Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who lived from 1896 to 1934. He is known as the founder of Socio-cultural Theory. He emphasized the value of culture and social environment in a child’s development, since he claims all knowledge is socially constructed, gleaned through interactions with society. Through mediation adults can help children attach internal meaning to their experiences according to the culture at hand. This is part of internalization, a part of Vygotsky’s theory, which states that external experiences are gradually transformed into an internal, mental activity.

Vygotsky also described what he calls “the Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD) which is the stage of development that includes tasks a child can only accomplish with help from others, but cannot accomplish alone. Incorporating tasks within a child’s ZPD in socio-cultural learning supports maximum cognitive growth. Scaffolding is the process by which a helper like a teacher or parent gradually weans helping a child within their ZPD, until the child can complete tasks independently.


Along a similar line, external interactions with society necessitate communication, which necessitates language. Vygotsky believed that language was the basis for continuous cognitive development in humans. He believed children have normal speech as well as private and inner speech. Play is also vital to cognitive growth, according to Vygotsky, since it provides opportunities for discovery.

Vygotsky on Middle Childhood
According to Vygotsky, children in middle childhood commonly will use private speech, or self-talk to work through learning situations. When practicing tasks and problem-solving, children learn by narrating their experiences aloud. This helps them recall important information. Vygotsky also emphasized using challenging tasks that a child cannot complete without assistance. His research has shown that children will be able to perform more difficult tasks when they have access to the guidance of someone competent, so being assisted through teacher interaction is crucial in middle childhood. Play in middle childhood begins to take the form of board games and sports, rather than role-playing games. These types of play, according to Vygotsky, are important because they impart cultural knowledge as well as model behavior for adult life, like teamwork (soccer) or money management (Monopoly).

Strategies for Learning
There are a number of ways to implement Vygotskian theories into learning for children in middle childhood. Participation in adult activities, like baking, helps children acquire adult skills by giving a child a task that is within their zone of proximal development, which they cannot complete without help. A similar way to prepare children for adulthood is by offering authentic activities in school for older children, like writing for the school paper. Learning in small groups in school would be a way children in middle childhood can learn through language and communication with others. Group learning activities, like a reading group, help children in middle childhood internalize cognitive strategies.