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Urie Bronfenbrenner


By: Melanie Reger and Heather Mix


Born in Moscow, Russia, but

moved to the US as a child
Developmental psychologist
Served as psychologist for
the military
Professor at two different
Served on federal panel
which helped create the Head
Start program
Developed the Ecological
Systems Theory in 1979

prevailing Theory during mid-twentieth century prior to

bronfenbrenners ecological theory

Much research on
developmental psychology
was conducted in laboratory
settings which were not the
natural environments for
Due to the laboratory
settings, the environment
that children were
developing in, was not
taken into account.

framework allowed
psychologists to begin
looking at how
environmental influences
affect human

He was dissatisfied with what he saw as fragmented

approaches to the study of human development, each with its
own level of analysis (child, family, society, economics,
culture, etc.), and was fond of saying that Much of
contemporary developmental psychology is the science of the
strange behavior of children in strange situations with
strange adults for the briefest possible periods of time
(Bronfenbrenner, 1977, p. 513).
(from Education.com)

Ecological Systems Overview

Everything that surrounds a person influences their

Not really a theory but more of a framework that
identifies influences at many different levels
Has had a major impact on psychologists, especially in
the care of children
We all experience more than one type of environment

5 Levels in the Ecological Systems

Microsystem (Innermost level)

system closest to the person and the one in which they operate and
have direct contact with which may include home, daycare, school or

Relationships between the parent and child have a direct impact on

the development of the child

Example: If a child is happy and attentive, parents will react in a

positive manner towards child.

But, if a child cries a lot or is

easily distracted, parents will respond to child with restrictions

and punishments.

Mesosystem (Second level)

interactions between those in the microsystem such as the connection

between school and home or peer vs. parent influence

5 Levels in the Ecological Systems Continued

Mesosystem (cont.)

Example: A child who has a parent who is involved at home with

helping with homework and reading to them, will have a better school
experience because there is a home-school connection.

Parents and

caregivers exchange information about the child in a positive manner

which enables the child to make progress developmentally at home and
at school.

Exosystem (Third level)

social settings that do not involve the person directly and is

external to their experiences but has a direct affect on them such as
parents workplace, the neighborhood, health and welfare services in
the community, and parents social networks

5 Levels in the Ecological Systems Continued

Macrosystem (Outermost level)

the larger cultural environment in which a person lives that affect

them such as economic, cultural, religious or political system,
including issues such as cultural values and expectations

Example: In countries that have high standards for quality childcare

and that provide generous workplace benefits for their employees,
children tend to have more positive experiences in their immediate

Chronosystem (The ever-changing environment of the child


events occurring in the passing of time in relation to a persons

development such as death of a parents at 3 yrs vs. 14 yrs or
historical events/conditions during ones lifetime

Each of these systems are characterized by

(expected behavior) and relationships. For
individual usually acts differently within
family than within a classroom. The person
often at home, be less goal-oriented, and,
will not sit at a desk for hours on end.

roles, norms
example, an
his or her own
may speak more
almost certainly,

Other things being equal, when the

relation between different
Microsystems is a compatible one,
development of the child progresses
more smoothly. A common example of
this is the relationship between
home and school. When role
expectations are similar in both
settings, e.g., try your hardest,
do your own work, be on time, etc.,
children will be expected to
perform better than if role
expectations differ substantially
from one setting to the next.

Why use This Framework in early childhood intervention?

One of the biggest impacts of this theory has been in the

field of psychology, especially in terms of how care is
looked at for children
Provides the foundation for ecological counseling
Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory is the most
influential ecological theory in Early Intervention,
providing the understanding of what influences services
and how they are provided
This framework is used in EI because it allows for
collaboration between parents and teachers through home
visits, for example.

It is considered appropriate for all populations!

Looks at the big picture
Looks at the complex and intricate relationships and
influences on each specific child
Focuses services on what is appropriate for the child and
their family (not standardized help)
Bronfenbrenner did extensive research to come up with his
Ecological Systems Theory
Other researchers have done research on pieces of his
theory, but none on the entire theory (Skinner, 2012)

How Does the Family Exist in this Framework?

