My main concern is the crucial time period when young children learn best how to think. The window of opportunity for preparing them for a lifetime of learning is early on, and the experience of learning must be designed to bolster the mind’s ability to learn and remember.
My guess is that the easiest way to deepen neural connections in a young person is to help them become actively involved in what they are learning, to help them develop precision hands as they practice thinking. To accomplish this we must show them how they can knowingly affect real time change by manipulating strings or instruments. Tactile manipulation insures the attention necessary for the student to be actively engaged in the learning.
But the activity should be a successful learning. The student should be most changed by a growing self confidence in their ability to learn hard things. The finer the appreciation of dextrous finger dances the more neural pathways are affected. Instrumental music and string figures are two immediate and crucially necessary early-on-learnings for all human children. The children will eventually persevere to succeed and often beyond their fondest dreams of success.
If however, you take away the ability to affect change, i.e. if there is no immediate visual update, no auditory or visual readout of success, the child is less engaged and will lose interest. And I believe the finer the motor control accomplished here the more engaged the child is, and the more neural pathways are positively affected.
It will be interesting to see if having more voice control on computers will eliminate the experience of tactile feedback. Once real-time dictation is perfected, will people still type? And who now writes by hand? Once voice commands are perfected, will people still want to touch the screen to manipulate their data? Never mind, I just answered my own question. Real-time dictation will probably be a big win.
And here is the crux. I believe we are a hand animal before we are a talking animal — I mean in the way we evolved this marvelous jelly in our crania. The issue is not so much how we manipulate our gadgets but ultimately how we learn to think and make sense of the world as we mature. If we are to educate and train the young effectively, we must interface with the parts which matter the most in best putting the thinking apparatus together.
I think the hands are denigrated in our children’s maturation process to our detriment. My father told me that the way to success was to have a job where one washed one’s hands before one set to work (as in a surgeon) rather than after (as in a mason). What I found as I taught string figures to those falling behind in their academics was that they blossomed when they found their precision hands. That is what I said to myself when I tried to characterize the imaginative and learning processes they had developed in my class. The complex beginnings of string figures had given them precision hands.
I went to investigate and taught sixth graders and dealt with those who were having trouble there, and found again that they blossomed when they found their precision hands. My children and grandchildren are off the charts in their abilities and their academics, not because of genetics so much (I believe) but because they learned string figures and the violin early on.
In Italy I have a granddaughter, now nearly three, and I hope to help develop her precision digits. I plan to teach her how to manipulate a circle of string. I will pay most attention to how she is organizing her thoughts. I believe she will be laying down a circuitry of some magnificence in her cranium. And I plan to report on the our progress.