The concept of “development” is critical to understanding the changes in children’s thinking, such as the development of language, causal reasoning, and rudimentary mathematical concepts.
Young children are actively engaged in making sense of their worlds. In some particular domains, such as biological and physical causality, number, and language, they have strong predispositions to learn rapidly and readily. These predispositions support and may even make possible early learning and pave the way for competence in early schooling. Yet even in these domains, children still have a great deal of learning to do.
Children’s early understanding of the perceptual and physical world may jump-start the learning process, even making learning possible, but one should look with caution for ways in which early knowledge may impede later learning. For example, children who treat rational numbers as they had treated whole numbers will experience trouble ahead. Awareness of these roadblocks to learning could help teachers anticipate the difficulty.
Although children learn readily in some domains, they can learn practically anything by sheer will and effort. When required to learn about nonprivileged domains they need to develop strategies of intentional learning. In order to develop strategic competence in learning, children need to understand what it means to learn, who they are as learners, and how to go about planning, monitoring, revising, and reflecting upon their learning and that of others. Children lack knowledge and experience but not reasoning ability. Although young children are inexperienced, they reason facilely with the knowledge they have.
Children are both problem solvers and problem generators: children attempt to solve problems presented to them, and they also seek novel challenges. They refine and improve their problem-solving strategies not only in the face of failure, but also by building on prior success. They persist because success and understanding are motivating in their own right.
Adults help make connections between new situations and familiar ones for children. Children’s curiosity and persistence are supported by adults who direct their attention, structure their experiences, support their learning attempts, and regulate the complexity and difficulty levels of information for them.
Children, thus, exhibit capacities that are shaped by environmental experiences and the individuals who care for them. Caregivers provide supports, such as directing children’s attention to critical aspects of events, commenting on features that should be noticed, and in many other ways providing structure to the information. Structure is critical for learning and for moving toward understanding information. Development and learning are not two