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Vygotsky's theory emphasized the influence of culture, peers, and adults on the developing child. To understand this influence, Vygotsky proposed the "zone of proximal development." This zone refers to the difference in a child's performance when she attempts a problem on her own compared with when an adult or older child provides assistance. Imagine that a child is having difficulty with writing letters, and with the help of an adult who writes out sample letters or helps the child trace over letters, this same child is able to make progress. The help from the adult is called scaffolding. Just as the scaffolding of a building helps to support it, assistance from adults and peers in a child's environment helps support the child's development.
Vygotsky also discussed the importance of cultural tools to the sociocultural approach. These are items in the culture such as computers, books, and traditions that teach children about the expectations of the group. By participating in the cultural events and using the tools of the society, the child learns what is important in his culture. For example, in the United States a child attends school from about six years of age until eighteen years of age, and thus it is in school that children learn important skills such as mathematics. In some countries, such as in Brazil, however, children learn mathematics via buying and selling candy in the streets of the city.
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