Decades of work in psychology labs have vastly enhanced our knowledge about how children perceive, think, and reason. But it has also encouraged a distorted view of children, argues psychologist Susan Engel in this provocative and passionate book—a view that has affected every parent who has tried to debate with a six-year-old. By focusing on the thinking processes prized by adults, too many expert opinions have rendered children as little adults. What has been lost is what is truly unique and mysterious—the childlike quality of a child’s mind.
Engel draws on keen observations and descriptive research to take us into the nearly forgotten, untidy, phantasmagorical world of children’s inner lives. She reminds us that children fuse thought and emotion, play and reality; they swing wildly between different ways of interpreting and acting in the world. But just as a gawky child may grow into a beauty, illogical and sometimes maddening childishness can foreshadow great adult ability.
Engel argues that the “scientist in a crib” view encourages parents and teachers to expect more logical reasoning and emotional self-control from children than they possess. She provides a concise and valuable overview of what modern developmental psychologists have learned about children’s developing powers of perception and capacity for reasoning, but also suggests new ways of studying children that better capture the truth about their young minds.