A Child’s World - How Young Children Learn (page 2)
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.—Albert Einstein
Babies live in a completely perceptual world, as all their knowledge comes through their available senses. They begin their lives with an impressive ability to take in, organize, and process these perceptions, and thus make sense of their world (Gonzalez-Mena & Widmeyer Eyer, 2001). Infants are responsive to touch and pain and are able to respond to objects placed in hand. They are able to distinguish between sweet, sour, and bitter tastes and smells, preferring the sweet ones. They adapt their head movements as their eyes move and scan their environment for interesting sights and moving objects. Infants will also turn in the direction of a sound. They prefer complex sounds to pure tones and are capable of distinguishing certain sound patterns (Berk, 2006).
As infants perceive the world around them, they pay attention and make sense of their perceptions. Thus, their attention is interwoven with what they perceive (Bruning, Schraw, Norby, & Ronning, 2004). It is the attention to these perceptions that gives infants experiences that will lead to memory, which is the retaining of impressions and experiences, and conceptual knowledge, which is nothing the construction of meaning about the impressions and experiences. This development is short of miraculous.
At birth, the world of each child consists of only their immediate surroundings: the sounds of commotion and peacefulness that the infant senses in the environment, the security of being held by a parent or caregiver, the bright rays of light from a lamp, or a cool breeze from the window. Infants are quite captivated by people’s actions. They learn and remember by perceiving such actions in their world. Infants do not need to be as physically active to acquire new information as they will later, when motor activity will facilitate certain aspects of perception and cognition (Berk, 2006).
The only reality infants know about this small world is what they gain by using their available senses: sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste. These five senses will be their tools for a lifetime of learning. Infants’ first experiences are simply the joy of sensing and observing. As they grow and develop, their experiences help them make sense of their world. As infants experience predictable events, they become better able to understand logical patterns (Poole, 1998).
As infants receive stimuli they can be either pleased or distressed by them. It is important that infants have rich and varied positive personal interactions, perceptual events and items with which to interact. Through careful, individualized observation, teachers can determine how much stimulation is appropriate for each child, as both overstimulation and understimulation are risks. Through their world perceptions, infants develop impressions, attitudes, and ideas about people and life. Sharp and loud sounds may startle and concern them. The sound of a pleasant voice causes them to smile, giggle, or respond with arm and leg movements. Infants are extremely sensitive to temperature and currents of air that cause them to be too warm or too cold. Their sensations and responses are quite immediate. What do they need to know for their basic comforts from minute to minute? How do they communicate their basic needs to adults? What actions invite certain kinds of interaction with others?
Most infants today live in a sensually exciting world. The experiences of hearing a parent sing, a rattle shake, or a rubber toy squeak are being replaced, in some instances, by electronic devices. The touch of an electronic toy can initiate a medley of children’s songs accompanied by sounds of animals and locomotives. Young children are flooded with sounds and sights of music and videos. They observe more, but these observations are part of a distant and imaginary world, one created by such media as television and DVDs featuring Elmo, Big Bird, or Barney. These experiences can be positive in developing understanding of relationships about cause and effect, how things work, and how people relate to each other. Conversely, children also must have many firsthand, personal experiences observing and manipulating items in their immediate and real environment. Authentic experiences with caring people and hands-on explorations provide infants opportunities to learn (e.g., National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 2000; National Research Council [NRC], 1996). As children continue to experience their world, they are continually filled with curiosity, wonder, and amazement.
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