New studies clearly demonstrate that babies and very young children know, observe, explore, imagine and learn more than we would ever have thought possible. In many significant ways, they are even smarter than adults. I will tell you honestly and quite upfront, this is not the first time I have reported on these sorts of findings. Actually, just a few months back I blogged about how babies, as well as young children, experience the world via an extremely wide spectrum of sensation, as opposed to the miniscule sliver of sentient reality that we adults experience. So why am I treading old ground and covering this subject yet again? Well to draw attention to more elaborate studies by Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, and to remind our adult readers (who may have missed it the first time) what is actually going in the intricate and Byzantine minds of babies everywhere.
As mentioned above, Alison Gopnik, as well as being a psych professor, is also author of the newly published The Philosophical Baby which investigates the exploratory and analytic nature of the young child’s mind. Counter to what was previous assumed, that babies were just blank slates of blooming and buzzing confusion, Gopnik points out that babies have an astonishing capacity for statistical reasoning, experimental discovery and probabilistic logic, which enables them to learn about the myriad of objects and people surrounding them with greater depth and efficiency than previously assumed (I could go into case studies and particular experiments here, but you would be best served reading it first hand rather than slogging through my abbreviated accounts).
The truly notable meaning to gather from all this, is not that we all now need to spend the remainder of our diminishing paychecks on new fangled programs and products that will make our babies even smarter, but we need to encourage babies and toddlers to remain curious and continue to explore their surroundings. At this age, they are not as specifically focused and goal oriented as their eager parents, and the learning they do on their own, when they carefully watch and unexpected outcome and draw new conclusions from say, a set of car keys or a cup of spilled water, is radically different than how adults view and consider learning. Babies (and this is the truly wonderfully subversive part of the whole message) can learn an enormous amount from simple items (bowls, blocks, items from nature, etc) and simple interactions, that have nothing to do with “enriching” educational toys, games, and DVDs.
So, clear the decks, save your money and allow your child to learn, not in the rigid way adults do, but in the experiential way young children need to.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.