Thursday, September 22, 2022

Children Learning from Children

I feel that it's important for us, as early childhood educators, to stay abreast of the latest research in our profession (all of which supports a play-based approach) as well as some of the other areas of cognitive and neuroscience (all of which supports a play-based approach).

Here is some densely worded support for play-based learning from one of the world's top neuroscientists, Antonio Damasio:

Usually the brain is assumed to be a passive recording medium, like film . . . This is pure fiction . . . The organism (the body and its brain) interacts with objects, and the brain reacts to the interaction. Rather than making a record of an entity's structure, the brain actually records the multiple consequences of the organism's interactions with the entity. What we memorize of our encounter with a given object is not just its visual structure as mapped in optical images of the retina. The following are also needed: first, the sensorimotor patterns associated with viewing the object (such as eye and neck movements or whole-body movements, if applicable); second, the sensorimotor pattern associated with touching and manipulating the object (if applicable); third, the sensorimotor pattern resulting from the evocation of previous acquired memories pertinent to the object; fourth, the sensorimotor patterns related to the triggering of emotions and feelings relative to the object . . . What we refer to as the memory of an object is the composite memory of the sensory and motor activities related to the interaction between the organism and the object during a certain period of time.

All that sensorimotor stuff is what we in the preschool world call play.

Or as Damasio writes, "The fact that we perceive by engagement, rather than passive receptivity, is the secret of the "Proustian effect" . . . the reason why we often recall contexts rather than just isolated things." And speaking of Proust, I also think it's important that we all read Proust because he has come as close as humanly possible, in fiction, to showing us how the human mind really works.

I also think we should all know at least a little something about those who came before us, like John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia system of early childhood education.

One of the things I find most useful from Malaguzzi's work, for instance, is the concept that every child has three teachers: adults, the environment, and other children. There is a tendency for us to focus on adult teachers, but the truth is that when children are allowed to play, the environment and other children have far more influence than the heavy hand of the adult. They are far more likely to accommodate all that sensorimotor stuff.

The photo at the top of this post is from 1963. I'm the bigger child holding the book, apparently reading to my newborn baby brother. I'm not actually reading, of course. That ability wouldn't come until I was closer to six or seven, which is when the developmental window for reading tends, on average, to open. But I had already learned about reading from an adult, my mother, and now I was, in turn teaching my brother everything I knew about reading. According to mom, I continued "reading" to him until well after I was actually reading. When my brother entered first grade, his adult teacher found that he was already well beyond his classmates. I'm not saying it was all due to my child-to-child teaching, but our family likes to think so.

When I reflect on my own childhood, I can honestly say that I learned at least as much from other children as I did from adults.

I've done my reading, I've taken classes and workshops, and I try to expose myself to a wide variety of people. I learn a lot from other adults and the environments in which I find myself, but I've often said that most of what I've learned about the world, and most of what I've written about here on the blog for the past 13 years, I've learned from children. I emphasize most. Malaguzzi was writing and thinking about children, but I'm convinced that the world would be a better place if more adults turned to children as their teachers.


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 
"Ready for a book that makes you want to underline and highlight? One that makes you draw arrows and write 'THIS!!!!!' in the margin? Then you are in for a treat." ~Lisa Murphy, M.Ed., author and Early Childhood Specialist, Ooey Gooey, Inc.

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