chapter  4
Family Conversations and the Development of Social Understanding
Pages 15

Among the many papers and books by Barbara Tizard that have provided seminal ideas and key insights for developmental psychologists, one, in my view, has particular significance for those interested in cognitive development. When Young Children Learning, written in collaboration with Martin Hughes, was published in 1984, we were given a strikingly new and important window on the nature of four-year-olds' intellectual curiosity and powers of logical thought. We were also shown the potential significance of family conversations for children's cognitive growth. The four-year-olds whose talk is examined in the book engaged in conversations of richness and depth with their mothers at home; moreover, in these conversations they pursued with energy (and a surprising degree of logic) issues that intrigued or puzzled them. Those issues included work, birth, growing up, death and 'such diverse topics as the shape of roofs and chairs, the nature of Father Christmas, and whether the Queen wears curlers in bed' (p. 8). In a particularly vivid way the book alerted us to children's interest in the social world, and to the importance of conversation between children and other family members as contexts for learning. As Tizard and Hughes commented:

The children seemed extremely interested in other people's viewpoints, and in the way in which they are similar to, and different from their own. Interest in other people - both children and adults - was a characteristic feature of most children in the study, and manifested itself in many different topics ... It is sometimes supposed that children of this age have special, childish interests, mainly to do with mothers, babies, dolls, teddies and animals ... The conversations in our study suggest that, on the contrary, all human experience was grist to their intellectual mill. (Tizard and Hughes, 1984, p. 128)

The account of four-year-olds' understanding that the book gives us has proved important and prescient in many ways: for instance, in its emphasis on the children's active role in achieving greater clarity over issues they did not understand, in its demonstration that within the framework of mother-child conversations the children showed considerable powers of logical argument,

and in its revelation of the notable differences in their conversations at home and at school.