5 Observations for Discipleship from Child Language Learning
Or, why paying attention TOGETHER matters
Findings show that the more joint attention—or shared attention—was engaged at 12 months, the greater a child’s vocabulary was at 18 months.1
What does this mean for discipleship?
Language learning in childhood doesn’t happen primarily through adults “teaching” about language. Rather, the more we invite young children into our activities or enter into their activities and pay attention TOGETHER, and simultaneously narrate, out loud with words, those activities, the quicker and deeper children enter into the linguistic and symbolic world of their community (all of which promotes deeper learning and reading skills, emotional regulation, and empathy toward others).
5 Observations for Discipleship
1) Discipleship isn't primarily about teaching information through static means, but through shared activities—shared attention.
2) The words of faith are concerned with what we can do (how we can love and be loved), not primarily what we know. All theology (words of faith) should help us pray and love better. The knowing (which for me is still important, comes through doing).
3) It means that acquiring the language of faith happens on the go, in ordinary life in partnership with a more mature believer, not mainly in a classroom, Sunday service, or youth group (unless these are highly participatory).
4) It means shared experiences that are explained as you go or/and then debriefed are more important for learning the language of faith than teaching in one context (Sunday) and hoping people apply later (the rest of the week).
5) This also means that—because people are losing the basic skills of sharing attention, or paying attention together— discipleship also requires deepening the basic capacities of sharing life, attention to each other, listening, and giving and receiving empathy.
All of this is why digital devices are bad for young children—because they curtail experiences of shared attention.
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Michael Tomasello, Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny (chapter 4).