Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky proposed that children best develop beliefs, values, and problem-solving skills by sharing collaborative learning experiences with more knowledgeable members of society. Their understanding of the world continuously evolves during this socially mediated process.
Four Elementary Mental Functions
Infants are born with four elementary mental functions: attention, perception, sensation, and memory. As children interact with their social and cultural environment, they learn, grow, and build upon this foundation to develop higher mental functions they’ll need to eventually navigate their lives independently.
Zone of Proximal Development
Vygotsky coined the term: Zone of Proximal Development: the space between what a learner can do without assistance and what a learner can do with adult guidance or while collaborating with more capable peers. Lower limits are set by the problem-solving potential when working alone; upper limits represent the height of a child’s potential when supported by guidance (scaffolding). The Zone of Proximal Development constantly evolves as children reach new levels of accomplishment.
“Scaffolding” helps children learn and ascend through the Zone of Proximal Development. By asking the right questions, providing the right materials, and sharing useful explanations, mothers can offer the right help at the right time in the right way. By understanding the current zone, mom can gauge the appropriate level of challenge and provide activities that allow children to stretch skills within their Zone. Mom can share hints and ideas, rephrase questions, and ask children to restate their assumptions or answers in other ways, reinforcing learning through paraphrasing. As adults engage children in conversation and encourage hands-on play, we strengthen and fortify concepts until they are ready to progress to the next level.
Importance of Social & Cultural Interaction
Vygotsky stated that children learn from the beliefs and attitudes modeled within their culture, and that social interaction is the primary driver used to shape mental abilities.
Importance of Language
Vygotsky viewed language as our greatest resource and is the basis of all learning, supporting other core activities such as verbal communication, reading, and writing. Through language, logic, reasoning, and reflective thinking, real understanding is possible.
Importance of Creativity
In the imaginary worlds of heroes and villains, children who test and stretch mental boundaries are establishing the foundation for their identity and personality. Vygotsky wrote, “Somehow our society has formed a one-sided view of the human personality, and for some reason everyone understood giftedness and talent only as it applied to the intellect. But it is possible not only to be talented in one’s thoughts but also to be talented in one’s feelings as well. The emotional part of the personality has no less value, than the other sides, and it also should be the object and concern of education, as well as intellect and will. Love can reach the same level of talent and even genius, as the discovery of differential calculus. Here and there human behavior has assumed exceptional and grandiose form.”
Children with Disabilities
We know that social interactions play a critical role in learning and development. It is so important for children with disabilities to be included in regular activities, especially with their peers. For these kids, the most debilitating consequence is not so much the original disability, but rather that it might change the way they participate in activities within their culture. All children learn and develop differently. Interactions and play foster cooperation and creativity, stimulating children to overcome cognitive limitations to learn and grow within their own Zone of Proximal Development.
With the Zone of Proximal Development at the heart of Vygotsky’s theories, the cooperative relationship between adult and child is the most important part of the learning process. Heavily influenced by social and cultural factors, adults and more capable peers can help children ascend within their constantly expanding Zone of Proximal Development. Social interactions, largely driven by culture, are the most significant drivers of learning. The root of learning is in language; when we enrich communication capabilities, we propel learning and development.
Vygotsky analyzes the relationship between words and consciousness, arguing that speech is social in its origins and that only as children develop does it become internalized verbal thought.
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