Cover: The Intellectual Lives of Children, from Harvard University PressCover: The Intellectual Lives of Children in HARDCOVER

The Intellectual Lives of Children

On the Harvard Graduate School of Education podcast EdCast, listen to Susan Engel discuss why it’s important to nurture young children’s exploratory ideas and behaviors:

“A remarkable book. Whether you are an educator, parent, or simply a curious reader, you will come to see, hear, and understand children in new ways.”—Howard Gardner, author of Multiple Intelligences

“A fascinating read for parents who wonder, simply, what is my child thinking? Why do they love collecting? Where did that idea come from? A celebration of children’s innovation and sense of wonder.”—Emily Oster, author of Expecting Better

“Combining insight, scientific acumen, and exquisite narrative, The Intellectual Lives of Children allows readers to peer into the minds of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers as they explore and learn in everyday moments, emphasizing what constitutes real learning.”—Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Science

Adults easily recognize children’s imagination at work as they play. Yet most of us know little about what really goes on inside their heads as they encounter the problems and complexities of the world around them. In The Intellectual Lives of Children, Susan Engel brings together an extraordinary body of research to explain how toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary-aged children think. By understanding the science behind how children observe their world, explain new phenomena, and solve problems, parents and teachers will be better equipped to guide the next generation to become perceptive and insightful thinkers.

The activities that engross kids can seem frivolous, but they can teach us a great deal about cognitive development. A young girl’s bug collection reveals important lessons about how children ask questions and organize information. Watching a young boy scoop mud can illuminate the process of invention. When a child ponders the mystery of death, we witness how children build ideas. But adults shouldn’t just stand around watching. When parents are creative, it can rub off on their children. Engel shows how parents and teachers can stimulate children’s curiosity by presenting them with mysteries to solve.

Unfortunately, in our homes and schools, we too often train children to behave rather than nurture their rich and active minds. This focus is misguided, since it is with their first inquiries and inventions—and the adult world’s response to them—that children lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning and good thinking. Engel offers readers a scientifically based approach that will encourage children’s intellectual growth and set them on the path of inquiry, invention, and ideas.

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