The drive to experiment seems to be innate…What are built in are techniques for discovering all the things that aren’t built in. Experimentation, in children or in scientists, provides us with a continuous series of shocks, little unexpected confrontations with nature.…When we actively experiment on the world, we are really and truly interacting with a real world outside ourselves, and we can’t tell beforehand what lessons that real world will teach.
Children’s brains and minds are radically different from ours, so their experience must be too.
…it’s not that two-year-olds pretend because we give them dolls; instead we give them dolls because they love to pretend. Even without toys toddlers are just as likely to turn common objects—food, pebbles, grass, you, themselves—into something else. And even in cultures where pretend play is discouraged, rather than cultivated…children continue to do it anyway.
Play is the signature of childhood. It’s a living, visible manifestation of imagination and learning in action.
Parents and other caregivers are far more responsible for what actually happens to children than children are themselves. Of course, this is a good thing. It frees children to explore in the playful and unconstrained way that is so important for knowledge and imagination. But it also means that caregivers have a unique kind of responsibility for their children’s childhood.
Babies start pretending when they are as young as eighteen months old or even younger. Pretending involves a kind of present counterfactual thinking—imagining the way things might be different. Even babies who can’t talk yet, and are barely walking, can still pretend. A one-and-a-half-year-old baby may fastidiously comb her hair with a pencil, or rest her head on a pillow dramatically pretending to be asleep, giggling all the while.
Very young children are consumed with insatiable curiosity about causes, as their unstoppable “why?” questions show.
Children are the world’s wildest and most enthusiastic creators of fiction.
Presenting something that is even subtly unexpected immediately rivets babies’ attention and they will reliably look at unexpected events for longer than expected ones. Babies seem to have an infinitely voracious appetite for the unexpected.
Babies and young children learn so much so quickly that their entire stock of knowledge turns over every few months—they go through whole paradigm shifts between their third and fourth birthday.
We can control one very important aspect of our children’s adult lives. We can determine whether they grow up to be adults who remember leafy playgrounds and picnics and affectionate parents. We can’t ensure that our children will have a happy future—there, all we can do is move the odds around. But we can at least try to ensure that they will have a happy past. This applies to the collective we, as well as the individual I. Of course, there are many mothers and fathers, at least 20 percent according to the latest numbers, who have so few resources they can’t ensure that their children have any of these things, no matter how much they may want to. We have a collective responsibility to give these children, who are just as helpless as any other human children, a happy past as well.
If mutual joy is a natural route to benevolence, the cycle of anger upon anger is a natural route to violence. Most of the aggression we see in young children is this sort of “reactive aggression”—aggression, anger, and even violence that are a response to a threat from someone else.