“The ability to take the perspective of others is a developmental accomplishment.”
Provided to MedicalXpress by Northwestern University
What do young children from diverse cultural communities think about the natural world? How does a child’s existing knowledge and beliefs influence their subsequent learning? Questions like these have remained unanswered, largely because research in this area has focused almost exclusively on urban and suburban children living in majority-culture communities.
New research, the result of a long-standing collaboration among researchers from Northwestern University, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the American Indian Center of Chicago Education Department and the University of Washington, sheds light on this topic. The study reveals ecological knowledge in 4-year-old children from urban Native American, rural Native American and urban non-Native American communities.
Together, the researchers designed an open-ended task to tap into preschool children’s knowledge in all three communities. They created a forest diorama play set, furnished with realistic models of trees, other plants and a pond. Children were introduced to the forest scene, offered a set of realistic toy plants and animals, and simply asked to play. This offered an opportunity to observe how children from each community engineered interactions in the natural world.
“Children’s free play in this context revealed many similarities, but also some compelling differences among the communities,” said Sandra Waxman, the Louis W. Menk Chair in Psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and faculty fellow in the University’s Institute for Policy Research.
Children from all communities engaged actively with the diorama, talking and playing freely. Importantly, the rural Native American children were especially verbal.