Tuesday, December 5, 2023

‘Thinking with Your Hands’: A serious book that can enhance communication



"Thinking with Your Hands: The Surprising Science Behind How Gestures Shape Our Thoughts" by Susan Goldin-Meadow

c.2023, Basic Books. $30.00. 272 pages

It's about thiiiiiiiiiis big.

Admit it: you can barely read those four words without wanting to use your hands. Pointing, wringing, raising and lowering, you probably even use your hands to give directions over the phone. Most of the time, your gestures emphasize your words and most of the time, people understand you but what are you notsaying aloud? In the new book "Thinking with Your Hands" by Susan Goldin-Meadow, you'll see.

Ask anyone to describe opening a jar of pickles and if you couldn't hear them, you could still understand the gist of their actions. But that person described the process by speaking out loud – so why did they also gesture?

Overall, and not surprisingly, we use gestures for many things: to understand one another, to help us remember and maintain our train of thought, and to keep a listener's attention. If you're savvy, says Goldin-Meadow, you can also tell when someone's misleading or lying, even if they aren't consciously doing it. "Reading" someone's hands can help to read their mind.

This, she says, is important information for parents.

As a researcher, Goldin-Meadow learned that deaf children who are either too young to learn ASL or are not taught it for other reasons use gestures to communicate. She discovered that using "homesigns" are intuitive, and that gestures are used around the world to communicate with others. Even blind people use gestures when they talk.

Kids should be encouraged to use gestures to figure out problems, tell stories, and communicate when they don't have the words. If used properly, gestures can expand your child's vocabulary and they can influence the meaning of words. Gestures can alert an attentive parent to language delays or other cognitive problems, and they can let parents know when children are struggling with a particular idea or subject. In these ways, Goldin-Meadow warns parents of one thing: be sure your gestures adhere closely to your thoughts. Your kids are watching...

The very first thing you'll notice when you browse through "Thinking with Your Hands" is that it's very science-y. Clinical, almost. This is a serious book.

The second thing you'll notice is how quickly you'll be drawn into it.

Author Susan Goldin-Meadow uses laboratory evidence to back up her research and drawings to make things easier to grasp. This helps to lessen the clinical aspects of her book, making it more accessible, which is a good thing: for supervisors, parents, and those who work with small children especially, there's a lot of book to scale before getting to the immediately-usable parts and any help you can get will keep you from setting this book aside.

If you can refrain from that, you'll find that this book can enhance the communication you share with other adults – strangers, acquaintances, friends or family – and it will boost what you talk about with your child, even if he or she is fully articulate. Just remember, "Thinking with Your Hands" is quite disciplined but if you need to say something important, this book is big.