Children learn quite a bit from their older siblings, according to new research from Concordia University. These teaching moments, initiated by both the older and younger siblings, tend to occur naturally and also incorporate a variety of instructional techniques.
The study, published in the Journal of Cognition and Development, was conducted by Nina Howe, Ph.D., and her team from the Centre for Research in Human Development at Concordia University.
The researchers were able to observe and record spontaneous play between two siblings (ages four and six) during six 90-minute sessions in the homes of 39 middle-class families in Canada. Each family had two parents who shared the caretaking responsibilities.
The children were encouraged to play together, but not given particular instructions. Researchers observed the children engage in several spontaneous teaching moments, from learning to count to learning how to rub chalk off a blackboard. Often, the older children would launch into a teaching moment unasked, although sometimes the younger sibling asked for help.
Howe noted that although she anticipated observing some teaching, these occasions happened even more frequently than she expected.
“The extent and what would go on surprised us. While it was sometimes brief, it was sometimes quite extended,” she said.
Also, observing children in their home environment was quite different from watching them in the lab setting.
“Something else that surprised us was what was being taught,” she said. “Lab experiments often focus on how-to instruction, such as the steps in building a tower of blocks. That’s what we call procedural knowledge, which older children often like to teach.”
But in the home, younger siblings were even more likely to ask their older siblings questions related to conceptual knowledge, such as how to tell the difference between a circle and a square or how to distinguish the days of the week.
Given the extent and frequency of these sibling-to-sibling teaching moments, Howe suggests that parents should allow their children plenty of uninterrupted playtime.
“Give them the time and space to interact together, and have things in the home to promote teaching and learning, both toys and opportunities for kids to be together,” she said.
Not only does this type of playtime learning encourage the natural sibling bond but also broadens the ways that children learn. “Sometimes people take the point of view that children only learn by being taught directly by adults, but it is evident that they are also learning from each other,” Howe said.
Source: Concordia University