Do children learn equally from overheard interactions and direct interactions?
Is directed communication a universal feature of all early learning environments or is it specific to certain communities?
Children depend on others to learn language, to learn how to act in culturally appropriate ways, and to learn to engage with the physical environment effectively. A great deal of current research has focused on identifying the aspects of social interaction that foster these kinds of learning. Some theorists have proposed that child-directed interactions are critical. In these interactions, the adult and child engage together in visual attention while the adult directly addresses the child to communicated relevant information (e.g., the name of an object, or the proper use of an artifact). These interactions have been argued to be the critical foundation from which human social learning and culture emerge, but directed interactions are uncommon in many children’s lives. The National Science Foundations Development and Learning Sciences program supports this project.
We are exploring the presence of child directed communication, and its role in information early learning for children from two cultural communities: A Yucatec Mayan community in Southeastern Mexico, where past research has shown that children have many opportunities to observe others, and a U.S. community, where children may regularly experience directed interactions with caregivers. We are investigating the contexts under which children learn actions form other people. Children will learn about some new toys from either someone directly teaching them or they will observe other people acting on these toys. We are also exploring how children effectively learn words from others where we will show children some new objects and label them either while directly addressing the child or addressing another individual.
- Shneidman, L., Todd, R. & Woodward, A.L. (in press). Why do child-directed interactions support imitative learning in young children. PlosOne.
- Shneidman, L., Sootsman-Buresh, J., Shimpi, P., Knight-Schwartz, J., & Woodward, A.L. (2009). Social experience, social attention, and word learning in an overhearing paradigm. Language Learning and Development. 5, 4, 266-281.
- Shneidman, L. A. and Goldin-Meadow, S. (2012), Language input and acquisition in a Mayan village: how important is directed speech?. Developmental Science, 15: 659–673.