Volume:2, Issue: 2

Aug. 1, 2010

Preschool Education Theory Development in Russian Pedagogy in the Second Half of the 20th Century
Tatyana N. Boguslavskaya [about]

TITLE: Preschool Education Theory Development in Russian Pedagogy in the Second Half of the 20th Century

AUTHOR: Tatyana N. Boguslavskaya

DESCRIPTORS: History of preschool education in Russia, theory, concept, preschool education content, paradigmatic, conceptual approaches.  

SYNOPSIS: The paper presents a comparative review (including the time line) of the major theories and concepts related to pre-school education developed in the Russian pedagogy and psychology in the second half of the 20th century.

Preschool Education Theory Development
in Russian Pedagogy in the Second Half of the 20th Century

Tatyana N. Boguslavskaya1

When reflecting upon the development of the Russian preschool education, it is of special interest to consider its contemporary history, namely, the second half of the 20th century. It is during this period when new and productive ways of preschool education development got their substantiation in the Russian pedagogy. Within all these years, there was intensive theoretical elaboration that found its expression in the current modification of its methodology.

We may distinguish the following phases:

1. General theory (until mid-1980s) – shaping theoretical basis of preschool education (general and specific theories) as well as defining its content.
2. Paradigmatic (1986-1991) – proposed fundamental concepts of preschool education indicated landmark approaches to determine its content.
3. Conceptual (1992-1999) – alternative preschool education psychological and pedagogical concepts were worked out and presented.

Let us consider the above phases in detail.

Phase 1. Lev Vygotsky’s and Alexey Leontiev’s fundamental theories served as a psychological basis for preschool education put forward in 1950-70s by renowned Soviet psychologists Alexander Zaporozhets and Daniil El'konin.

Alexander Zaporozhets lay the fundamental groundwork into the problem of preschool education content management according to certain age groups. Among the scientist’s principal concepts are emphasis on qualitative individual features and long-lasting values of certain childhood age periods which offer unique opportunities to trigger and shape relevant psychological processes and traits. While determining ways to implement these concept in the preschool education practice, Alexander Zaporozhets suggested the idea of amplification i.e. enriching and developing the child’s psyche by means of specially organized system of education and upbringing [1].

To develop preschool education theory, it is of primary importance to take into account Daniil El'konin’s conceptual approaches that are oriented towards three basic aims:

  • creative endeavor of a child’s life rather than its adaptiveness;
  • pivotal community aspect of a child’s life rather than its actual social aspect;
  • considering the forms of a child’s life as being in the process of formation, transformation and development.

The scientist viewed development not so much as the object of research but as a way of examining any psychological phenomenon. Daniil El'konin based his experimental research of this problem on Lev Vygotsky’s assumption that learning precedes development, and development in the form of learning is the main principal of a pedagogical activity [2].

For Leonid Venger, the priority of the research was to develop imaginary forms of cognition and creative activity typical of preschool age. He believed that these very forms present a potential which should be used to master the preschool education. Consequently, Leonid Venger worked out such concepts as the child’s perception development theory, wholesome system of the children’s sensory upbringing, theory and practice of general mental abilities’ development of preschool children (which became a natural basis to study the problem of intellectual giftedness in preschool age [3].

Nikolay Poddyakov introduced a completely new approach to understanding the ways of how to develop a child’s creativeness in preschool age, peculiarities of children’s creative knowledge acquisition as universal means of teaching and mastering preschool education. At the same time acquisition of knowledge, skills, artistic and moral norms was seen as a specially organized creative process resulting in children’s adoption of the increasingly complex content, production (by children themselves) of new knowledge, skills and norms [4].

Maria Lisina worked out ways of preschool education acquisition in the process of communication which she believed to be an independent activity. She determined the role of communicative behavior in the formation of children’s cognitive activity which itself presents a significant contribution into the theory of preschool education. In this respect, the researcher defined, on the one hand, the specific and particular knowledge and notions the child has about his abilities and possibilities (which present the fringe of his/her own self) and, on the other hand, the central nucleus of education which may serve as a prism for the child’s individual notions about himself/herself.  Maria Lisina showed where the child holds the perception of himself/herself as a personality and where the child’s own self-appraisal starts [5].

Phase 2. Holistic analysis of the development of preschool education in 1986-91 makes it possible to assume that this phase had mostly a paradigmatic character. If we take into consideration the political, social, economic, and pedagogical contexts of that time we may conclude that the innovative and new preschool education was an eventful and extremely ideologically complicated process.

