The Cradle of Culture and What Children Know about Writing and Numbers before Being Taught

The Cradle of Culture and What Children Know about Writing and Numbers before Being Taught

The Cradle of Culture and What Children Know about Writing and Numbers before Being Taught

The Cradle of Culture and What Children Know about Writing and Numbers before Being Taught

Synopsis

This book provides a thrilling description of preliterate children's developing ideas about writing and numerals, and it illustrates well the many ways in which cultural artifacts influence the mind and vice versa. Remarkably, children treat writing and numerals as distinct even before they have received any formal training on the topic, and well before they learn how to use writing to represent messages and numerals to represent quantities. In this revolutionary new book, Liliana Tolchinsky argues that preliterate children's experiences with writing and numerals play an essential and previously unsuspected role in children's subsequent development. In this view, learning notations, such as writing is not just a matter of acquiring new instruments for communicating existing knowledge. Rather, there is a continual interaction between children's understanding of the features of a notational system and their understanding of the corresponding domain of knowledge. The acquisition of an alphabetic writing system transforms children's view of language, and the acquisition of a formal system of enumeration transforms children's understanding of numbers. Written in an engaging narrative style, and richly illustrated with historical examples, case studies, and charming descriptions of children's behavior, this book is aimed not only at cognitive scientists, but also at educators, parents, and anyone interested in how children develop in a cultural context.

Excerpt

Our personal history begins with the episodes that remain etched in our memories. Similarly, the history of social communities begins with the records and traces of their deeds and beliefs. This book is about the two main recording systems in our culture: written language and numerals. 1 approach these two notational systems from diverse perspectives, including historical, semiotic, and psychological perspectives, but I do so with one aim: to demonstrate that children raised in a literate community have their own path to writing and numerals and that this path is worthwhile for psychologists, teachers, and parents to understand.

The view of development that constitutes my conceptual framework is deeply rooted in constructivist epistemological principles that stem from the work of Jean Piaget. Piagetian conceptions have been severely undermined by both sociocultural and nativist paradigms—the former arguing for identifying development with social internalization, and the latter arguing for hard-wired, built-in knowledge. In my view, however, Piagetian concepts still provide the most constructive, consistent, and deep view of human development.

I depart, however, from the classical Piagetian paradigm by stressing the importance of specific symbolic systems for development. My claim is that the particular features of writing and of written numeration play an important role in the learning process. I attempt to show that the acquisition of writing and numerals is characterized by a constant interaction between children's implicit knowledge and the particular formal features of the two systems. That is why learning notational systems is not just a matter of acquiring a new instrument for communicating existing knowledge; it involves cognitive change within a . . .

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