String Figures and Early Higher Cognitive Learning

A recent article in Science magazine discussed the windows of learning which every person experiences early in their life. Development of the senses begins before birth and the language window begins in infancy and closes early in childhood. That is why a second language is so hard to learn if one begins much past nine or 10 years of age. My special interest as a teacher is the window of higher cognition which begins early in childhood and gradually diminishes by adolescence.

It is surprising that so much of the plasticity and ease of learning occurs during childhood, and I think that a major mistake is made by the educational establishment in NOT taking advantage of this opportunity to develop and enrich one's learning skills early on. It is much harder to develop these skills as one nears puberty and beyond. It is a mistake to underestimate the capacity of a young child to handle complex higher cognition learning.

So how should a school system go about incorporating a strategy to take full advantage of this opportunity. I have a simple plan to jump start this process at minimal cost and disruption of the current schools.

i have been involved with teaching string figures to children and teenagers for more than thirty years and have come to some hard and fast conclusions.

• The hands (especially intricate finger patternings) are a remarkably useful tool for the flowering of the brain's potential.

• Children and teenagers who participate in learning activities using the hands (playing instruments, learning string figures, etc.) do much better in learning all other subject matters than those who have no such experience. I taught in Music and Art high school in New York City and the instrumentalists tended to be the best all round students.

• It is crucial that this training start early and then continue throughout the time period when the human animal is predilected to learn (say four to 24).

• I believe the brain's explosive growth in the evolution of humans was first led by the hands and only later by the throat, tongue, larynx speech acquisition.

• It is a sadness that modern society tends to devalue the hands insofar as what an educated person takes pride in as accomplishment. My father put it best, "The man who washes his hands before he works makes more than one who washes his hands after."

The first five years of formal schooling should be for preparing the basic systemic neuronal capacities. Then comes an extended time for learning.

This period of time is necessary for all the complex modalities of the adult human to become fully developed. It is crucial that a there be a concentrated effort in learning how to learn and learning the richness of man's cultural heritage. We all like to be smart, but learning new things can look to be too hard unless one has a history of successful learning to give one the courage to persevere into new challenging spheres. So it is crucial that we try to impart a truly understood accomplishment in learning early on. Children should learn instruments and make music. Children should learn string figures.

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