Learning lessons from toddlers

Learning lessons from toddlers

Toddlers and babies are smarter than you think. Just observe the way they learn .

Babies are smarter than you think, says Alison Gopnit, a professor in Psychology. It is an established theory circulated among psychologists and philosophers that babies and young children were defective adults. This means they are irrational, egocentric and are unable to think logically. When we observe their activities we  feel that their actions are disoriented.

New studies on their behaviour demonstrate that even very young ones know, observe, explore, imagine and learn more than we would ever have thought possible. In some ways they are smarter than adults.

Recent experiments show that even toddlers have sophisticated and powerful learning abilities. About a few years ago, two researchers discovered that preschoolers could use probabilities to learn how things worked, and that this lets them imagine new possibilities. They put a yellow and blue block on a machine repeatedly. The blocks were likely, but not certain, to make the machine light up. The yellow blocks made the machine light up two out of three times. The blue block made it light up only two out of six times.

They gave the children the blocks and asked them to light up the machine. These children who could not yet add or subtract, were more likely to put the yellow block, rather than the blue one on the machine. This astonishing capacity for statistical reasoning, experimental discovery and probabilistic logic allow babies to rapidly learn all about the objects and people surrounding them.

It is disappointing to note that some parents are likely to take the wrong lessons from these experiments and conclude that they need special programmes and products that will make their babies smarter. Many think that babies, like adults should learn in a focused and planned way. Such parents put their younger ones in academic enrichment classes or use flashcards to get them to recognise the alphabet.

Different intelligence

As the studies show, a baby’s intelligence is very different from that of an adult and from the kind of intelligence we cultivate in a school. School work revolves around focus and planning. We set objectives and goals for children, emphasising on the skills they should acquire or information they should know.

Such an approach may work for children who are above the kindergarten level or who are five years of age and above. But, babies and young children are not prepared to work in a planned manner or work towards precise goals. Pre schoolers cannot pay attention as they have trouble focusing on just one event. This has made us underestimate toddlers.

New research on the subject explains that babies can be rational without being goal oriented.

They are not trying to learn one particular skill or set of facts. Instead, they are drawn to anything new, unexpected or informative.

The young brain is highly flexible and elastic too. Brains work because neurons are connected to one another, allowing them to communicate. Baby brains have more such neural connections than adult brains. But, they are much less efficient. Over a period we prune the connections we do not use. The remaining ones become faster and more automatic. Each kind of intelligence has benefits and drawbacks.

Babies and young children learn on their own as they carefully watch an unexpected outcome and draw new conclusions from the same. They manipulate or imagine a thing in different ways. This is very different from routine school work.

Real world learning

These toddlers can learn about the world around them through all sorts of real world objects and safe replicas from dolls, to cardboard boxes to mixing bowls, and even try cell phones and computers. They can learn a lot just by exploring the ways bowls fit together or by imitating a parent talking over the phone.

Small children observe most closely, explore most obsessively and imagine most vividly. The question of what they observe may arise. It is the people  around them, that they do. There cannot be a perfect toy, and there is no magic formula to make them learn. It is the duty of parents to teach them. Teaching is nothing but the act of facilitating. Parents need to pay attention to their children and interact with them naturally, and most of all just allow them to play.

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