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.