Kids who aren’t taught learn more?

At first blush it would seem counter-intuitive- teaching your child something, instead of letting her figure it out on her own, means she’ll learn less.

The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery” was published in the September issue of Cognition.  Unfortunately the article is behind a pay wall, so we’ll have to get info from second hand sources like Strollerderby and The Economist.

The crux of experiment presented in the paper is that children who were shown a toy and how it worked accepted what they were told, played with the toy for a short time, and found out little more about it.  Children who were told nothing about the toy explored it on their own- they played with it for longer and discovered more features, they learned more about it.

Perhaps my perspective is different from the bulk of Strollerderby and The Economist readers- I’m a scientist, I spend my days trying to figure out how things work with no teacher to instruct me.  I’m used to working on problems with no known answer- trying to find those answers by experimenting on my own. That’s how science works.  That’s how scientists discover new things, understand how things work.

It’s not that remarkable that children should operate the same way.  I’ve said it before, everyone is a scientist, using the scientific method whether they’re trying to fix a leaky toilet, cure cancer, or work a new toy.

For now she can explore on her own, however I think when she gets her permit it will be necessary for me to show her how it's done.

I know kids are always asking why- and it’s a challenge to answer all of those questions.  But how often do kids ask how?  Not as often- because adults always jump in to show them.  Perhaps we should take a step back and let them figure things out on their own?  It would seem that they’d do a better job on their own.

Do you let your little ones play solo or do you try to engage them?  Do you show them how their toys work or let them figure it out on their own?


Filed under Mabel, Mother, Scientist

6 responses to “Kids who aren’t taught learn more?

  1. Pingback: Kids who aren’t taught learn more? | Kids say :

  2. I’m a science teacher, and we studied this concept quite a bit in my grad school program. There’s a ton of research on this topic, but all my references are buried somewhere in my basement.
    My baby’s only five months old, but I’ve never really considered showing her how toys work beyond a little introduction to get her attention. At this stage that pretty much involves bouncing the stuffed lion on her stomach. It’s up to her to figure out if the lion rattles or squeaks or anything else. What a fun surprise for her when it does!

    • Just wait until she makes a toy do something that you didn’t know it could. We had an octopus that I thought was just a teether, then I heard strange music and realized the source of the octopus teether that I didn’t even know played music!

      Then there’s also the conundrum that if you didn’t know the toy could do that, you don’t know how to make it stop…

  3. Pingback: I’m not the only one who thinks everyone is a scientist! | mommacommaphd

  4. Pingback: Pre-school | mommacommaphd

  5. I also believe everyone is a scientist. And has an inert ability to solve problems

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