[Paper spotlight] Learning While Doing. Children Becoming Productive and Cooperative Foragers

This paper was presented by Karen Kramer in the session Ages and Stages at the 2018 AAA annual meeting, and co-authored by Russell Greaves. Both are professors of anthropology at the University of Utah.

Abstract: How children learn to become productive and cooperative adults and how that varies cross culturally has received renewed interest. Preparing to become a competent adult can be conceived of as a continuum distinguished at one end by formal education and training and at the other by learning while doing.  Forager children not only grow up in variable environments, but within any particular society, subsistence tasks vary in terms of required preparedness and risks.  Using return rate and time allocation data for Savanna Pumé hunter-gatherers, we focus on the transition from childhood to adolescence and evaluate how children spend their time, where they spend their time, and with whom.  Specifically we assess whether children forage and perform other subsistence tasks alone, in the company of other children, or with adults, and how that is related to task-specific age-gains in efficiency and time allocated to a task.  We find that for a few tasks, primarily hunting, children apprentice with adults. However, for most subsistence activities (fishing, root and fruit collection, food processing and preparation), children learn by doing, and most often in the company of other children rather than adults.  This importantly builds cooperation and coordination within cohorts, which is critical to successful adulthood and parenting.  Our results challenge the common perception that hunter-gatherer children contribute little to the subsistence base and shed light on the perspective that childhood is itself an adaptive stage.