Developmental Psychologists and The House at Pooh Corner

A.A. Milne’s 1928 classic children’s book The House at Pooh Corner remains a highly effective children’s text nearly ninety years on. This can be accredited to the format, themes and developmental concepts portrayed in the book. The concepts in the book align with those of Piaget, Vygotsky and Erikson, three influential developmental psychologists. Animism, concept formation, ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) and the confidence in ability to learn are all central parts of the child’s development, and the book. These factors are why the stories still engage young audiences today.

The main characters of the book illustrate Piaget’s theory of Animism which coincides which the child’s belief of the concept. Animism is the theory of believing that every entity has a consciousness. For example, to a child, a teddy bear is the same as them, with emotions and feelings. The book perfectly illustrates this, as all characters bar one (Christopher Robin) are portrayed as talking animals. The character’s are not individually introduced or explained but rather the reader must get a sense of the character from his/her actions, speech and pictorial depictions. Very early in the book, Pooh’s manner and tone are introduced to the reader

“He’s out, that’s what it is, he’s not in, I shall have to go for a fast Thinking Walk by myself. Bother!” (p1) This simplistic and fairly comedic style of speech is an early introduction to who Pooh is. The interesting words categorise him to be a curious and quirky character and quickly engages the audience. A more important part is of this early introduction is that his appearance is depicted as a teddy bear like creature, instantly invoking thoughts of the child’s animism. The engaging personality and pictorial depiction creates a near instantaneous bond between story and audience, due to the child’s belief of Animism.

Multiple times in the book, there are occasions in which an adult or peer is required in order to aid the child’s reading and understanding of the concepts being portrayed. Vygotsky’s theory was the existence of a ‘zone of proximal development’. This was the difference between the child’s ability to learn and solve problems on their own, and their ability with the non-intrusive assistance of someone else. This scaffolding process leads to an effective concept formation which gives the child an understanding of the matter that could not be achieved on their own. The most often appearing mistake which requires some aid is the way Owl spells his own name. ‘He could spell his own name WOL’ (p79) this will perhaps go unnoticed by a young solo reader, but with the assistance from someone, this simple mistake can lead to the formation of positive spelling habits for the child. The other factor with this mistake is that it occurs mid-way through the book, and happens the same way in the later stages. This makes it so that the child can recognise the mistake after being aided the first time, and this can be the cementing of the concept. This mistake is one of a few deliberate occasions in the book, all of which can be recognised and solved by the child. The mistakes can not only offer a comedic element to the child but also educational, engaging and interesting the child. This interactive nature becomes a characteristic of the book which is ‘unlocked’ by the scaffolding process. This lends an educational perspective on the text, demonstrating its persistent effectiveness.

The book appears to be a novel but contains a much more picture book-like layout which can help a child conquer perhaps their first novel. Erikson’s theory of the ‘Industry vs Inferiority’ crisis provides the child with a favourable outcome of his/her confidence in their ability to learn. The almost deceptive novel format of The House at Pooh Corner can be an intimidating factor to any young readers wishing to read a larger book. This however is far from the truth, as it contains a large sum of pictures and a large font size. Not only this, but the language used in the book is predominantly very simple and it helps the young reader to push on through. In addition to these elements, the sentence length across the entire book is very short and sharp, containing few words but still carrying a strong, simple message. For example, it is very rare that any character will say more than a few words at once in a conversation.

“Hallo, Pooh”

“Hallo, Piglet. This is Tigger.” (p23)

Even when introducing a new character, such as Tigger, there is still very little dialogue, despite the nature of the situation, and this is carried on through the entire novel. These factors make the book fairly easy to read, but because of its length, the reader will acquire a sense of achievement upon finishing it. This will push them to greater feats and most importantly, banishing the feeling of inferiority and instilling confidence in their ability to learn.

Piaget, Vygotsky and Erikson’s theories of animism, ZPD and confidence in ability, all directly apply to the The House at Pooh Corner. They create a bond between audience and characters, whilst simultaneously educating and engaging the reader. This fusion of educational and recreational elements is the primary aim in creating an effective text and as has been shown, the book succeeds in these fields and has been a part of many a generation of children and will be for many more to come.