Do you know me and how I think? Infants and toddlers and metacognition:
Ngā pēpi ngā kohungahunga mōhio


Three babies on a blanket.

What is pēpi doing?

This paper was prepared by Ali Wegner, University of Canterbury, 2009.

Key question: Do you know me and how I think?

As a teacher/educator of infants and toddlers, you work hard to know them and to understand each one as an individual. You observe them during the day and may wonder: What is pépi doing? What is she thinking? How does he perceive his world?

What is metacognition?

Metacognition is the uniquely human ability to think about how we think. We do this often. Consider what happens when you can’t find your keys. You might review all the usual places where you put them. Next, you might check coat pockets, handbags, or carrying cases. If that fails, you are likely to think about what you were doing the last time you had them, where you were, and what you did. This systematic process of thinking helps you to mentally reconstruct past events, actions and movements and is an effective, metacognitive action for solving the problem and locating those keys.

You also use metacognition when completing a crossword puzzle. It’s likely that you use a range of strategies to come up with the right words. You will be paying close attention to the clue. You will be considering the length of the word and any letters that are already in place. You may even run through the alphabet in your mind to trigger links to the missing word!

Understanding how you think, solve problems, and learn can help you do better in the tasks and challenges of life.

On-going research at the University of Canterbury College of Education explores how students in the early childhood programme can be made aware of metacognitive strategies to improve their study (Wegner, 2006; Wegner & Bartlett, 2008; Wegner & Bartlett, in press). Students are taught to top-level structure, that is, to identify the organisational structure of written information as a description, problem-solution, cause and effect, or comparison and to use that structure to identify main ideas and remember details. Findings indicate that this metacognitive training encourages students to be active readers and learners and strengthens their confidence, motivation and effectiveness as students.

Being aware of your own thinking and learning can help you understand how others think and learn. It can also help you to teach others.

‘Although the term metacognition is a relatively recent invention, its practice is as old as rational thought’ writes Michael Martinez (2006, p. 699). In a recent publication about metacognition and related concepts of metamemory and metacomprehension, Martinez describes the importance of these in human learning. He links metacognition with the teaching method used by Socrates thousands of years ago as well as other, more recent, techniques that teachers can use with learners of all ages.

Reflective question:

  • How do you transfer this knowledge about yourself to your work with infants and toddlers?

Last updated: 21 December 2009