The family is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT relationship to a

They need at least one stable, loving, caring adult in
their life who they can trust and count on.
The family needs to work with the school and early
intervention- as they need to work with and for the
family- to provide the least amount of conflict as
possible and the best services / interventions for the

The family needs to be willing to try new things but

speak up if they feel strongly that it is not the best
thing for their child due to lack of finances, support,
The family needs to discuss with the Early
Interventionist what is going on within their family.

Do they have other family support?

What services or things have they tried?
What influences does the child have- preschool, daycare, church,
family, neighborhood, etc?
What is affecting the family- job loss, recent divorce or death,
military deployment, lack of resources, etc?

current education practices using ecological theory

Using home visits in EI allows for a parent-teacher

partnership to develop.
Home visits allow teachers to see first hand the societal
and environmental forces within the childs daily life.
Home visits and/or regular communication between the
teacher and the parents increase parental involvement in
their childs education.
Home visits are part of the Mesosystem (home and school
connection). Home visits also allow teachers to learn
firsthand more about the childs exosystem and
macrosystem (parents occupation, familys culture,
parental attitudes, and beliefs).

current education practices using ecological theory

Open, friendly dialogue between the teacher and the

parents allow for the parent to feel comfortable sharing
their concerns or questions about their child with the
By having a respectful, equal relationship between the
teacher and the parents, each person has a voice in
helping the child.

current education practices using ecological theory: working with

families experiencing stress

Three problems that create serious stress within families:

chemical dependency
family violence

How to help families using the ecological theory?

(Microsystem)Help families focus on creating a foundation of caring,

loving bonds that help them to deal with stress together. (ie: daily
hugs, sharing with each other what good things happened to them during
their day)
(Exosystem)Educate parents on what their children are experiencing
during the day in your early childhood program. This gives parents
comfort knowing their childs daily activities.

current education practices using ecological theory: working with

families experiencing stress (cont)

(Mesosystem)Empower families to use their community resources to help

deal with daily stressors. (For example, A mother dealing with an
alcoholic husband may find a support group in the community to help
(Macrosystem)As an early interventionist, we are able to help change
policies that help our families we work with by voting for people in
government that will advocate for local housing improvements such as
more moderately priced homes.
(Chronosystem) We can engage families in how they can better use
local resources in their community to empower their family and
address the issues that they are concerned about changing for their

Examples from classroom observation (Melanie)

Before school started, my sons teacher sent a letter

welcoming him to the classroom. Also, a quiz for our
family was included, Getting to know your family
(concerns, likes, dislikes, how he learns, what we like to
do as a family).
Teacher provided cell phone and email in the letter and
made it very clear that we are to reach out to her if we
have questions and concerns.
Teacher is very child-centered. She cares about the whole
child- academics and emotional.
Lots of opportunities to go into the classroom and help.

Examples from classroom observation (Melanie)

At Open House, my sons teacher did a quick tutorial on

How to read to your child.
Provided us each with a packet where we ask 6 different
types of questions about what they read to build
Teacher used Youtube to build background knowledge for
some children during reading groups who had never been to
Washington, D.C. before.

Classroom Observations (Heather)

Child J



Mom does not work outside of the home; focus is solely on J and his development; Dad does
work outside of the home; no financial stressors


Mom volunteers and substitutes at the school; keeps the teacher up to date on what is going
on at home; explains new things they are trying; allows the staff to work with J and sits
back and observes or helps other children instead of focusing just on J


Mom is very in tune to J; encourages independence

Quality healthcare system; allowed for extensive genetic testing over many years to find


Changes in the medical field, along with new treatments to further progress

Classroom Observation (Heather)

Child B



Mom does not work outside of the home; takes care of Bs younger sibling who also has
developmental delays; financial struggles


Mom has little interaction with the school except to call multiple times a day to check on
her or complain about other children being sick; seems to have a good relationship with
PT (they have attended doctors appointments with Bs mom)


Mom does not allow B to do anything independently; feels she needs to do everything for
her, but will say that B can do it

Mom does not drive; lives in an area that has a lot of drug activity


Ever-changing home environment of cleanliness, safety and parental involvement

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