Early childhood education

The limits of development of human children

The biggest evolutionary advantage of humans, against the mightiest of other animals and nature, lies in the ‘completely lay and clueless’ children born to humans. They could be adapted to all kinds of conditions to survive and thrive as they are not genetically coded with even basic survival skills; for human children it is all learned behaviour i.e. taught by other people around or learnt through thinking and experiences. On the contrary, all other animals are born with significant range of skill/’knowledge’ to survive and thrive.
More surprisingly, we were not aware of the special power of learning of human newborn until 1930’s when Konrad Lorenz demonstrated that newly hatched geese have an innate instinct to follow movement of any creature ahead of them (called imprinting). Of course, this God-given preprogramming helps vulnerable goslings to accept their mother as their natural guide and protector. Interestingly, this instinct can be manipulated – Lorenz took the place of geese’s mother and demonstrated that the young birds would automatically follow him. This behaviour could not have been learned, because it was the first experience of the newly born birds.
Another zoologist, Nikolaas Tinbergen, gathered tiny poults (young domestic turkey) in a pen (an enclosure for confining livestock) and “flew” cardboard shapes resembling goose (a long neck in front of outstretched wings) over them. There was no remarkable behavioural change in the young turkeys. However, when the cardboards were replaced
by those resembling a hawk (short neckline and a longer body), the young turkeys screamed and ran for cover.
Tinbergen concluded that, even without a mother to teach them about the danger from hawks, the young turkeys could easily sense potential danger.
Similarly, a kangaroo rat instantly (and instinctively) performs an escape jump when it hears the sound of a striking rattlesnake. The kangaroo rat performs this lifesaving reaction even if it has never before encountered a snake.
Spiders spin both sticky and non-sticky web. With help of these threads, they catch themselves if they fall, make nests, prey for food, in fact some young spiders even spin “parachute” threads to catch the wind and travel many miles by air. Who teaches spiders how to achieve these feats? Nobody!
The extensive ‘God-given preprogramming’ instinct among all the animals limit their opportunity to learn from life.
However, the extent of learned behaviour, i.e. the possibilities of growth and development of human kids, is almost limitless and children completely respond to the environment they grow up in as they have negligible intuitive abilities for life. Here are some extreme instances of how human children easily (and permanently) adopt to even the harshest of environments they are made to grow up in:
a. Ukrainian dog girl
Left to live in a kennel by her abusive and neglectful parents from the ages of 3 to 8, Oxana Malaya grew
up with no other company than the dogs she shared the kennel with. When she was found in 1991, she was unable to speak, choosing only to bark, and ran around on all fours and remains cognitively impaired even later.
b. Cambodian jungle girl
While herding buffalo along the jungle’s edge in Cambodia at the age of 8, Rochom P’ngieng mysteriously disappeared. Eighteen years later, in 2007, she was found and brought back but fled back into the jungle, unable to learn the local language or to adapt to human culture, in May 2010.
c. Madina
Abandoned until her discovery at the age of 3, she lived with dogs. When found, she knew only two words, yes and no, though she preferred to growl like a dog. Though her development has been hampered, she is still a very young child and caretakers believe she can lead a relatively normal lifestyle when she grows up.
It is not difficult to imagine that only human children have this kind of plasticity in accepting any environmental conditions. No other animal can ever behave ‘human-like’ even after millennium of association with humans e.g. domesticated cattle, dogs, horses.
Human children have ‘unlimited capacity’ to grow and develop on their own.
A note on this chapter:
The central message of this chapter is very simple – it’s never too late; one can catch up on the developmental deficiencies in any of the stages of development, with some extra focus and effort.
A lot of making up is possible till the end of adolescence stage; take charge and achieve all the developmental goals of the various stages of growth!
To sum, the key developmental goals of the four stages of growth to adulthood are:
Infancy – being a totally dependent stage, target goals can’t be talked about for this stage
Childhood – wide range of social and emotional competencies by the end of childhood (i.e. focus on inter- and intra-personal development)
Juvenile – being well on way to be independent learner by the end of juvenile stage (focus on language and logical development)
Adolescence – being able to capitalize on physical growth (focus on rounding up development, riding on rapid physical development)
Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships, http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/reports_and_working_papers/working_papers/wp1/
Children’s Emotional Development Is Built into the Architecture of Their Brains, http://developingchild.harvard.edu/index.php/resources/reports_and_working_papers/
The Timing and Quality of Early Experiences Combine to Shape Brain Architecture,http://developingchild.harvard.edu/index.php/resources/reports_and_working_papers/working_papers/wp5/
Matt Ridley, Nature via Nurture (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), pp. 152–153.
N. Tinbergen, The Study of Instinct (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951), pp. 77–78. www.scienceclarified.com/everyday/Real-Life-Biology-Vol-3-Earth-Science-Vol-1/Instinct-and-Learning-Real-life- applications.html.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *