frontline issue 3


In the first of a series of articles, Peter Johnstone begins to explore the world of children, how they relate to the world around them...and how we relate to them.

"The distinguished developmental psychologist John Flavell once told us he would trade all of his awards for the chance to see through a child's eyes for just a few minutes. The early nineteenth-century Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Blake had the same ambition. They thought childhood was the time when we saw the universe most clearly and experienced it most intensely. It was "a time when meadow, grove and stream, the earth, and every common sight, to me did seem apparelled in celestial light." The time when we saw "a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower." Wordsworth and Blake also saw that even a adults we continue to have moments of the clarity and intensity of understanding. And they saw that those glimpses were part of the experience of creation: they let us write poetry." (1)

..."For the chance to see through a child's eyes for just a few minutes". Having spent the last four years working with children, observing and interacting with them, as well as reading many books to do with how children learn and develop and how they think, I believe it is possible to see our society and our world through a child's eyes. This is what I am going to explore in this series of articles.

We have already in fact being doing this for many hundreds of years. When we talk to children, interact with them, when we respond to their needs, and respond to their natural curiosity, and when we let them explore their environment, we are in fact trying to see and view the world through their eyes. It is a matter of how we as adults interpret the information we receive back from children and how we respond adequately to their needs. Of course it is not easy to do this, especially when dealing with very demanding children. But, our children are our future and we should do our very best to try and understand them, to give them the opportunities and resources they need to explore, understand and learn about what they want to learn about. We should regard each and every child on this planet as a unique, fascinating, interesting and important individual. To get to this point, however, is what I hope to give an insight into as this series of articles progresses.

There are many fundamental questions we must ask ourselves when we are caring for, bringing up and teaching our children. How often do we really stop and ask children what they think about things, how do they feel about something, what are their views and opinions? It may sometimes be hard to do this, especially with really young children, but through observing them, interacting with them and talking to them we can begin to understand them and learn about how they think. Children do know and can understand a lot more than we think they do.

Without interacting directly with children we can take a step back and watch and observe how they are developing, how they are working out how to solve problems and the processes they go through to find solutions to the toys, the activities they are playing with.

One of the most interesting aspects to our existence is that we all come into this world pre-programmed with the information we need to learn, to learn to talk, to learn to walk, to solve problems, to think. "It turns out that the capacities that allow us to learn about the world have their origins in infancy. We are born with the ability to discover the secrets of the universe and of our own minds, and with the drive to explore and experiment until we do." (2)

At the moment our general perception of how we see children is that we think they do not have the capacities to learn and understand from the moment they are born, so from that moment we must teach them. In the next article I will explore how much we do know and can understand from the day we are born.

Children are naturally very curious, as we are as adults, about anything going on around them. They seek us out for information, for "input", for answers to their questions, for our help, for someone simply to go to when they are experiencing problems. ..."new research shows that babies and young children know and learn more about the world than we could ever have imagined. They think, draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations and even do experiments. Children and scientists belong together because they are the best learners in the universe. And that means that ordinary adults also have more powerful learning abilities than we might have thought. Grown-ups, after all, are all ex-children and potential scientists". (3)

This last point is very interesting. We all have the potential to develop and test our theories of how we should care for and bring up and nurture our children. After all this is what parents have been doing since time immemorial. It"s just that from a young age we are not respected and told about just how unique we all are and about the vast amount of knowledge we all have. You don"t necessarily have to have degrees in x, y or z to be able to understand how we do things, how we solve problems, how we think, because we all contain this information already, it"s in our minds. Nature has provided us all with the information we need to do all that we want. We have accumulated vast amounts of knowledge from the moment we are born until we reach adulthood and beyond.

Until the next article "How we Think, How Babies Think", ponder on the following extract from How Babies Think. "Understanding how babies learn helps us understand how we learn, but it also helps us understand how learning is possible. It helps us understand how any physical system could learn, including both the computers on our desks and the ones in our skulls.

But in the end the, the real reason for studying babies and young children is just they are themselves so intrinsically so valuable and so interesting. When we look attentively, carefully, and thoughtfully at the things around us, they invariably turn out to be more interesting, more orderly, more complex, more strange, and wonderful than we would ever have imagined. That"s what happened when Kepler looked carefuuly at the stars, when Darwin looked at finches, when Marie Curie looked at pitchblende ore. And it"s what happened when Jane Austin look at provincial villages and when Proust looked at a madeleine cookie, when Verneer looked at a girl making a lace and Juan Gris looked at a café table."

(1 - 3) From How Babies Think by Andrew Meltzoff, Patricia Kuhl and Alison Gopnik