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2009 December | Child Development | giggle Blogs

Archive: December 2009

December 22, 2009

Working with the 3Cs- Character, Competence, Concepts

All children are born with vast potential for valued character traits, diverse competences & intelligences, and the ability to understand complex concepts. Our understanding of these capabilities has been fundamentally altered over the last several decades because of the explosion in cognitive science research. No longer do we think that people are born with a single general and static intelligence that can be simply measured by IQ tests and remains the same throughout life. Instead research in neuroscience reveals that the brain is comprised of many separate modules that give rise to strengths or weaknesses across an array of competencies… And how we  put these competencies to effective use can vary depending on the specific situation.

How do we get to know and cultivate the individual minds of our children? How do the 3 Cs of Character traits, Competences and Conceptual understandings reveal themselves at the different stages of our children’s lives so that we can best nurture them?

Anyone with 2 or more children knows that every child is different and engages with their world in unique ways. Some minds are wired to create symphonies; others are disposed to build bridges or computers; and still others are inclined to alleviate suffering and cure medical ailments. Although hard to imagine while they are babies, different kinds of minds and hearts are destined to lead different adult lives.

The first step is to be aware and identify the different aspects of a child’s growing mind. In the past, competences or skills such as language, logic and more recently social & emotional development received most of the attention. However, today there is much more awareness of how a child’s character traits (dispositions) provide the critical foundation for the realization of the broad range of competences and conceptual understanding.  Research is giving us a much greater appreciation for these other aspects of a child – such as the disposition to make sense of experience, to theorize about causes and effects, to hypothesize explanations to account for observations, and to analyze and synthesize whatever information is available.

Carefully watching your child as they play and investigate the world around them will help you figure out what the chiild’s dispositions are. Children need to be put in situations where they can express their dispositions and see that their disposition was effective. All the dimensions of learning and development are intertwined and can positively or negatively affect each other. For example, the risk of early instruction in reading skills is that the amount of drill and practice required for success at an early age seems to undermine children’s disposition to be readers. It is clearly not useful for a child to learn skills if, in the process of acquiring them, the disposition to use them is lost. On the other hand, acquiring the disposition to be a reader without the requisite skills is also not desirable.

Each child brings a different blend of character traits (dispositions), competences (skills), and concepts (knowledge) to any experience. Our job is to first tune into our specific child and see if we can figure out who they are and what they are working on. We adults in their lives can make a big difference in what children take away from all of their experiences. We are not and cannot be perfect; but we can start wherever we are and take it one small step at a time. With desire and practice, we can become more aware of all the rich learning that is taking place. Over the next several posts, we will explore important areas of development and learning in our children.

December 14, 2009

Defining the 3 Cs: Character, Competence, Concepts

As discussed in the last post, children are meeting multiple learning and development objectives through their explorations and interactions with the real world around them—through their “play”. We also discussed the role of us adults or parents in embedding the “adult agenda” of important learning goals to enrich this play. The last few decades has witnessed an explosion of research into child development and across the cognitive sciences; and it provides us with a better picture of the vast and complex workings of your child’s mind and how to better organize our learning goals. In any given moment or context, experts tell us that there are 3 types of learning goals for us to be aware of:

-       Competences & skills: Skills are small units of action or longer mental processes that occur over time. Physical, cognitive, language,  social & emotional development can be seen in discrete skill sets that start small and grow more complex. For example, simple fine motor manipulation of objects in with the hand lead to control over a pencil or pen and elaborate drawing capabilities.

-       Concepts & Knowledge: Children develop conceptual understandings about how the world works as they experience it. They begin to create theories about how a person will behave differently then their pet dog and how a dog or animals behave differently from objects. And then how objects such as blocks are different than objects such as balls. Through experiences with these things they develop expectations and ideas and can continually refine and deepen these conceptual understandings.

-       Character Traits & Dispositions: Dispositions can be thought of as habits of mind or tendencies to respond to certain situations in certain ways. Curiosity, friendliness or unfriendliness, bossiness, generosity, meanness, and creativity are examples of dispositions, sets of dispositions or character traits, rather than of skills or items of knowledge.

In terms of broad goals, most educators and parents readily agree that children should learn whatever will ultimately enable them to become healthy, competent, productive, and contributing members of their communities. But when it comes to the specifics of what should be learned this month, this week, this day or during any particular experience, agreement is not so easily achieved.  More on these goals and how to apply them in your child’s specific experiences in the next post.

December 9, 2009

Learning Through Play

Our babies love to explore and make sense of their world as I have described in my blogs over the last several weeks– from solids (like blocks and balls)  to liquids (like water) to light (by exploring their shadows from the sun). We adults have labeled these investigations or mucking around as  “play” since the children are really enjoying themselves; to the untrained eye, it certainly does not look like work. But play is a child’s work.

Who's that in the mirror

Who's that in the mirror

And children are highly motivated in their jobs – - to figure all this stuff out. There is an intrinsic human drive to explore and master one’s environment so we just need to harness that energy and effort. How our children do their work is very concrete; they need to get their hands, mouths and bodies on things to test them out and see what they are all about. An important fact that we have not yet discussed much is how these real concrete contexts and experiences are the vehicle for all their learning—Learning Through Play. All the stuff we think of as learning and intelligence gets exercised and develops through our babies’ hands-on explorations and experiences.

Take language development: babies don’t start out an experience saying “geez I would really like to build my vocabulary by 10 new words”. The language development is embedded into and a by-product of what they are doing and other goals. Babies want to figure something out and daddy keeps calling that thing they are fascinated with by the name “shadow”, so that vocabulary word is very meaningful to them and sticks with them. The shadow then leaps forward closer to them when they walk close to a “wall”; dad narrates the action so they learn the word “wall” because it created an exciting effect they were interested in. Vocabulary building and language development happens while our babies engage in something meaningful to them and that context provides the opportunity for all the vocabulary about the specific actions, objects, features and effects that activity affords.  Flash cards provide no context so they are not as effective; nothing beats a real authentic experience and real interest for learning. This is true of the development of all competences as well as language—a babies social & emotional skills, their cognitive skills, physical skills and all.

What do we as adults and parents want our children to be learning while they go about actively exploring their world & “playing”? Language development, certainly important, is considered one of a broader category of competences. Experts have identified three important categories of learning and development that we should know about and try to gently embed into our child’s explorations and experiences. These are the 3 Cs: Character, Competences, and Concepts and I will explore each in my next post.