Interview with Jean Epstein :

“Multi-sensory is the future”

Jean Epstein is now recognised in France, and internationally, as the leading expert on Early Childhood. He is also the author of numerous books such as “L’explorateur nu”, “Comprendre le monde de l’enfant” and “Le Jeu Enjeu”.

You will find a link to his most famous books in the reading corner.

We interviewed him at the launch of 5 senses for kids Foundation annual Price for an educational project . The aim of the award is to encourage the creation and realisation of new projects that contribute to the development of children based on multi sensoriality.

Bridging the gap between research and the general public is both the work you have been doing for years and the vocation of “5 senses for kids Foundation“. How do you see your role?

Jean Epstein: Absolutely. I have a rather special role. I learn about scientific data, in particular from Boris Cyrulnik, who is my main supplier in neuroscience. But I am not a scientist. I am a sociologist.

My work is part of what is called action research. I began by working for 10 years for the Fondation de France as head of the children’s programme. My role was to support projects that were emerging in the field, in the area of childhood.

We carried out research work in the field, but the aim was also to put into action what the researchers knew. There is a gap between the two.

There is, for example, what is known as the new pedagogies. In reality, Montessori’s work dates back to 1906. That’s already 112 years ago! There is also Rudolf Steiner, who developed his pedagogy in 1907, in Austria. The youngest of them all, is Célestin Freinet, who introduced his pedagogical approach to schools in 1924

In comparison, the first scanner was created in 1974 in Maryland. And the first work on the brain was published in the 1970s and 1980s. Almost a century earlier, educationalists had foreseen this approach.

They had understood, among other things, that you have to start by making people like things. Before a child learns, you have to make him like things. Then you have to let them explore. And in the end, the child learns. But our education system is based on: first learn, then understand, and finally love.

This is what Françoise Dolto called the “soup technique”. This has never proved its worth. When a child doesn’t like soup, we tell him: “You’re going to eat it three times a day, you’ll end up liking it.”

My approach is first of all, to make people like it. And this is based on scientific discoveries.

In pedagogy, there is also the question of evaluating children in relation to standards. As well as the sometimes high expectations of parents. How is this a trap?

Jean Epstein: There has been a whole social movement over the last few years with the fear of the future. Parents who are afraid that their children will fail. There was a book that came out in the 1970s called “Tout se joue avant 3 ans/ It’s all decided in the first three years”. With the humour that we know from her, Françoise Dolto said: “according to my observations, everything is played out before death or almost! Perhaps even afterwards, there are catch-up sessions.”

When parents hear “It’s all decided in the first three years”, it can be frightening.

Our education system is based on precociousness, with assessment books in nursery school. Scientifically, this is absolute nonsense.

All the neuroscientific work expands the notion of normality. At what age does a child master reading? At what age are they potty trained? In order to progress, a child needs to be evaluated in relation to himself. Not by how similar they are to the average person. The child’s development must be respected.

That’s why I like the approach of making children listen to music. It brings them to experience music. It’s a shared pleasure. It touches on the totality of the senses. That’s the whole point of the musical trips that we find with the Cap Enfants multi-sensory day care centres: going “to spend” a month in Vietnam with children who listen to Vietnamese music, who taste Vietnamese food.

Multi-sensory is the future. It echoes so much of what we know.

There is also the notion of play. Play is the child’s learning mechanism. In your book, “L’explorateur nu/The Naked Explorer”, you propose playful activities to accompany children in their discoveries.

Jean Epstein: Play allows the child to develop. It also allows us, as adults, to understand and observe them.

I was contacted a year ago by the Cité des Sciences. Based on my book, “L’explorateur nu/The Naked Explorer”, we created the “Cité des bébés”. It is a large space for 0 to 3 year olds. And there is a sound forest. Parents come to play.

Researchers regularly come to the “Cité des bébés” to observe and conduct their research. This is the baby lab!

The Cité des Sciences has a multi-sensory approach. It’s in the air. We must continue to make it known

What do you think of this Price for an educational project?

Jean Epstein: Everything that is multi-sensory is the core of my work.

This price is great. To pay tribute to multi-sensoriality is to take into account the development of the child as it is

And it allows us to fight against parents’ anxiety

The link between taste, language, sound, space… Through the five senses, a child works on his body image. The five senses are interfering

I often refer to the work of Professor Jacques Puisais. For 30 years, he organised the taste week. A long time ago, he showed the link between taste and language

Children who had eaten soft, insipid things had a more difficult relationship with language than those who had taken the time to chew, taste and enjoy the taste

In Quebec, many speech therapists use the work of Jacques Puisais to help children who have difficulty speaking. They help them to relearn, not with re-education, but by making them enjoy tasting again.

Inter-sensoriality allows a global approach to the child. This is where we need to go.

Would you like to take part in the Price for an educational project?