competencies. The extremely important guiding role that caregivers have in children’s cognitive development is discussed further below.

Language development studies illustrate that children’s biological capacities are set into motion by their environments. The biological underpinnings enable children to become fluent in language by about age three, but if they are not in a language-using environment, they will not develop this capacity. Experience is important; but the opportunity to use the skills— practice—is also important. Janellen Huttenlocher, for example, has shown that language has to be practiced as an ongoing and active process and not merely passively observed by watching television (Huttenlocher, cited in Newsweek, 1996).


So far we have reviewed research that has tapped into infants’ amazing competencies that biologically predispose them to learn. These predispositions help prepare human infants for the complex challenges of adaptive learning that come later in life. In order to thrive, children must still engage in self-directed and other-directed learning, even in areas of early competence. In this section we look at how children learn about things that they would not be predisposed to attend to, such as chess or the capital cities of countries. We discuss how children come to be able to learn almost anything through effort and will.

It has generally been assumed that in the arena of deliberate, intentional, mindful, and strategic learning, young children are woefully inadequate. But recent scientific studies have revealed hitherto unsuspected strategic competence and metacognitive knowledge in young children.

The Importance of Capacity, Strategies, Knowledge, and Metacognition

A traditional view of learning and development was that young children know and can do little, but with age (maturation) and experience (of any kind) they become increasingly competent. From this view, learning is development and development is learning. There is no need to postulate special forms of learning nor for learners to be particularly active (see Bijou and Baer, 1961; Skinner, 1950). Yet even in privileged domains, as described above, this passive view does not fully apply.

In addition, research in another major area began to show how learners process information, remember, and solve problems in nonprivileged domains. Known as information processing (Simon, 1972; Newell and Simon, 1972), this branch of psychology was quickly adopted to explain developments in children’s learning. All human learners have limitations to their

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