The Zone of Proximal Development

Every teacher discovers quickly that not all children are learning at the same level. For some children, information is too easy and for others it is difficult.  Most teachers in traditional education try to aim somewhere in the middle range and hope the class can be carried forward more or less together.

In public education, education is rarely targeted at the individual learner unless it is in the realm of special education. I believe that providing for individualized education in group settings would catapult our children to greater mastery.

The concept that learning needs to be individualized was first put forth by Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, during the 1930’s and caught on in educational circles in the U.S. in the 1980’s.

Vygotsky said that learning needs to take place in the immediate area between a skill level already mastered and the next level of needed mastery. This range, he called the “zone of proximal development” (the zone that is proximal (close to) the learner).  This ideal range for individual learning is thus called the child’s zone of proximal development (ZPD. Another way to think of this is that the ZPD is the next developmental level of a person’s internalization of fact, experience, or sensation. If information is too challenging, a person is frustrated.  If information is too familiar a person is only reviewing and possibly bored.

All of a person’s soul, mind, and emotions are developing within a unique zone of proximal development (ZPD),that is theirs alone. Pestalozzi indirectly referred to orchestrating teaching to the ZPD when he wrote:

The great and fundamental principle is never to attempt to teach children what they cannot comprehend, and to teach them in the exact ratio of their understanding it, without omitting one link in the chain of ratiocination, proceeding always from the known to the unknown, from the most easy to the most difficult, practicing the most extensive and accurate use of all the senses, exercising, improving and perfecting all the mental and corporeal faculties by quickening combination, accelerating and carefully arranging comparisons, judiciously and impartially making deduction, summing up the results free from prejudices and cautiously avoiding the delusions of imagination, the constant source of ignorance and error.[1]

Another theorist, Csikszentmihalyi, put forth the concept of “flow” which occurs when the perfect combination of challenge and mastery is achieved as a child works in his or her zone of proximal development.[2]  This feeling of flow is one of euphoria, oneness with life, comfort, bliss, and maybe represents the momentary integration of the physical person with the blueprint of the soul (my idea). We often see children in this state of “flow” in situations where they are fully engaged and oblivious to their surroundings.  Being in the “zone” brings about this feeling of connectedness to life through the activity in which we are engaged.

The participation of the soul in learning is yet another reason to be concerned with the ZPD. If we believe that the soul is involved in our education, then the zone of proximal development relates to the soul as well as to human development because it is an indication of where we need to put our attention in this life. Each person’s soul is at a certain stage of development towards their ultimate goal of self-realization of their blueprint.  Our karma dictates in many ways where our ZPD of soul development is. Home and family life, as well as classroom opportunities, present opportunities for growing within one’s zone. The Greater Self is a resource to guide and guard this zone of proximal development. The Greater Self, acting as the inner teacher, is like an internal compass. For these reasons, it is vital that all children receive opportunities to learn within their zone of proximal development at each physical, psychological, and spiritual stage of development.

The Montessori classroom allows for the various “zones” of the children to be expressed by the diversification of the material that is in the classroom as curriculum. Every child can be working within their ZPD without getting in the way of another child’s learning.  Being behind or ahead of their neighbor is not causing problems for the teacher, because each Montessori child usually works solo on their lessons or teams up with another child who is at the same level of development.  Or, the more experienced child becomes the teacher to a younger, less experienced child for some learning.  Generally speaking, the individualization of the approach to curriculum development and delivery allows for individual mastery similar to special education classrooms in the public schools.

One significant step to improving our public schools would be to have curriculums that would allow for individual learning which our technology is now capable of delivering.  Until every child is rapidly progressing through their zones of learning, opportunities are being wasted and hours in school are sacrificed to inefficiency.  It would behoove us to universally adapt the Montessori approach to curriculum.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow, the psychology of optimal experience. NY, New York:  Harper Collins.

++Celeste's Orchids+r2

Photography by Tom Miller

Supporting Emotional Intelligence in Two-Year Olds

I have just completed a 14 week experience teaching two-year-olds in a Montessori-style classroom and interacting with their young parents.  “The terrible twos, how could you?” said my friends.  Today, I am very grateful for this concentrated glimpse into the world of these fourteen very individualistic two-year olds (and I didn’t find any of them “terrible”).

This age bracket is the beginning one for the development of emotional intelligence.  Many children are struggling with their emotions in a public setting (day care) for the first time and learning how to get through it all.   Already, I could see the previous social conditioning of their parents playing out in their personalities and orientations to other children.   I observed these children navigating for the first time with how to play in meaningful ways with others– copycatting was high on the list of observable play behaviors. If one child initiated a behavior, others would follow suit—usually these were with undesirable behaviors.  Some were transitioning from diapers to the toilet—those that had made it were in a different “older kid club”.  There was pride in this membership.  They were all learning how to be independent with opening lunch boxes, throwing away their left overs, cleaning their work areas, taking work off the shelves and returning it to the same location. Some days, all the children worked so diligently on their lessons with enthusiasm and joy.  Other days, they were more apt to throw themselves down on the rug, roll around and “space out”.   Sometimes they just got in trouble.  The head teacher called this “making a bad choice”.  This seemed to work.  I could see them categorizing these infractions in their consequent actions.  They certainly knew when another child made a “bad choice” and were happy to share that information. When they didn’t make good choices, they had to be carefully explained to as to why their choice wasn’t the best one.  Negotiations were often difficult.  There was occasional biting when “no” didn’t seem to cut through, there was hitting by those who didn’t go as far as biting, and there was a lot of touching, and not much hugging.  Crying was the easiest way to express their frustrations and disappointments.  I found all of these behaviors mark the beginning emotional life for the two-year old who is attending day care.

