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Young Children Are Information Collectors
October 17, 2023
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
-Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948, Indian leader of non-violent campaign for India’s independence from Brita
In her article describing the premise behind her book, The Honeycomb Hypothesis: How Infants, Toddlers and Two-Year-Olds Learn Through Nature Play, Sandra Duncan describes how the actions of bees can be used as an analogy for young children’s learning.

She writes that “[bees’]repeated actions of flitting, gathering, collecting, and taking their found treasure back to the honeycomb are innate and instinctive behaviors. The same is true for very young children. They move about their environments, collect bits and pieces of information about their world, and store this data in their honeycomb brains…

Children create understandings of the world through their own actions and interactions with the environment. They must have a multitude of opportunities and experiences with (1) collecting many bits and pieces of data through patterns of play movements throughout their environments; (2) storing the information in their brains; and, (3) making connections between the bits and pieces they have collected, in order for them to construct meaningful and unique understandings, which are called mental models or schemas.”

Duncan asks, “So, how does all this happen in real life?” She answers her question this way:

“In your mind’s eye, imagine the honeycomb as a child’s brain. Each cell of the honeycomb brain contains bits and pieces of information or specific data (schemas/mental models), which the child has learned through freedom of movement and child-led play. For example, in a 2-year-old classroom, a teacher has created a special place for playing with clay…

As children play with the clay, the teacher may witness observable patterns of play such as Making & Unmaking, when they repeatedly roll the clay into a ball and then tear it into small pieces with their hands. Or, the teacher may watch a child repeatedly pat—or perhaps pound—the clay into two flat pancakes and stick a small toy in between the two pieces of clay, only to remove the toy from the clay and start all over again. These observable movements could be considered Hiding & Revealing. As children continue to experience the clay through patterns of play, they collect data about its elements, such as gooeyness, squishiness, and stickiness. Through these play experiences, children are constructing more than knowledge—they are constructing their own personal understandings about the properties of clay, and also making connections to previously established understandings. These meaningful understandings translate into developing schemas.”

The full article is now available for free on the Exchange Content Hub.


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Comments (2)

Displaying All 2 Comments
Nancy Rosenow · October 17, 2023
Lincoln , NE, United States

Well said, Gerry!

Gerry · October 17, 2023
Design4Kids & Wisconsin Nature Action Co
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

Thanks for bringing these tremendously valuable insights back around. The article and book are valuable resources and many toddler teachers have gained a great deal from them. I also love the appropriate quote from Gandhi.

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