• Exploring the puzzle space: manipulating
pieces offloads part of mental visualization
to physical action.
[ 4] Dourish, P.
Where the Action Is:
The Foundations of
Cambridge: MIT Press,
of design of children’s technologies. Conversely,
a lack of understanding of the importance of
embodiment can lead only to an impoverished
view since it ignores the way children (and all
humans) create meaning through action.
[ 5] Clark, A. Being
There: Putting Brain,
Body, and World
Cambridge: MIT Press,
March + April 2009
[ 6] Lakoff, G., and M.
We Live By. Chicago:
Chicago Press, 1980.
Foundations: Embodied Cognition
A number of books have appeared that detail this
shift in thinking about cognition. Three in particular are highly relevant for the HCI and design
communities: Where the Action Is, by Paul Dourish
[ 4], Being There, by Andy Clark [ 5], and Metaphors
We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson [ 6].
Taken together, these works present some important concepts that are particularly relevant for
designers of children’s interactive technologies.
In general, the embodied cognitive processes
of children mirror those of adults. However, the
development of such processes depends on children’s specific and age-related physical characteristics, their inherited abilities, and their practical activities played out in a physical and social
environment. The following ideas from embodied
cognition are important in understanding how
cognitive development in children depends on
their interactions with the world.
Exploiting external scaffolding: restructuring the
spatial environment. The first idea of importance
relates to how children develop knowledge by
exploiting external scaffolding or spatial properties of the environment. Meaning is created
through restructuring the spatial configuration
of elements in the environment. A highly structured environment does not provide opportunities for restructuring and thus limits knowledge
construction. What is required is an environment,
either computational or otherwise, that supports
multiple spatial configurations. For example, a
child may have a nascent understanding of division. When asked to share a bag of candy, the
child may restructure their environment by organizing piles of candies into various groups until a
satisfactory solution is reached. Through restructuring the spatial configurations of objects, her
mind, action, and the environment work in tandem. She not only solves the problem at hand but
also better understands the concept of division.
Her experiences with spatial structure later give
meaning to the symbolic representations used in
arithmetic. Children develop new understandings
of many phenomena in this way. In doing so, they
can test hypotheses, generate new states of information, and actively construct new knowledge in
the world by manipulating its spatial properties.
Exploiting physical activity: cognition and action
working together. The second idea of importance