Intersubjectivity in the imagination and feelings of the infant: implications for education in the early years

Colwyn Trevarthen, Jonathan Delafield-Butt

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This chapter presents the child as a creature born with the spirit of an inquisitive and creative human being, seeking understanding of what to do with body and mind in a world of invented possibilities. He or she is intuitively sociable, seeking affectionate relations with companions who are willing to share the pleasure and adventure of doing and knowing with 'human sense'. Recent research traces signs of the child's impulses and feelings from before birth, and follows their efforts to master experience through stages of self-creating in enjoyable and hopeful companionship. Sensitive timing of rhythms in action and playful invention show age-related advances of creative vitality as the body and brain grow. Much of shared meaning is understood and played with before a child can benefit from school instruction in a prescribed curriculum of the proper ways to use elaborate symbolic conventions. We begin with the theory of James Mark Baldwin, who observed that infants and young children are instinctive experimenters, repeating experience by imitating their own as well as other's actions, accommodating to the resources of the shared world and assimilating new experiences as learned ideas for action. We argue that the child's contribution to cultural learning is a good guide for practice in early education and care of children in their families and communities and in artificially planned and technically structured modern worlds of bewildering diversity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnder-three Year Olds in Policy and Practice
EditorsE. Jayne White, Carmen Dalli
Place of PublicationSingapore
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9789811022746
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2016

Publication series

NamePolicy and Pedagogy with Under-three Year Olds: Cross-disciplinary Insights and Innovations
ISSN (Print)2509-6680


  • early years education
  • child development
  • human imagination
  • infant education
  • toddler education
  • infant creativity
  • emotion in education
  • educating babies
  • infant pedagogies


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