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Alison Gopnik on Young Children’s Intelligence and the Role of Play

A fascinating piece in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine by Berkeley psychologist Alison Gopnik details recent studies showing that not only do children possess powerful learning abilities at very young ages but by their preschool years, they are capable of using probabilities to learn how things work. Findings such as these need to be cast in the context of how young children learn and Gopnik does an admirable job of pointing out the differences between optimal learning environments for young children and the goal-oriented environments kids encounter later in school.

Two recent NIEER briefs address points brought up by Gopnik’s piece. “Connecting Neurons, Concepts, and People: Brain Development and its Implications” summarizes what science tells us about young children’s brain development and corrects some of the common misunderstandings about it. “Math and Science in Preschool: Policies and Practice” reviews the research addressing development of math and science in preschool and makes recommendations for early education policy in these domains. Research by Gopnik, NIEER Scientific Advisory Board member Rochel Gelman and others is at least partly responsible for the recent emphasis on math and science in early education.


The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, conducts and disseminates independent research and analysis to inform early childhood education policy.