The 28th Infancy Institute took place at Bank Street College this past June under the coordination of Margie Brickley, Program Director of the Infant & Family Development and Early Intervention program. A gathering of infant and toddler professionals, the event featured a schedule of presentations and interactive workshops, as well as opportunities to visit a selection of early childhood centers. This year the panel presentation featured teachers from the Bank Street Family Center discussing the developmental-interaction approach, the fundamental theory that underlies the educational practices of Bank Street. Dr. Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, delivered the keynote presentation entitled, The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life.
Dr. Gopnik, who started out as a philosopher and moved into psychology, outlined current research on the understanding of babies and young children. She began by asking the audience “Why is it that we have babies at all? Human beings have the longest childhood of any other animal, so why make babies helpless for so long?” She discussed the childhoods of chimpanzees, quokkas, and other animals, emphasizing the differences and similarities, in development and learning. Dr. Gopnik continued by presenting the “grandmother hypothesis” in humans, which is a research topic based on the idea that humans are the only species that have grandparents. The hypothesis is that it is “the grandmother’s investment in the grandchildren that enables us to have this long period of immaturity.” It isn’t just mothers taking care of babies but fathers and grandparents. This is one of the things that makes us human—our broad investment in the minds of young children.
Dr. Gopnik went on to illustrate that childhood “is responsible for our uniquely human consciousness and our ability to learn, imagine and love.” Her research shows that babies have powerful and complex learning abilities including imagining new ways the world might be, learning about other people and themselves, and possibly even (what may be the equivalent of) analyzing statistics.
The Infancy Institute takes place at Bank Street College every June. Presenters and participants come from across the nation to participate in this annual professional development opportunity. Graduate credit may be earned.