From birth to 5 years of age, children go through major transformations in size, biological organization, behavioral skills, and social organization of experiences – an important complicating factor in understanding the association between cultural context and young children’s learning processes.

Analysis of this complex subject requires temporary definitions of basic terms. The following definitions were adopted:

The culture consists of knowledge, tools and attitudes that permeate the historically accumulated proximal ecology of the child, including “practical” cultural members of the nuclear family and other relatives. In performing their roles – such as providing care and subsistence – these cultured members of society are themselves subject to various influences from their natural ecology and society.

The learning is understood as a relatively permanent change in behavior and consequent understanding the child’s experiences.

The development implies qualitative changes in the functional organization of the brain, the body and the individual child’s behavior, as well as concomitant changes in the relationship between the child and organized their experiences in socio-cultural terms.

What it is

Culture plays an essential role in the way children interpret the world. A key difference between a child’s learning and any intelligent technical system is that such systems can recognize and organize information, but cannot grasp its meaning. The development of meaning and the adoption of appropriate cultural tools – symbols, meanings, roadmaps, goals, etc. Human activity are the basic challenges of early learning.


  1. How are enculturation and individuation related to early learning? Each cultural context has unifying tendencies, but individuals are unique. What are the universal niches and the specific niches of learning in each culture?
  2. What is the learning unit? The early stages of human development reveal that the child depends on the adult and, conversely, the baby influences the adult. Mother-child dyads are important units. How are dyads replaced as learning units?
  3. How does the role of the cultural context in learning change throughout early childhood? 1

Search Context

Culture-mediated learning requires consideration of a cultural context that cannot be reduced to laboratory conditions. “Natural experiments” are frequently used research strategies consisting of single-crop follow-up studies or the collection of comparative data from multiple cultures. Michael Cole 2,3 elaborated a form of special activity called the “Fifth Dimension” environment as a sustainable subculture to foster learning. Its principles are used in cultural learning research in play contexts. 4.5

Keep in mind that children still cannot consciously understand and analyze the meaning of the world. Meanings are grounded in bodily connections to objects and are constantly associated with action. 6 However, from birth or shortly thereafter, children are extremely sensitive to contingencies between all kinds of environmental events. Such sensitivity permeates from learning the characteristic patterns of the activity, to the diversity of people’s responses in their environment, and the contingencies between the language phonemes they hear and which will form the grammatical basis of their native language. 7thAt birth, the child already knows the “tone” characteristic of his native language, learning that is demonstrated by the different attention he gives to the vocalizations emitted in that language. 8th

From birth, the child’s learning of a series of universal concepts in the “privileged areas” of arithmetic, physics, and psychology are present in the form of a “sketch” that will be enriched by the environment through culture-mediated learning. 3 Babies apparently recognize, for example, the basic physical concepts associated with phenomena such as gravity – they are surprised when an object seems to cross a solid barrier – and mathematical concepts like 1 + 1 = 2 – they are surprised when two objects are hidden behind of a screen and when the screen is removed there is only one object left – and they are able to distinguish between intentional and mechanical causation, concepts that support the learning of the distinction between animate and inanimate objects.

At about 9 months of age, children also begin to create their own “cultural contexts” and, before they are 5 years old, their need for adult and peer cooperation, as well as the organization of such cooperation, radically changes. . 9,10,11 At the beginning of development, children are not able to regulate the social organization of their interaction, but as they grow older it is possible to achieve greater autonomy in children’s groups.

Cultural limitations

Many psychologists believe that children from different cultural groups learn a basic “cognitive style” characterized in slightly different but overlapping terms, depending on different academic traditions. A “cognitive style” should focus initial attention on the context in which events occur. Next, attention should be directed to the objects participating in the event. A similar formulation applies to cultural contexts that favor individualism or collectivism. 12It has been found, for example, that Japanese mothers asked to urge their 5-month-old children to interact with an object systematically orient the child first to themselves and then to the object, whereas American mothers first guide the child to the object and then to them. At 5 months of age, there is no noticeable difference in children’s behavior; however, a few months later, at various daily events, children orient themselves in the way that has been shaped in repeated interactions with their (differently oriented) parents. 13

Cultural practices

Different forms of play – with objects, symbolic, make-believe – create different kinds of cultural contexts for learning. However, there are wide cultural variations as adults sanction different forms of play throughout early childhood. 14 In societies where play is a valued cultural practice at this age, Poddiakov 15 demonstrated how children conduct social experiences with others in play and in everyday life. Vygotsky 16 and other scholars of children’s play 17,18,19They emphasize the importance of mutuality and the possibility of transcending in play the present situation through the creation of other (imaginary) worlds. Vygotsky argued that distorting reality in play paradoxically reinforces learning applied to real life by modifying the child’s understanding of the relationship between objects and their meanings.

Greenfield and colleagues documented a learning pattern among peasant Mayan girls learning to weave, in which mothers organized girls’ learning by having them participate in different tasks from early childhood to later childhood. 20 Such learning involves little verbal interaction. Similarly, Barbara Rogoff and colleagues have shown that children from societies in which schooling is nonexistent or too short can learn through a process of close observation. 21

Research Gaps

Both pragmatic questions and cultural constraints determine what are the central problems in the study of cultural contexts and early learning. For example, a recent review of the effects of theater teaching on language learning states that: “In this age of accountability and exams where much is at stake, educators and administrators need tangible proof of the benefits of drama education , and only the highest quality research can provide this kind of evidence. ” 22From this point of view, high quality does not include cultural relevance. However, research based on the rigorous isolation of causal variables obscures the essence of the learning experience and prevents the integration of research results in different areas – for example, cognitive, affective and psychomotor. Studying cultural contexts and learning in childhood through an “integral child approach” is a constant challenge.


The study of cultural contexts and early childhood learning involves the intertwining of biological and cultural factors. Active development of subcultures to expand and improve learning is a promising current trend. But there are disagreements about what such subcultures should be. For example, only recently has the game regained its status as a legitimate learning activity.

Pure exposure to the content to be learned, offered by different cultural practices, is of fundamental importance. A routine finding in research in many areas is that children learn faster when asked to learn or solve problems based on what is familiar to them, or that make sense from a human point of view. 26

These relationships between culture and learning do not diminish, but become even clearer as the child moves from early to mid-childhood and adolescence. Consequently, those who wish to harness the power of culture to promote learning must consider both the cultural enrichment of the child and his or her health and physical well-being, as all these elements play a particularly important role during this period of extraordinarily rapid change. of development.