In the late 1980s, there was a controversial situation in the area of preschool education. On the one hand, it was generally acknowledged that the system preschool education in the USSR was unique, ensuring all-round integral formation and development of children from their birth till the age of seven, and well-grounded in terms of psychology, pedagogy, and medicine. On the other hand, among progressive researchers in psychology and pedagogy as well as activists in public education, there was an increasingly strong opinion that in general the existing level of preschool education could not meet the new social and political realities. Some of the major points of criticism were: rigid standards of preschool education activities with its certain political bias, lack of teaching materials, inability to widely implement the results of advanced research.

An objective necessity to solve the aforementioned set of contradictions required a dramatic reconsideration, first of all, of preschool education goals and values towards their humanization. In terms of the content’s change, that period began when Uchitel’skaya Gazeta (the nationwide teachers’ periodical) in its September 1986 issue published “The Manifesto” of innovative teachers who were consolidated by the humanistic concept of the “Pedagogy of Cooperation.”

The “Pedagogy of Cooperation” essentially took its roots in the principles of child-centered pedagogy. Later, its value-oriented ideas lay the basis of new psychological concepts of preschool education. Instead of the emphasis on traditional knowledge acquisition (specified by the standard school curriculum), “the Manifesto” focused on conditions of children’s self-education aimed at revealing individual abilities using an individual approach in any educational activity.

These ideas were further elaborated in the fundamental paper “Concept of Preschool Education” published in early 1989 by a group of psychologists and pedagogues headed by Vasiliy Davydov and Vadim Petrovsky. An approval of the Concept meant a radical paradigmatic shift in the preschool education theory. It involved transition from the existing paradigm oriented towards the learning process and discipline to the child-centered approach substantiated in the Concept.

Thus, preschool education and its principles underwent a significant reevaluation within the Concept’s child-centered paradigm. It was emphasized that education should proceed from teaching knowledge, skills, and practices to creating the possibility for a child to acquire them by himself and use them in his life. Moreover, it was specifically pointed out that at a preschool age a child acquires the basics of his personal culture and universal moral values. In this respect, preschool education should concentrate on children’s abilities to orientate in nature, man-made objects, social life phenomena, and finally, in the phenomena of their own lives and activities, and their own selves [6].

While acknowledging the significant innovative potential described in “Concept of Preschool education,” we should also mention another paper with the same title – “Concept of Preschool Education” – prepared and published at the same time by the Research Institute of Preschool Education (USSR Academy of Pedagogical Sciences). This work adds a variety of approaches to the preschool education theory. A major achievement of the concept in question is the assumption that the teaching process should be based on each child’s inherent (and never satiated) fundamental need for new impression, new knowledge, and new ways of cognitive activities [7].

Phase 3. The study of the conceptual phase of preschool education development theory (1992-1999) showed that during that period there appeared a tangible tendency for transition to the creative and far more individualized process of early childhood education. All that generally contributed to elevating the Russian preschool education system to a substantially higher level.

During this phase, the following psychological and pedagogical preschool education concepts were put forward: creative abilities development by Olga Dyachenko, developmental environment by Vadim Petrovsky, and developmental teaching by Vasiliy Davydov and Vladimir Kudryavtsev.

Let us make a brief review of these concepts.

1. An important contribution to the preschool education theory was Olga Dyachenko’s concept of preschool child’s abilities development through creative task solving. The researcher proposed two types of creative tasks and, consequently, two types of situations. The first type was involved the child’s identification and cognition of main real life features and relationships. By means of his/her cognitive activity, the pre-school child discovered the nature of the world around. The primary forms of such activity are observation and experimenting. The second type was related to the child’s experience in (“living through”) various situations. This experience involved both, that of unbiased analysis of reality and the child’s experience of personal attitude to the reality he was exposed to [8].

2. A significant progress in the preschool education theory was made by Vadim Petrovsky’s developmental environment concept aimed at the child’s formation as a personality. It was proved that the real life environment may and should develop and educate the child. It may and should serve as a background and a mediator in the personality-developing interaction of the child with adults and other children. Being exposed to “developmental environments,” the child will be able to identify the “territory” of his/her own self.

This concept stressed that:

  • It is possible to create an adequate educational program only by the adult’s careful and respectful attitude to the world of childhood in which “there are no finished shapes but only imagination, game and fantasy.”
  • A child-care facility should be seen not only as a place where an educational program (designed by adults) is utilized but also as a space to enrich the child’s life.
  • This requires involvement of each child’s personal experience in the content and realization of formation and education [9].

