Alison Gopnik, professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, talks about the crucial age during which the brains of children evolve into adult brains. She also explains what parents can do to ensure the transition is seamless.
Well it seems as if there’s a really big switch between 5 and 6. And of course it’s funny because in or culture, we talked about that age group is pre-schoolers versus school age children. Of course school is a very recent invention. But if you look across lots of cultures, something happens around 6. So the baby say, we’ll move from the mother’s quarters to the children’s quarters. Or kids use to start becoming apprentice, being apprentices when they're about 7. So losing your first tooth seems to be a big marker of this transition. And it think what happens is that, that kind of transition. Of course it’s starting 4-5 and then continuing is really a transition from a creature that’s mostly designed to do this very broad base learning to a creature that’s starting to develop the specific skills that are going to be important as an adult. So by the time he get to 7, 8, 9 year olds, they can actually work. I mean, they can actually do things. They can actually do things that are productive and helpful. And they're starting to get those narrow, more narrow. Maybe I think to say, it’s not just more narrow but more specialized. So in some cultures, our culture really values a very, very narrow focus of attention. That’s what we teach kids to do in school. In other cultures, what they’ll do is teach kids to do things like shift attention from one thing to another very easily. The important thing is that in all cultures, you go from this early very, very wide ranging attention which is like infants do. And here's the intentional strategy that is important to do the things that you needed to do in this culture. Sometimes it can be the narrow focus that we have in our culture. But in other cultures as I say, it might be, if you're hunter for instance, it might be how to pay attention to lots of different things at once in order to hunt more effectively Do American. You know, what can we do to make them do it better? And I'm afraid I think the answer to it is pretty boring which is, have lots of care givers around who love them a lot and have lots of stuff around for them to play with. And let them play without worrying too much about whether they're getting academic skills or they're making a mess. One of the things I say is, from an evolutionary point of view, probably the ideal rich environment for a baby has includes more mud, livestock, and relatives than most of us could tolerate nowadays. But I think, some pigs, a lot of dirt, bunch of uncles and cousins. That’s probably pretty good environment for babies to grow up in. but if you can't manage that. Then, a lot of cardboard boxes, bean plants, gold fish. The kinds of things you see, in fact. Sand boxes. The kinds of things you see in really great pre-schools. But when I say that, it sounds very boring. But no, here's one important thing, we know from the science that the thing that kids learn from most is other people. And particularly other people who are dedicated to taking care of them. and in most places in times in human history, babies have had not just one person, but lots of people around who were really paying attention to them around dedicated to them, cared them, or related to them. And I think the big shift in our culture is the isolation in which many children are growing up. So in fact, if we really wanted to make babies smarter, what we would do is make sure that 20% of them are growing up in poverty, make sure that even middle class parents aren't so insane because they're working so hard that they can't spend time with their kids. Make sure that pre-school workers are actually paid more than dog catchers. So the thing that’s most important is having people who are involved and engaged with the kids and also are not stress and can be involved with them. And that’s actually not boring. That actually takes a lot of work to make that happen. And it’s not something in our society does very well.