Grown-ups as a tool for children to access knowledge
How much is innate? How much is culture? What is the role of environment, in particular parents and adults, in the learning process? Learning begins in the first days of life but how much young children already know, and how much they learn from their environment - social and physical - has been the object of research in philosophy, psychology, linguistics, neuroscience and computer science for more than 3 decades. I went back to some of my books and tried to summarize the key points related to this challenge.
As a student, I was fascinated by research in cognitive psychology and then as a parent, I have been interested in understanding the development of my children and how it could be best supported.
As this challenge focused on early childhood development and wonder how we can create the best conditions to support learning and development, I thought I will try to summarize some of the key insights from development psychology.
For centuries, children (as women and "primitive" people) were seen as essentially defective adults, blank tablets that needed to be filled with knowledge. However, development research has shown over the last 3 decades that babies and young children think, observe and reason; they know a lot about the world and are actively engaged in learning more.
Current research emerged from a paradigm shift started by the research by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and the Russian psychologist, Vygotzky. One of Piaget's main insights was to show that while children might not have all the knowledge, and have wrong theories about the world in their young age,
their ability to learn (and their willingness to question and learn) was innate. He sometimes said that babies' minds assimilated information like their bodies assimilated milk.
One of Vygotzky's key insights was to show
the crucial role played by social interaction in the development of cognition, and thus
adults through social interactions and language become "tools" used by children to learn, and solve problems that mattered to them. For Vygotsky, the environment in which children grow up will influence how they think and what they think about.
Key insights from the research:
- children as active learners
- the role of the environment and social interactions in the learning process: children can learn but they need to be provided with inputs and supported in their development.
- adults, and parents in particular, as key actors in the bootstrapping process of the learning process.
In socio-economical contexts, where parents don't have the time or resources to interact a lot with their children, how can we provide social interactions that will provide resources for children development?
Let's remember that the role of children and the focus on complex environments and methods to support children's development is quite recent (a bit more than a century) in Western societies, yet, children have been learning and developing prior to all these new methods and tools. What can we learn from that?
What can be the indirect role of adults and communities in supporting children's development?
What was the role of extended families or of the communities?
What was the role of stories, songs and folklore?
For some resources on research on cognitive psychology: