Came across on Twitter this intriguing essay on the scaffolding approach to optimal learning among kids. While this approach is now considerably in vogue again, I was surprised it made no mention whatsoever of its originator – namely, the Russian philosopher and psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

Here’s what I have to say about it in The Philosophy of Childing:

Vygotsky’s principle of the Zone of Proximal Development holds that children will become more independent learners in the many dimensions of what learning can constitute if they have the continual guidance, starting from very early on, of adults—“more knowledgeable others”—more skilled in what they’re trying to achieve. The premise is that if a child can first observe and emulate a task undertaken by an adult, he then can more readily attempt it, with success, on his own.

This learning technique that Vygotsky sets forth, called “scaffolding,” is based on the premise that by partnering with adults when learning something new, children are best equipped to build on knowledge they already have, from hands-on skills to social and emotional capacities. However, while adults are more knowledgeable and skillful others in some ways, children are, too. A child who demonstrates inordinate empathy, or exceptional self-control over impulses, or a remarkable gift in forgiveness, a child who shows a stick-to-it-iveness in fixing a broken toy that a parent has given up on mending, is a child from whom much might be learned. Children and adults need one another in their respective Zones of Proximal Development, or better yet, such zones need to overlap.