Academic journal article Trames

Does a Dozen Years Change a Thing? Estonian Children's Drawings of Europe in 2000 and 2012

Academic journal article Trames

Does a Dozen Years Change a Thing? Estonian Children's Drawings of Europe in 2000 and 2012

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

All knowledge of the world is gained through different means, i.e. direct action and observation of the world, as well as through indirect means such as listening to verbal explanations or reading (Brewer, Chinn, and Samarapungavan 2000, Kikas 2003) and that knowledge has to be integrated to form scientific understanding. Examining children's geographical knowledge has a long history. For example, Piaget (1928) examined children's concept of country and found that children under the age of nine are likely to be confused on the issue. Piaget's work was later replicated and criticized by Jahoda (1963) who showed that 6 to 11-yearold children are progressively less confused about the relations between cities and countries. Jahoda (1963, 1964) claimed that conceptual understanding and repre sentation of spatial relationships can be very differently developed. It was demonstrated that some 6 to 7-year-olds had a good understanding of spatial relationships whereas even some 10 to 11-year-olds did not have any knowledge of the spatial relationship between their hometown and country. Therefore, a general understanding of spatial relationships does not automatically indicate that the child can construct a spatially correct representation. Instead, conceptual development proceeds from first spontaneous concepts that are tied to direct experience and cannot be used to form abstractions to scientific concepts that provide the understanding that any concept can be formulated in terms of other concepts through intermediate steps (Vygotsky 1934/1997).

As travelling is one of the most obvious sources of personal knowledge in geography, one would expect to find that personal experience with travelling forms knowledge upon which representations of one's surroundings are built. Axia et al. (1998) demonstrated that even children who had not studied geography at school and had to rely on their own spontaneous knowledge (derived from TV, internet, or travelling) reproduced better those countries which were neighbouring their home country. However, other studies failed to find any systematic relationship between travel experience and either effect or knowledge, and claim that travelling experience is not the main source of geographical knowledge but only as a helping factor (Barrett et al. 1997, Barrett and Farroni 1996). Furthermore, research in other areas of conceptual development has shown that knowledge of central facts about a topic is needed before learners can take the more global perspective and proceed beyond descriptions of the imminently visible world (Hannust and Kikas 2010).

In the 1990s, Barrett and his colleagues provided new knowledge about children's acquisition of European identity (Barrett 1996) and on their images of European people (Barrett and Short 1992). These studies demonstrated that with increasing age children develop a better factual knowledge about Europe, for example they can name more European countries. According to Spencer and Blades (2006) children start to gain knowledge of their own country from about five years of age and by eight years they are rapidly expanding their knowledge of other countries. These studies indicated that mental maps are important structures to help organise geographical knowledge (Spencer and Blades 2006) and therefore research about knowledge of geography should examine how these maps are constructed.

One methodological problem that the research of children's geographical knowledge faced was how to externalise people's mental map of the environment (Evans 1980). For example, when young children are asked to draw maps they may fail the task not because they lack the knowledge but because they have difficulty in combining perspectives and are uncertain how to depict their knowledge on paper (Blades and Spencer 1994, Karmiloff-Smith 1992), which in turn may lead to an underestimation of their knowledge (Spencer and Darvizeh 1981). Barrett and Farroni (1996) who examined the knowledge through geographical-spatial location (the relationship between cities, mountains, rivers) and the route (how to get from one point to another) concluded that although drawing maps is the best way to examine children's spatial knowledge, it is difficult to gain full understanding of children's geographical knowledge only on the basis of drawings. …

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