The Mechanisms of Perception: How We Begin to Know About the World

By Katrina Pertierra (Senior Teacher, English for Fun)

The first ideas of knowledge came from the father of philosophy, Aristotle. One of his most taught theories was called knowledge acquisition. This theory proposed that knowledge first entered our minds through our senses of perception—touch, smell, taste, hearing, and sight. As time progressed, Aristotle’s theories were refined by other philosophers. By the 1470s, the importance of science and use of empirical data came to light, and these early theories about learning were put to the test. Most theories proposed by philosophers had been made obsolete or disregarded, while others have been expounded on through scientific data and experiment; but the theory of knowledge acquisition by Aristotle was one of the few that have managed to survive the test of time, and science. The revolution of science and philosophy were not limited to their own fields. The influences of development trickled into social fields, political fields, athletic fields, and educational fields.

As an educational institution, English for Fun has reaped the benefits of advancements in the fields of science. One of the biggest focuses of our school, and its method of teaching, is to do so through the senses. Whether it is in the preschool setting, or English Enrichment program setting, both function on the importance of the senses. But why, you may ask, why are our senses so important?

It is simple. Science has improved what Aristotle theorized: knowledge enters first through our sensory systems. We perceive objects with our hands, eyes, nose, tongue, ears and skin, and it just so happens that our first interaction with knowledge occurs during our earliest and most formable years of life—childhood.

Children see colors, they see how a cat does not look like a dog. Likewise, they hear the sound a cat makes, and that it isn’t the sound a dog makes. They can taste the banana and its sweetness just as much as they can taste an orange and its tanginess. Every initial notion that a child has, comes from their senses. Whether it is that Mommy and Daddy don’t look the same, or it is the black liquid in the white mug (coffee) that is not delicious while the white liquid in the purple bottle (milk) is indeed. It all begins with what we perceive.

From the stand-point of cognitive psychology, these perceptions and sensations then create sensory experiences. These experiences are stored as memories; which children can use to recall vital information. Will a child grab a pot with steam that is sitting on a stove? No, the chances are, he may have already tried that before, and experienced the sensation of sudden heat. Some believe that learning is a very advanced and sophisticated process that takes place during the later years of life, when a child is older and in elementary school, yet they do not realize that science has been telling us, no. Learning, memory and behavior creation happens much, much earlier.

Cognitive-Behavioral therapists will even argue that these memories will condition a child, and will teach her behaviors in correspondence to events based on memory and responses. Biological psychology will tell us that the synapses created during the moment of sensory experience will serve as a continuous guide for actions and memories. Developmental psychologists will tell you that these memories will be used as a base for children as they grow up, allowing them to refer to it when needed. At the end of the day, science points out that it is our memories and experiences that create the foundation of knowledge.

This is why we at English for Fun believe in the importance of early childhood education. Being inspired by the Reggio-Emilia philosophy we know that as educators, we need to guide them through the earliest processes of knowledge acquisition and memory making, and help them find the answers to questions they may have. We believe that it is our responsibility to provide a safe but fun learning environment for children to make use of their senses. We want to provide them with tools that they can use and manipulate the way they want, not the way we want or have planned. We want our students in both the Preschool and English Enrichment Program settings to be able to discover things for themselves, we want them to find passion in learning through their own hands, eyes, noses, tongues, and ears—not ours.

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