where he is now, and where he is going; and, lead to numerous 'Ah-hah' moments that help us understand the child's behavior.
Patterns in Child Development
Gesell, Ilg, & Ames propose a sequence of stages in child development that follow a pattern of equilibrium and disequilibrium interweaving in a steady progression to maturity. Though they offer approximate ages for each stage, they caution that children's individual progress through childhood is affected by many internal and external influences.
The pattern of equilibrium and disequilibrium begins in infancy and progresses in rapid cycles to a period of equilibrium and consolidation at age five. It is at this age that the elementary-school years begin and where we will begin our exporation of these patterns.
Next > The Five-Year Old Child
Book Series by Louise Bates Ames