Learning from Dr.Lilian Katz


Lilian Katz Theories of Learning

Dr. Lilian Katz’s is renowned for her significant contribution to early childhood education. In particular, Dr, Katz’s theory of learning dispositions, which describe a child’s willingness to learn by way of their natural tendency or emotional attitude, has led to fundamental changes towards the approach of early childhood education. Dr. Katz’s theory of learning dispositions encourages the notion that both the fostering and assessment of what makes a positive attitude to learning experiences is the basis of a successful curriculum for early childhood education.

Lilian Katz, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of early childhood education at the University of Illinois (Urbana Champaign), and is also the co-director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. She is the author of more than 100 publications that focus on many different subjects regarding childhood education. What Dr. Katz seems to be most passionate about is the subject of how and what children should be learning through four specific categories, and how these can be achieved through a project based approach.

The Dimensions of Learning

Dr. Katz believes that there are two dimensions of development. There is the normative dimension, which concerns what children should be capable and limited to at different points of development, and the dynamic dimension that concerns the sequence of the changes that occurs during development. She believes that the dynamic dimension is the more important of the two because it raises questions about what children should or should not do at a particular time in their development. In regards to learning, Dr. Katz believes that children should be interacting with adults, materials, and their surroundings in ways that will make sense of their own experiences.

The Four Categories of Learning

While the two dimensions of learning illustrate the concept of development in children, there are four categories of learning that are very important in early childhood education. The first is knowledge and understanding, which can be obtained from someone’s answers to a child’s questions, explanations, descriptions, and accounts of events, and observations. The second category is skills, and the third is feelings which include but are not limited to competence, belonging, and security. Lastly, dispositions are considered habits of mind or tendencies to respond to certain situations in certain ways. These are learned primarily from being around people who exhibit them, and not from specific instructions or drills. Dispositions include curiosity, creativity, cooperation, and friendliness.

The Project Approach

In order to fulfill the four categories of learning in early development, children should be exposed to experiences, and not formal academic work. Dr. Katz believes that the repetition of curriculum in early childhood care may have damaging effects. Project work however, exposes children to experiences and an in-depth investigation of topics-topics that children are interested in. Projects provide many different benefits in the development of young children, especially in supporting children’s intellectual and academic development. This especially includes children having the opportunities to apply dispositions such as curiosity, making sense of experiences, and the exploration of their environments. The project approach is a major part of the Reggio Emilia curriculum, which The Compass School strongly believes in and implements in its Reggio-inspired curriculum.

The Three Phases of Projects

How exactly should project work be approached? There are typically three phases to projects. The first is identifying the topic, the second is gathering all of the data, and the third is a debriefing by explaining what happened and coming up with a conclusion. There are thousands of possibilities for projects in the classroom, but they should all have the same learning benefits for each child. These learning benefits should include cooperation, shared responsibilities, and individual initiatives. Children should also experience the feeling of belonging and being welcomed, the feeling of being taken seriously in one’s opinion and observations, and the feeling of success by understanding something better or more deeply.  These benefits are all a part of the four learning categories that Dr. Katz strongly believes in.

Celebrating Each Other’s Gifts

Projects and other methods of providing experiences for children will also allow children and teachers to celebrate each other’s gifts, which is a very important objective to Dr. Katz from both a learning and teaching perspective. By finding and helping children develop the gifts that they have, children will begin to have confidence in themselves and develop into strong minded, confident, and intellectually curious people.


Interested in learning more? Contact The Compass School today for more information about how our Reggio Emilia approach helps to reduce stress for children, as well as provide an environment for child-centered learning and development.