Interaction, Embodiment and Technologies in Early Learning

This ESRC project looks at how young children’s interaction with materials influences the way they think and learn about number concepts.

We now have evidence that the way we think often simulates previous hands-on experiences. Evidence often comes from gestures. Ask someone to explain a certain concept, and they will often gesture. Their gestures give us a novel way to examine how they are thinking. Children’s gestures, for example, can tell us much about their developing ideas. Children are very receptive to teachers’ gestures.

Individuals’ gestures often appear to be manipulating something. For example, we commonly give children materials, such as wooden blocks, to help them learn. Yet it remains unclear how these objects help children. Understanding how children’s interactions affect their learning is increasingly important as new devices such as the iPad, change interaction. There are also important theoretical implications. Recent work has shown that the way we think may be ’embodied’, that is to say, inseparably linked to our physical experiences. Evidence comes from the way that people gesture when describing ideas, such as moving their hands together to explain addition. It is possible therefore that children’s actions with materials also help them explain ideas, and may even develop ideas we later see in gestures.

This project will develop new methods of examining how children’s actions with materials affect the language and gestures they use to explain ideas. We will focus on mathematics, and examine how children manipulate physical blocks to explain number relationships such as why 2+7=3+6. We will then compare children’s actions with other materials including digital squares manipulated using a mouse, iPad or gesture recognition device (e.g. ‘wii’). This research will contribute knowledge about the role of physical actions in children’s thinking and the likely impact of new devices. It will also generate digital materials to be shared widely.

Research areas
Children & Technology
Research team

Andrew Manches


ESRC Future Research Leaders