This paper looks at the significance of the ecological systems theory proposed by psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, and its profound impact on children’s development. Bronfenbrenner believed that environmental influences play pivotal roles in the development of a child’s domains. In order to foster development of the child’s domains, the environment should be one that provides rich opportunities for growth. Teachers and parents have directly influential roles for the children in their lives.
Urie Bronfenbrenner, a theorist in early childhood development invented the ecological systems theory. This theory maintains that the environment of children is made up of different systems, and that all of the systems play an influential role in the child’s development. The purpose of this theory was to see the various ways the environment influences the development of children. From a Christian perspective, belief in this theory would be a tool to promote Christianity through the strong influence parents and teachers have on a child. The Bible says: “Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.” (Exodus 18:20, New International Version).
In order to understand the behavior of a child, the environmental influences must be considered (Horowitz-Degan, 1980, p. 634). Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system is made up of systems each nested within each other (Voydanoff, 1995, p. 63). The first level is the microsystem which is made up of the child’s daily activities, and the people with whom the child interacts with on a regular basis. Bronfenbrenner believed that the relationships within the microsystem are bidirectional, and that the child’s behavior influences the adults, while the reverse is also true. The system surrounding the microsystem is the mesosystem. The mesosystem consists of the links with the microsystem such as between parents and day care centers (Voydanoff, 1995, p. 63). The system just outside of the mesosystem is the exosystem. The exosystem consists of influences of those who are in the child’s mesosystem, such as the workplaces of family members (Voydanoff, 1995, p. 63). Finally, the outermost system is made of broad belief systems and laws which regulate the geographical location of the child and his family (Voydanoff, 1995, p. 63).
In order to analyze the behavior of a child, one must take into account the environmental influences as well as the cognitive factors (Horowitz-Degan, 1980, p. 634). The classroom as a microsystem will have influence on the child’s domains. If a teacher sets up the classroom as a warm and friendly learning haven, then this will affect the child’s cognitive domain positively and promote learning (Van-Petegen, Creemers, Rossel, and Aelterman, 2005, p.34). The behavior of the teacher also affects that of the students and can set examples for consideration of others’ feelings and quality of relationships (Van-Petegen et al, 2005, p. 35). The social domain can flourish if the influence of the teacher encourages the development of skills. Also, if a child’s microsystem involves a teacher or parent who encourages physical development; this will impact that aspect of the domain. Providing preschool centers with abundant outdoor play time will allow the child to enhance gross motor skills. The use of indoor arts and craft if planned accordingly can also be a means of promoting fine motor skills.
Although the child is not directly connected to the exosystem, the issues that relate to the adults involved in the microsystem impact the child. If the parents have work related issues, this will also influence life at home. A parent might have to deal with time management issues in order to sort out priorities (Tissington, 2008, p. 2). Full time work with children is often a necessity for mothers with children but the energy spent leaves one with less to provide the family with.
The macrosystem is the outermost layer of the ecological systems theory but it too affects child development. In her article “A Bronfenbrenner Ecological Perspective on the Transition to Teaching for Alternative Certification”, Tissington says that those who are in the more inner circles of the ecosystem are influenced by laws and cultures. The teacher or parent of a child will be influenced by cultural values, thus imposing those beliefs on the child and his development.