Education is the central way to procure knowledge. Early childhood education is of the utmost importance as it not only forms a foundation for learning but it also affects the creative thinking, cognitive, and social and emotional development of children. During the early years, the environment plays a significant role in influencing and impacting the process of learning and knowledge acquisition.
Children learn concepts mainly through interactions with their surroundings – experiences. Keeping this in mind, a paradigm shift has been promoted by cognitive network science in recent years.
A study mentioned in the book: Education shapes the structure of semantic memory and impacts creative thinking, has examined how children’s education affects not only how they acquire new knowledge, but how they represent that knowledge in their semantic memory.
What is Semantic Memory?
Semantic Memory is a significant portion of long-term memory that stores information about evidence, happenings, philosophies, ideas, and concepts that are not drawn from personal experiences. It encompasses a wide range of topics, including historical and scientific details, mathematical equations and concepts, the knowledge that helps us to identify objects, the sound of letters, and other basic facts learned over a lifetime.
According to an article by Kimm Ann Zimmermann, the concept of semantic memory was introduced in 1972 after the collaboration between Endel Tulving of the University of Toronto and Wayne Donaldson of the University of New Brunswick on the impact of the organization on human memory.
In the article, she also discussed the study by Tulving mentioned in his book “Elements of Episodic Memory,” where he outlined the separate systems of conceptualization of episodic and semantic memory. Tulving noted that semantic memory differs from episodic memory in how they operate and the types of information they process.
Semantic memory comprises a long-term memory for meaning, understanding, and conceptual facts about the world. It is a memory that can be retrieved after a long delay (from several seconds to years).
In a more generalized form, knowing the meaning of something without having a familiarity with it from prior experience, or recalling the location and circumstances of a personal learning experience, is known as semantic memory.
The kiwi fruit may be well known to you: you know its appearance, its shape, its color, and how it tastes. Despite having knowledge of these details, you may have not actually seen or tasted the fruit. Your knowledge of the ‘kiwi’ fruit has been constructed through what you have seen, heard, or read about it. This is a semantic memory.
Development of Semantic Memory and Types of Encoding
Repetition and practice are the primary methods by which semantic memory is developed. Information is congregated by the senses and sent to short-term memory, where practice and repetition commit it to semantic memory’s long-term memory. The amount of repetition and rehearsal required to commit something to semantic memory differs from person to person.
There are 3 types of encoding done to commit the information to semantic memory.
- Visual – some people observe through pictures, or through reading words and numbers. The information in such a case is committed to semantic memory through visualization.
- Acoustic – when people commit the information through listening to the various facts again and again. Such information is committed to semantic memory through hearing or acoustic ways.
- Meaning – when people understand things and encode their meanings, the information is stored in semantic memory. This is how the meaning helps to commit information to semantic memory.
Children constantly learn new information every day. For them, it is easy to improve and exercise semantic memory through practice and hard work.
Benefits of Developing Semantic Memory
Semantic memory is of paramount importance for children because this is the memory that helps them to remember and recall the facts that they have learned subsequently. This memory allows us to know about the world around us better. It helps children answer: Is the sky blue? Are lemons yellow? Do dogs bark? The answer to these basic questions lies in semantic memory.
Semantic memory is of great importance for human beings as it helps us to navigate through day-to-day life.
A quote by Tulving stated, “If a person possesses some semantic memory information, he obviously must have learned it, either directly or indirectly, at an earlier time, but he need not possess any mnemonic information about the episode of such learning”.
Thus, it is the memory where all kinds of everyday functions, such as daily household chores, the ability to do things, safety points, communication skills learned in a particular language, and many such activities are stored, which we learned with experience.
It has also been shown in a variety of studies (specifically this one) that “associated abilities mediate the relationship between semantic memory structure and verbal creativity, implying the efficient spread of information in semantic memory may facilitate verbal creative thinking via associative abilities”.
Thus, semantic memory enhances children’s creative thinking, observation skills, and verbal skills.
How Does Montessori Education Help in Developing Semantic Memory?
Higher cognitive abilities, like creative thinking, depend heavily on how semantic memory is organized. Observing how knowledge representation is facilitated in children’s semantic memory is crucial to understanding how conventional educational methods and Montessori educational methods shape children’s learning and creativity.
According to a research study, “Education shapes the structure of semantic memory and impacts creative thinking,” the researchers showed that children who attended Montessori schools typically possessed a semantic network structure that was more supple than the structure possessed by those who were educated with traditional educational methods.
In other words, children educated with the Montessori education method typically have a greater number of neurological connections and a larger memory scale than children educated with traditional education methods. Also, children educated at Montessori schools scored higher on tests of creativity as compared to children from traditional schools.
How Does a Unique pattern of Montessori Education Impact Semantic Memory?
We discovered that differences in education had a significant impact on children’s creative thinking when it came to creativity. Children in Montessori classes scored higher on a variety of tests and studies than their peers in more affluent traditional classes.
Although both Montessori and conventional education can be of high quality, their approaches to concept learning differ. Concept learning is a crucial aspect of cognitive development that aids in the acquisition of new vocabulary and consolidated knowledge. Montessori education emphasizes concept learning more than conventional education.
When comparing Montessori and traditional educational approaches, Montessori classes have been shown to promote improved academic outcomes, socio-emotional learning, and divergent and/or convergent creativity. Environmental interaction plays an essential role in how children first learn about concepts.
According to previously mentioned research by Denervaud, S., Christensen, A.P., Kenett, Y.N. et al. which examined the role of education in the development of semantic memory, their results indicate that Montessori-educated children presented higher convergent and divergent creative skills than children from traditional classes.
This research also proved that when it comes to creative thinking, socio-emotional learning, and improved academic outcomes, the children from Montessori schools provide unique responses to those from traditional education.
The Montessori Method has been shown to be successful in preparing children for future success in life (i.e., school, work, social relations, and other areas). The enhanced development of semantic memory afforded by the Montessori method is one reason why it is so successful in preparing children for future success.
What we learned from this study, and what is important to understand, is that the quality of learning is more fundamental than quantity. The more concepts are memorized with meaning, experience, involvement, pleasure, and personal understanding, the more they will be organized in memory in a flexible, diversified, and enriched way.
- Denervaud, Solange, Alexander P. Christensen, Yoed N. Kenett, and Roger E. Beaty. “Education Shapes the Structure of Semantic Memory and Impacts Creative Thinking.” npj Science of Learning 6 (2021): Article 35. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41539-021-00113-8.
- He, Li, Yoed N. Kenett, Kaixiang Zhuang, Cheng Liu, Rongcan Zeng, Tingrui Yan, Tengbin Huo, and Jiang Qiu. “The Relation Between Semantic Memory Structure, Associative Abilities, and Verbal and Figural Creativity.” Thinking & Reasoning 27, no. 2 (2021): 268–93. https://doi.org/10.1080/13546783.2020.1819415.
- Nastase, Samuel A., and James V. Haxby. “Structural Basis of Semantic Memory.” In Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference, edited by John H. Byrne, 133–51. Oxford, England: Academic Press, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809324-5.21073-0.
- Rosenbaum, R. Shayna, Alice S. N. Kim, and Stevenson Baker. “Episodic and Semantic Memory.” In Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference, edited by John H. Byrne, 87–118. Oxford, England: Academic Press, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809324-5.21037-7.
- Schendan, H. E. “Semantic Memory.” In Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, edited by V. S. Ramachandran, 350–58. San Diego: Academic Press, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-375000-6.00315-3.