Learning of young children

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … genetically predetermined competencies
  • Knowing is … stage-appropriate actions
  • Learner is … an unfolding unity (individual)
  • Learning is … natural unfolding according to genetically determined schedule
  • Teaching is … passive support for natural unfolding




In Maturationism, learning is seen more as a natural unfolding from within rather than accumulating information from outside. Most advocates focus only on young learners, attending especially to language learning. Concisely, it is believed that what and when a child learns follows a universal sequence, the pace of which is determined by the individual’s genetics.


Maturationism addresses a narrow window of development, focuses on one competency (language learning), and is based on studies of healthy children in a wealthy country. It shouldn’t be surprising that commonalities were noticed. As well, the tendency of proponents to define learning as not the Acquisition Metaphor suggests an unsophisticated appreciation of contemporary learning theories.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Arnold Gessell

Status as a Theory of Learning

Maturationism is not theory of learning. It does not attend to or interrogate the complexity or dynamics of cognition, offering instead an observation-based developmental trajectory for a specific subpopulation of young children.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

In some ways, Maturationism is the opposite of a theory of teaching, as its principal advice for educators is to support passive growth rather than foisting information onto the child.

Status as a Scientific Theory

While Maturationism does have an empirical base, (1) its data are likely not sufficient to make claims of universality and (2) data cease to be gathered at the point that children’s observable learning becomes more varied, social, situational, and complex.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2019). “Maturationism” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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