Does Constructivism have limits?
Are parents and/or early educators needed to guide children? Or are kids able to guide themselves through life? This is a tough question to answer for many people because they have either a lack of information or an abundance of information in one of the areas. Some people believe that kids are born ready to take on the world and others would argue that kids need to be guided by their elders to succeed. I will be talking about sociocultural theory, tools of intellectual adaptation, the biological starter set, and play. This is a nature versus nurture argument, one of the most prevalent arguments in developmental psychology. I stand on the side that parents and early educators must guide kids to maximize their potential.
Why do I believe this? When gathering information on this topic and understanding what kind of species humans are it makes the most sense. In chapter 3 of Children’s Thinking (Bjorklund & Causey, 2018) the sociocultural theory was mentioned, which states the development is embedded within culture and is guided through life. The key part in that sentence is “guided through life”. It is not specific on how it is guided, but to be guided you must be shown a path by something, or someone other than yourself. This theory makes it obvious that to develop cognitively others must guide you. Guided discovery, providing less and less help to a person whom you are teaching a skill to, is an efficient and useful technique (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018). Collaborative learning helps when two people are both attempting to learn by interacting with one another, building cognition, and social skills. Cognitive development does not occur in a vacuum, humans cannot grow without one another (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018).
Some believe that our starter set of skills, untouched and unrefined by others, are enough to survive for humans. They believe that these skills will develop to their necessary levels for survival by themselves. Our starter set includes attention, sensation, perception, and memory (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018). These skills are necessary for the survival of humans. Without these skills we would not be able to focus our attention when we need to, use our senses to predict danger or strange feelings, perceive what is always happening around us, or remember important information. If we lost these basic skills, we would be dead, humanity would not exist. We take these skills for granted because we have never lived a life without them. We have been prepared, through natural selection, to survive in our complex civilization from birth (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.6, 2018).
The starter set of skills, which we are all born with, are considered primary skills. Primary skills are basic skills, one of which is language. Language is an important part of our lives, as this is how we communicate with people around us. What happens when people aren’t around and you want to contact them, but you don’t have a phone? Or what if you need to write an essay for a class? Those situations require the ability to either write, or type, which are both secondary skills that must be developed. These skills do not automatically appear or develop, the only way that these skills will develop is if a parent, caregiver, or teacher helps the child learn the movements and sequences necessary. Vygotsky found that humans learn language through what he called the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018).
The thesis is social speech, the speech that occurs between people. In this way we learn new words and phrases that we can store for later use. The antithesis is private speech, which is talking to ourselves as a way to develop our speaking abilities. Synthesis is inner speech, it is much like private speech, but is internalized so that we are talking to ourselves without making a sound. In these three ways we learn new words, practice saying and using them correctly out loud, and then continuing to think of them and develop new sentences internally. The zone of proximal development, however, depicts what we can do. This zone consists of what we can do on our own, and what we can do with the help of others. In school they start children with easier tasks that they may be able to do themselves or with little guidance. These skills get practiced both with the teacher and by themselves until one day they can perform that task with ease. This is when it is time to move on to another skill that is on the outer edge of the zone of proximal development where the child needs guidance. The zone of proximal development continues to grow through the school years and whenever else a child steps outside of their comfort zone.
The tools of intellectual adaptation are tools used in life by all humans. Language is the most common tool of intellectual adaptation and enables sociocultural changes (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018). These sociocultural exchanges shape the starter set of skills into higher mental functions (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018). Our basic skills adapt and transform into more specific skills due to the extended use of these exchanges. Our species is predisposed to learn in a social context (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018). This is why we have schools. When in school we are around our peers and being social while also learning. Schools were made to conform to the fact that we are a species that learns best with others. Cognitive development does not occur in a vacuum, we are built in a way that we learn to thrive better when around people (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018).
Tools of the mind contains four parts (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018). The first is the gradual understanding that language has a symbolic nature. One way that they come to understand this is the transition from pictures to symbols. The second part is having shared goals with other children via sociodramatic play. The way children play helps them develop cognitive skills. Symbolic play, also known as make-believe play, allows kids to practice using symbols or objects to represent something other than said symbols or objects (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.5, 2018). This allows kids to see the world in a different way than an older person would. This is important because this type of play is an exercise for the brain, which is needed for growth. Sociodramatic play is when children take on roles and follow a storyline (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.5, 2018). This kind of play puts the children in others’ shoes, acting as that person would, which is a great skill to have in life and can help one person understand another. As a parent, guardian, or teacher you should encourage the use of imagination in play. The third is the act of shared reading where children get in groups, or are in a big group including the teacher, and take turns reading and listening to each other. Fourth is the support they receive when they make a plan. As they follow through with the plan and are supported the entire time the result is a significant increase in their executive functions.
The ultimate goal in human life is to reach our mature form (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.3, 2018). This stage is not only meant to signify adulthood but cognition at its finest. Cognitive growth is what life is truly about and without it our bodies would get larger, but our cognition would still be at the level of a baby or if we are lucky a toddler or adolescent. Life challenges us in many ways and there is a good reason for that, it is for our benefit. People tend to avoid challenges as much as possible because they are uncomfortable or hard, which is exactly why we need them. Challenges are conflict and conflict, according to Bjorklund and Causey Ch.3 (2018), are necessary for cognitive growth. Cognition is the ability to problem-solve (Bjorklund & Causey Ch.5, 2018).
Both nature and nurture are important because without the correct balance in a child’s life they will never reach their true cognitive potential. Kids need to be guided, that’s a fact that we all know. Without guidance they would have no clue as to what they are supposed to do in life or how to act. A parent must aid their child’s growth however they can to ensure a better person. Kids also need to be left alone to grow in their way. Humans are born with a starter set of skills that are meant to get us through life. These skills are very basic at first and develop through life. Kids need a chance to use their skills by themselves, without a parent pushing them, watching them, or helping them. Structured home life is something that a child needs, but an absolute structure is bad for them. When parents are strict and keep an eye on their child at all times they are truly hindering the ability for the kid to reach their cognitive potential. That is because they do not have the time themselves to use their cognition in their way. Parents who are too unstructured and let their kids do whatever they decide to do then they are also hindering their child’s ability to reach their cognitive potential. This child will not be guided through life. Their cognition will be developed mostly by themselves which is against human nature. We are built to learn in social contexts. The parents who help their child the most are the ones who have a structured home, but also allow the child to have their own time to do what they want. The question is not nature or nurture, but how do we balance the nature and nurture aspects of life.