Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dialogues with Children

Today, I will wrap up my thoughts about Chapter 1 of Awakening Children's Minds. Laura Berk concludes this introduction with an explanation of sociocultural theory, originated by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky who conducted his research in the 1920s and 1930s. Again, Charlotte Mason anticipated this theory, which Laura explains in the following quote from page 31:
According to sociocultural theory, cooperative dialogues between children and more knowledgeable members of their society are necessary for children to acquire the ways of thinking and behaving that make up a community's culture. These dialogues occur frequently and spontaneously as adults and children spend time together--in everyday situations such as household chores, mealtimes, play, storybook reading, outings in the community, and children's efforts to acquire all sorts of skills. Although interactions that arise between adults and children may seem mundane and inconsequential at first glance, sociocultural theory emphasizes that they are powerful sources of children's learning.

Here is what Charlotte wrote in explaining the atmosphere of education:
We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby's needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges (page 96).
The purpose of these dialogues is not to shape behavior but to guide the thinking behind the behavior. Laura explains, "The sociocultural vision is very different from behaviorism, which views development as directly imposed, or shaped, by external forces. Instead, children are active agents, contributing to the creation of their own thought processes by collaborating with more experienced cultural members in meaningful activities." My favorite series for illustrating the collaboration between children and parents in meaningful activities are the Little House and Little Britches series! Charlotte formed habits in non-behavioristic ways, too, "'Sow an act,' we are told, 'reap a habit.' 'Sow a habit, reap a character.' But we must go a step further back, we must sow the idea or notion which makes the act worth while (page 102)." Her way of sowing ideas were through living books, meaningful activities, and dialogues. Here is a short list of situations in which she illustrated this process:

She chided mothers for sending children outside when they should take them out (pages 43-44).

She illustrated seeing with a dialogue about daisies (page 46).

She illustrated habit formation with two different collaborations: lacing boots (page 120) and shutting doors (pages 122-123).

She recommended The Purple Jar for the habit of attention (page 148).

Her book The Formation of Character is full of collaboration!

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