Investigation and problem solving

Watching very young children it quickly becomes apparent that what they are doing is investigating. Before they develop a language it is doubtful they are looking for answers because looking for an answer is a future prediction for which they are not cognitively ready. Young children are absorbed in the moment. It is easy to observe the depth of their focus and concentration. So what's the point? The point is investigation itself. A child doesn't have to know a brick is a brick, it's just an object that has caught their attention, they may handle it, try to eat it, bang it on the floor, throw it. This is all investigation. Once they reach an age when they begin to develop speech they may be told, 'Brick, brick,' And the association of the object with a word can begin. Prior to this it is all about the purest form of investigation for its own sake. Intuitive learning at its very best. 

Before children learn to speak they start making connections, perhaps putting one brick on top of another or hitting a rattle. In so doing they are learning something about predictability. A very young child cannot know that objects, like bricks, stay the same all the time after all they've only just arrived at this remarkable place, so they check them out again and again. We may think it very cute when a baby hits a rattle and 'plays' with it, but there is a whole lot more going on than our concept of play. They are absorbing primal information about objects. In the case of a rattle, the feel of the material, the shape and the sound. It is impossible to take this too far without indulging in adult guessing games, but investigation is a given.

As the child gets older the investigation continues, but now something else starts to happen, they begin to make connections and draw conclusions. This object will do this and it is predictable, what it did yesterday it will do again today. eureka! A new form of investigation begins, investigation towards conclusions. They will spend less time with one toy or object and begin to be more active. This may appear to an adult mind as if they wont settle, but that may be a false projection on our part. They may not yet be at an age when they will settle to a sustained activity, say with building bricks, building them up and knocking them down, playing with shapes and formations of shapes. We don't know very much at all about what is going on in a child, it's a guessing game most of the time, but it's a fair bet it's a great deal more than we think. 

The more time we can spend with our children, the more we can observe, it's valuable time for both parent and child, and it's impossible to express how valuable interactive play is for the child. We are social creatures, something it is fair to assume is innate, at the very least feeding, bathing, clothing, carrying, shopping, visiting are all social activities that babies are subject to constantly. One to one activity where the focus is entirely on the child is always going to be beneficial. 

The value of play is breaking new ground and it is worth watching Stuart Brown says play is more than fun in the resource section on this site. They are now discovering that people who play are more creative, innovative, adventurous and so on. 

Moving on to school, the tendency is to move away from investigative exploration to taught orderly subjects. There is no question that reading, writing and arithmetic are vital and valuable skills, but these should not come at the loss of investigation, which at this stage can be referred to as the habit of enquiry, an enquiring mind is a mind that will enquire for life. Or, as Sir William Haley put it, 'Education would be so much more effective if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they don't know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.'

Problem solving.

let's start with answers. they are the easy bit. Answers come in a moment, when all the pieces fall into place and make sense and we suddenly understand. Usually as a eureka, or aha moment. Problem solving is 99% investigation and 1% revelation. These days many of us are afraid of problems, or get annoyed or frustrated by them. Facing a problem is a risk because we don't know if there is an answer until we find it, how can we? So facing a problem is to face uncertainty and, of course, most of us are schooled towards certainty and answers, not risk taking. This entire site consists of 40 years of investigation, grappling with what seemed vast unknowns at times. Some questions stayed on the back burner for years being allowed to simmer almost unseen, but not forgotten until they burst forth, usually quite unexpectedly in the most unlikely places. Driving a car, flying a kite, eating a meal, when shazzam, kerpow, got it! The whole concept of intuitive learning came that way and what a vast landscape that opened up. 

Investigation is probably the highest thing we can do, it allows us to be creative, innovative, to think round corners, get outside the box, try any road and if we meet a dead end, there is always another road. It is fantastically exciting. Watch any child. 


2011 Keith Lindsay-Cameron.