Discussion session: How do children learn with their hands?

Lisette de Jonge-Hoekstra, Karen E Adolph, Asli Özyürek, Drew H. Abney, Albert Bakker

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherAcademic


Embodied cognition is trending in developmental and educational research. The idea that the body is involved in cognitive development is, however, not new. Piaget (1970) already described that cognition results from children's interactions with objects. Thelen and Smith (1994) extended Piaget's proposal by stating that cognition never ceases to be grounded in action-perception-processes. Although the body's role in cognition is not controversial, researchers differ in how they conceptualize embodied cognition. Some researchers emphasize how children's actions and perceptions influence (new) representations. Others suggest that representations are unnecessary to explain cognitive development. Other unresolved issues include how embodied cognition develops and manifests itself across childhood, and implications for education. Regarding embodied cognition, children's hands play an important role. Children use their hands to touch, grab, feel and manipulate objects, for example. Doing so, children learn about the properties of objects and the capabilities these objects afford to them (E.J. Gibson, 2002). Furthermore, the hands are important in communication, and gestures and speech are tightly coupled. Interestingly, gestures appear to play a leading role in cognitive change, as new insights are often visible in gestures before a child puts them into words (Goldin-Meadow, 2003). Researchers have found that gestures also pave the way for new linguistic structures in spoken language (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005). As children learn and communicate with their hands, this exemplifies a close link between body and world. However, gaps in our understanding of the relations between children's manual actions, gestures, and cognition, as they develop over time and in various settings, still exist. In this discussion session, experts from different parts of the field of embodied cognition will join to discuss how children learn with their hands. Prof. Adolph has studied how infants, and people in general, learn to adjust to changes in their bodies and their environment. Prof. Özyürek's research involves bodily actions and how they interact with the development and processing of language and learning. Dr Abney studies the dynamics and development of perception, action and cognition in a wide variety of populations and contexts, including infants. Dr Bakker's research focuses on embodied cognition as students learn about mathematics. The discussion will be led by Lisette de Jonge-Hoekstra, who studies children's gestures and speech as they learn about science tasks. Together, research by the experts spans different perspectives, age groups, topics, and covers both fundamental and more applied studies, enabling bridging across the gaps in our understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May-2018
EventJean Piaget Society: 2018 - Casa Hotel Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 31-May-20181-Jun-2018


ConferenceJean Piaget Society: 2018

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