Why children and babies are the best learners on the planet

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Behind the brains of babies, children, and the elderly. Photo by Shutterstock.

As any parent will tell you, babies and young children are constantly exploring and incredibly fast learners. In fact, children are the best learners on the planet — faster than any computer algorithm. From an evolutionary perspective, human childhood is geared for learning. The longer the period of immaturity in childhood — that is, being well fed and taken care of — the more a baby’s brain develops, and the more exploration a child can do. So how important is that freedom of exploration, and should parents and caregivers try to shape their children’s future? 

KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian talks with UC Berkeley psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik. In her book “The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children,” Gopnik observes that parents have the tendency to behave like carpenters,  trying to shape who their children will be as adults. A better approach, says Gopnik, is to act like a gardener — gently nurturing and cultivating every new growth.


Alison Gopnik Professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where she runs the Cognitive Development and Learning Lab. Photo by Rod Searcey.

Credits

Guest:

  • Alison Gopnik - Author; Professor of psychology and philosophy, University of California, Berkeley, where she runs the Cognitive Development and Learning Lab - @AlisonGopnik

Producer:

Andrea Brody