Give me a hand: Differential effects of gesture type in guiding young children’s problem-solving


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Adults’ gestures support children’s learning in problem-solving tasks, but gestures may be differentially useful to children of different ages, and different features of gestures may make them more or less useful to children. The current study investigated parents’ use of gestures to support their young children (1.5–6 years) in a block puzzle task (N = 126 parent–child dyads), and identified patterns in parents’ gesture use indicating different gestural strategies. Further, we examined the effect of child age on both the frequency and types of gestures parents used, and on their usefulness to support children’s learning. Children attempted to solve the puzzle independently before and after receiving help from their parent; half of the parents were instructed to sit on their hands while they helped. Parents who could use their hands appear to use gestures in three strategies: orienting the child to the task, providing abstract information, and providing embodied information; further, they adapted their gesturing to their child’s age and skill level. Younger children elicited more frequent and more proximal gestures from parents. Despite the greater use of gestures with younger children, it was the oldest group (4.5–6.0 years) who were most affected by parents’ gestures. The oldest group was positively affected by the total frequency of parents’ gestures, and in particular, parents’ use of embodying gestures (indexes that touched their referents, representational demonstrations with object in hand, and physically guiding child’s hands). Though parents rarely used the embodying strategy with older children, it was this strategy which most enhanced the problem-solving of children 4.5–6 years. 

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