The infant's creative vitality, in projects of self-discovery and shared meaning: how they anticipate school, and make it fruitful

Colwyn Trevarthen, Jonathan Delafield-Butt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

17 Citations (Scopus)
345 Downloads (Pure)


This paper 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 develop a theory of the child's contribution to cultural learning that may be used to guide 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 publicationThe Routledge International Handbook of Young Children's Thinking and Understanding
EditorsSue Robson, Suzanne Quinn
Place of PublicationOxford
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2014

Publication series

NameRoutledge International Handbooks


  • early years
  • infant cultural learning
  • early education


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