3. Vasiliy Davydov and Vladimir Kudryavtsev’s preschool developmental teaching presented a fruitful attempt to extrapolate general developmental teaching principles (successfully tested on an elementary school level) to the preschool education.

The scientists defined the following aspects: 1) cognitive culture development; 2) aesthetic culture development; 3) occupational culture development and health-improving work; 4) communicative culture development. These aspects were also related to the structure of an educational content which had “a noticeable element of openness, uncertainty, and incompleteness” [10].

It should be noted that the proposed aspects were neither alternatives to traditional ways of early childhood education in a preschool (i.e. physical, aesthetic, intellectual and moral education), nor their modifications. They served to achieve radically different educational goals: to develop the pre-school children’s ability for creative acquisition of the corresponding areas of “big” culture within the framework of developmental teaching paradigm which is based on the contemporary version of the cultural and historical approach to shaping the subjective world of an individual.

Based on the aforementioned analysis, we came to the following conclusions:

Culture-oriented and personality-centered approaches are prevailing in preschool education development during the second part of the 20th century in Russia. The culture-oriented theory offered two priority components: gaining an experience of creative activities (in the form of unorthodox solutions in problem situations) and an experience of emotional and value-based relationships (in the form of personality-oriented attitudes). The personality-centered approach was more about the efforts of describing preschool education not only from the psychological point of view but also from the point of view of a child; it was focused mostly on the inner source of educational curriculum formation, i.e. on the newly formed phenomena that take place in the given process of a preschool child’s personality.

The elaboration of preschool educational theoretical grounds in Russian pedagogy and psychology demonstrated a flexible and dynamic character while being a successive and logical development of its structural components: general theory (1950-70s), specific theories (1960-80s), fundamental concepts (second half of the 1980s), alternative preschool educational concepts (the 1990s), teaching programs and materials (second half of the 1990s), preschool educational federal standard /draft/ (late 1990s).

Within each of these strata, three structural components gained flesh and defined preschool educational content: sources of its formation – environment of its obtainment – ways of its acquisition. At the same time, it was possible to observe certain chronological dynamics in the study of those components. Publications of 1960-80s focused on creative and developmental ways of preschool educational curriculum acquisition. In the first half of 1990s, problems of providing developmental environment were emphasized. In the second half of 1990s, due to the development of teaching programs and materials as well as the draft of early childhood federal standards, the center of attention got to be approaches to the sources of PSE content formation.


  1. Zaporozhets A.V. The child’s psychological development // Selected psychological papers in 2 volumes // Ed. V.V. Davydov, V.P. Zinchenko. – Volume 1. Moscow: Pedagogica, 1986. [in Russian]
  2. Elkonin B.D. Introduction into development psychology (in tradition of L.S. Vygotsky’s cultural and historical theory). Moscow: Trivola, 1995. [in Russian]
  3. Venger L.A. Development of general cognitive abilities as a subject of psychological research // Development of cognitive abilities in the process of pre-school education / Ed. L.A. Venger. – Moscow: Pedagogica, 1986. – pp. 5-18 [in Russian]
  4. Poddyakov N.N. Problem-based teaching and pre-school creative activity. – Moscow: “Doshkolnoye Detstvo” Center named after A.V. Zaporozhets, 1998. [in Russian]
  5. Lisina M.I. Shaping the child’s personality in interaction. – St. Petersburg: Piter, 2009. – 318 p. [in Russian]
  6. Pre-School Education.- 1989.- No 5. [in Russian]
  7. Pre-School Education.- 1989.- No 9. [in Russian]
  8. Dyachenko O.M. Pre-school child’s imagination development. – Moscow: International Educational and Psychological College, 1996. [in Russian]
  9. Petrovsky V.A. Between “yesterday” and “tomorrow”: psychological expert analysis and design of new developmental media // Obruch. – 1995. - No 2. - Pp. 7-10. [in Russian]
  10. Kudryavtsev V.T., Urmurzhina B.G. Pre-school child’s creative potential: nature and structure. – Moscow: ANA Center of Developmental Education, Vladimir, 2002. [in Russian]

1 Boguslavskaya Tatyana N. [In Russian: Татьяна Николаевна Богуславская], PhD in Education, Senior Lecturer, Preschool Education Department, Moscow City Pedagogical University.

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