Alison Gopnik: Babies Learn by Playing

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I was thrilled to read Berkeley professor and author Alison Gopnick’s recent New York Times piece about the way babies learn by playing. Indeed, they seem to have all the materials they need naturally — no special equipment or flash cards required. Children as young as eight months old exhibit curiosity about their world and a willingness to experiment to determine cause-and-effect. And very young children actually experiment more when presented with unknowns, rather than predetermined outcomes.

Babies naturally imagine and explore as a way of learning. This doesn’t look like the way adults and older children learn — It looks a lot like play. And it’s often best done with the simplest, everyday objects, as well as with us, Gopnick writes. She concludes her New York Times piece:

“Babies can learn a great deal just by exploring the ways bowls fit together or by imitating a parent talking on the phone. (Imagine how much money we can save on “enriching” toys and DVDs!)

There are no perfect toys; there is no magic formula. Parents and other caregivers teach young children by paying attention and interacting with them naturally and, most of all, by just allowing them to play.”

Dr. Alison Gopnick’s new book is called The Philosophical Baby; What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life. You can read about it and her other work and writings on her web site.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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