If your child is in day care and this age, you may be interested in exploring with your teacher the ways your child is developing emotional intelligence.

Parents are advised by experts to:

Become aware of the child’s emotion.
Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching.
Listen empathetically and validate the child’s feelings.
Help the child verbally label emotions.
Set limits while helping the child problem-solve.

I was able to sharpen my teaching, listening and caring skills through this “in the trenches experience” and I have a new found appreciation for the amazing minds of two-year olds– their capacity for order and cleanliness, their curiosity about the world, their attention to detail, and most especially the emerging independent spirit that comes from wearing underwear and being able to do things for oneself.  Pay attention.  There is a genius stirring in your two-year-olds mind– even if you can’t quite see it yet.

Dr. Celeste A. Miller

Photographed by Tom Miller

Kwan Yin – Ceramic – Taipei


When the Education of the Soul Dropped Out of the Discussion

Whereas up to approximately the 1900’s the purpose of education had been to educate the soul, with the turn of the century and the birth of scientific determinism[1] the education of the soul dropped out of the public discourse and was replaced with a “scientific” emphasis on the socialization of children; how to prepare model citizens; and how to measure learning.  Other brilliant educational theorists have emerged in the 20th century, but they do not write about educating the soul.   Separation of church and state has eliminated almost all mention of even the word God in public schools.  Prayer is banned at graduations and Christmas is now a winter holiday.  Concern about the education of the soul is entirely relegated to religious schools.   If Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel, or Montessori were to reincarnate today, they would probably consider mankind has taken a step backward in regard to soul development in spite of our modern technological advances.

Even so, women, children and education have come a long way.  Today, we can clearly see evidence of the three pivotal, life changing ideas about children introduced and reinforced by these early educators–childhood as a distinct time of life; the significant role of the mother (and now father); and universal education for all.   That childhood is an important time of development is not questioned.  Education is universal, although not always of high quality.   In the U.S. and in other countries as well, we now have universal public education for K-12 with complete separation of church and state.  In addition, many governments provide funding for the education of special needs children up to the age of emancipation.

In addition to “mothering”, mothers now have the added opportunity (and responsibility) of bringing income to the family as they pursue unlimited opportunities for career goals.  Because, in most industrialized societies, the education of our youngest children is now mostly in day care settings of some type and not in the home with their mothers, the role of first teacher, the mother, has been mostly taken over by others; often by poorly paid women with little professional respect working with high turnover in these child care facilities. Teachers of all grades, in general, are not well paid and the profession does not attract the best and the brightest. Time and change march on and not necessarily in the right direction. It remains to be seen where the next generation will go. (Excerpted from Educating the Reincarnated Child)

In my latest book, prior to this excerpt, I introduce to the reader the legacy of Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel and Montessori who were truly inspired educators.  I propose to you that their writings need to be dusted off and studied by serious students of education.  In Educating the Reincarnated Child, I give you a snapshot of their genius, and encourage you to delve further into their legacy.

Dr. Celeste A. Miller


[1] Scientific determinism:  Since every event in nature has a cause or causes that account for its occurrence, and since human beings exist in nature, human acts and choices are as determined as anything else in the world. Notes on Determinism and Indeterminism. Philosophy Department, Texas A & M

Happy Thanks Giving

Happy Thanks Giving

Contents of Educating the Reincarnated Child

Contents of Educating the Reincarnated Child

This was not an easy book to write.   To be honest, I wrote this book several times, each time trying to reorganize, simplify, and clarify.  The research and ideas that I share are the gleanings of my forty-plus years in education, as I immersed myself in the business of educating and being educated by others.

The book opens with a brief history of the origin of the concept of childhood, first developed during the Renaissance and the Reformation.  This all-important concept, defining a distinct time in the life of the child requiring specialized education, was primarily focused on soul development.  You will be introduced to Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Montessori, revolutionary and, I believe, divinely inspired soul educators, who lived between 1600 and 1950.  In the succeeding chapters 2 – 5, I share with you their individual legacies.  We cannot discuss soul education in the present without remembering their rich contributions to education.

Although these early educators, and their disciples, were focused on the sacredness of the child, they did not profess to specifically believe in reincarnation.  Indeed, they would probably have considered this belief heretical.  That doesn’t matter because their teachings on the education of the soul are unprecedented, uplifting, and can still provide inspiration today.  They provide an opportunity to meditate on their writings and ponder the essence of what they wrote.

In the sixth chapter, as we move from the past into the present, I combine their ideas with my own into a suggested list for activities that would enhance soul development.  Then, in chapters seven through ten, we shift gears and move to discussing the vehicles that the soul uses for expression: the mind, the heart, and the body. In these chapters, I highlight recommended modern educational methods which support soul development.  Chapter seven shares brain research that should inform educators.  I also discuss the mind/brain debate.  Chapter eight promotes ideas about developing the heart qualities of morality and emotional control (E.Q).  Chapter nine deals with strengthening the physical bodies of children and the importance of good health and nutrition.  The book concludes with a final chapter sharing my personal agenda for the future of education—in a time when we will recognize the value of educating the “whole” person.

Table of Contents


Chapter One –A Time of Life Called Childhood

Chapter Two – Comenius

Chapter Three – Pestalozzi

Chapter Four – Froebel

Chapter Five – Montessori

Chapter Six – Educating the Soul/Spirit

Chapter Seven – Educating the Mind/Brain

Chapter Eight –Educating the Heart

Chapter Nine – Educating the Body

Chapter Ten – My Dreams for the Future of Education



192 pages


Celeste A. Miller

A reviewer called this book ” a gem”.  I hope you will take the time to read it and share your thoughts.

Educating the Reincarnated Child by Celeste A. Miller, PhD

Book #4 in the Reincarnated Child Series