Messy Children Make Better Learners

“It’s the material that makes many nonsolids,” Samuelson notes, “and how children name them.”

The setting matters, too, it seems. Children in a high chair were more apt to identify and name the food than those in other venues, such as seated at a table, the researchers found.

“It turns out that being in a high chair makes it more likely you’ll get messy, because kids know they can get messy there,” says Samuelson, the senior author on the paper.

The authors say the exercise shows how children’s behavior, environment (or setting), and exploration help them acquire an early vocabulary—learning that is linked to better later cognitive development and functioning.

“It may look like your child is playing in the high chair, throwing things on the ground, and they may be doing that, but they are getting information out of (those actions),”

Samuelson contends. “And, it turns out, they can use that information later. That’s what the high chair did. Playing with these foods there actually helped these children in the lab, and they learned the names better.”

“It’s not about words you know, but words you’re going to learn,” Samuelson adds.

Lynn Perry, who helped design the study and analyze the data as part of her doctoral studies at the UI, is the first author on the paper. Johanna Burdinie, who was an UI undergraduate during the project, is a contributing author.

Notes about this psychology and learning research

The National Institutes of Health (grant number: R01 HD045713) funded the research. Burdinie was funded by a fellowship from the Iowa Center for Research for Undergraduates.

Written by Richard C. Lewis
Contact: Richard C. Lewis – University of Iowa[1]
Source: University of Iowa press release[2]
Image Source: The image is credited to Tim Schoon and is adapted from the University of Iowa press release.
Original Research: Abstract[3] for “Highchair philosophers: the impact of seating context-dependent exploration on children’s naming biases” by Lynn K. Perry, Larissa K. Samuelson and Johanna B. Burdinie in Developmental Science. Published online December 2 2013 doi:10.1111/desc.12147

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