cognitive development

June 30, 2011

Water Play and Exploration

With summer in full swing, we will all be doing lots of water play over the next few months. Water play and exploration is one of the classic open-ended play experiences that can provide hours and hours of engagement for your baby as they figure out how this stuff called water works. There are lots of ways to make your baby’s time with water a rich experience full of discovery and learning. My company, eebee’s Adventures, is offering a free video download that models lots of great filling and spilling adventures. To download yours (or pass it along to friends) just follow this link: http://eebee.com/waterplay/sk.html

While on duty watching your little one in the pool or at the beach, look for the hidden secrets your child is discovering while exploring water. Those seemingly simple pours or splashes probably involve some serious thinking and problem solving that we adults don’t readily see. And it is a lot of fun to speculate about what is going on inside that little mind.

Take my daughter Whitney at the pool in the videos below, when I slowed down and really observed her play, there were lots of really interesting nuggets of thinking I could notice. This first video shows her transferring water back and forth between cups:

We take for granted the transferability of water. That of course when you pour from one cup to the other, the same amount of water is going to show up in the new cup (eg the law of conservation). However, our little ones do not take this for granted and want to experiment again again to test what will happen.

There is a lot of stuff they find fascinating that we view as trivial. Here a serious interest in “Overflow”:

Of course, we don’t pour additional water into a cup that is full but our toddlers will do it again and again. They are discovering the personality of water. It overflows down the sides when they continue to pour in the cup.

Lastly, what happens when another cup is pushed down instead of another — aha! –Displacement occurs:

While they are running their experiments in understanding water, they are also exercising all sorts of thinking, communication, social & emotional and physical skills. Again, this is how the richest learning works. In the context of figuring out something they care about, and show an interest in, they challenge and exercise all the budding skills of development from the physical skill of twisting their wrists to pour the water to the cognitive skill of trying out, remembering and employing the tactic that delivers the desired result. So try to be as creative as you can in supplying tools and encouraging play extensions that come to mind based on what interests your child. Over the summer, there will be lots of opportunities

February 28, 2011

The Strength of Group Play

Last week we discussed the “tiger mom” parenting debate and my mantra was:
“The key to parenting best practices is to tune into your child’s unique mind and profile of strengths and help them become who they truly are. Assume their mind and profile is a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Our job as parents and educators is to bring out those brilliant gifts by finding great ways to engage that mind in meaningful ways — with activities, projects, and education that challenge and cultivate that richness.”

I realize that it is easier said then done. How do we actually identify and engage our child’s uniqueness.

One simple observation is that we see our child’s strengths by comparing and contrasting their behaviors to what other kids are doing around their age & stage. Sports is a great example, I had no clue about my son’s athletic and soccer skills until he joined a soccer team and I saw him playing with others. Watching him play in the backyard alone was not nearly as helpful as seeing him play in a context with others his age.

I know that it is politically correct these days to say we never want to compare our kids to others and I do understand the downside risk of comparing motivated by a desire to brag about our child or to satisfy our own pride of raising the “best” kids. Instead we want to be motivated by a chance to really get to know our own child better. The simple fact is that every child is unique and they give off signals all the time about what makes them so. Group settings help us see those signals more clearly. We want to expose our kids to a diverse range of activities so that we can actually see what most interests them, heightens their joy and draws out their skills and lets them shine.

November 10, 2010

Early Baby Thinking

Baby thinking or ideas don’t start as full blown adult thinking with sophisticated models of some concept that has an integrated past, present and future. Instead our babies start with simple isolated schemas for actions they see happening in the world. Our babies can see patterns in their own and other’s behavior. They see which actions garner affection and approval; which, disapproval and anger. They see how the physical world works- hitting this button causes this thing to pop out. They picture relationships and possibilities with these images creating an inner world of thought. It is this ability to understand and keep in memory “patterns” that lets a toddler meaningfully explore and categorize the world and begin to solve problems long before they speak words. She is beginning to construct these series of images in mind. These models are the most deliberate and conscious productions of the baby mind.

While learning to use objects, our babies imitate how adults interact with them. This imitation becomes internalized and our baby begins to develop a specific schema for interacting with a specific object. Researchers call this mental schema a “sensorimotor concept”. For example, Whitney observed us adults using a brush numerous times and at 10 or so months could imitate that “brushing” schema:

Even though whitney would use the back side of the brush and almost never actually have an actual effect of combing her hair, She enjoyed repeating the concept of brushing. As whitney bangs the brush against her head and attempts stroking it, she develops a sensorimotor schema or concept for the brush that combines visual, tactile, and kinesthetic representations of brushing. These non verbal ideas are the foundations for thought and reason!

October 15, 2010

Early Logic- “Division” via Tearing Paper

Babies develop early math and numeracy skills by experiencing concrete actions on their world. Take simple paper tearing. One big piece of paper can be torn into 2 pieces, 3, 4, 5 — from the one piece come many pieces—like magic to a baby. We take it for granted but to babies this is exciting stuff. Watch Whitney’s squeal with each additional “division” of paper:

It is these early intuitive experiences with sequence, number & numeracy that provide the foundation for later abstract mathematical symbol systems. It is the same with more and less of stuff; babies notice the difference. More ice cream for the sibling can bring about a temper tantrum. We can help our babies reflect on these logical and numberical aspects of their world by drawing attention to them and narrating a bit as I attempt in the video.

September 28, 2010

Early Logic Adventures- Figuring things out

Once our babies start to sit up, this milestone opens a whole new range of exploration. Their hands free up and whatever they can get them on, they want to explore and manipulate. Here Whitney, gets her hands on one of Dad’s shoes — grabbing the shoelace, bringing it to her mouth, flapping it around, tugging on it til the shoe moves. These explorations help her “figure out” the shoe or any object for that matter:

As mentioned last post, one of the first steps in the development in logic is a baby’s realization that he or she can make something happen. As our babies’ day-to-day experiences accumulate, they begin to notice patterns in their world. They begin to organize and integrate the world into spatial and sequential categories. They explore the features of different objects and learn to “figure things out” — what makes a shoe a shoe, a ball a ball, etc. Bring a bunch of varied objects into their reach and enjoy the show.

September 8, 2010

Early Logic Adventures- Making things happen

Our little ones don’t start their logic careers with the 123s, shapes, and colors: instead, they figure out that when they do something, it can make something else happen in the world. So if they give you a big smile, you will give them a big smile back. This is early cause and effect and babies are discovering this by 3 months of age. They are learning this across all aspects of their life. When in a crib or on a playmat, if they kick the bell it will make a sound. In the video below, my daughter Whitney, discovers that when she makes her legs hit the ball it moves and makes a sound:

By three months, our babies demonstrate that they can remember that they know that doing one thing makes another thing happen and show that they can make it happen–again and again. With Whitney’s ability to coordinate vision, reaching and kicking, something even more dramatic is happening to her mind. She is learning that she can make interesting things happen AND can remember them for short periods of time! Coordinating eye, hand and foot movement is a remarkable achievement but it is the feeling of mastery at making things work that truly promotes our babies’ conceptual and logical development. The more opportunities we offer that enable them to “make things happen”, the stronger this critical foundation for logic and learning.

July 23, 2010

Books & Early Reading

As discussed last blog post, there are lots of opportunities in the 0 to 3 period to work on language development. Even before verbal “Conversations” (post 7/7/10), we can help our little ones love books and the reading experience. Early on it does not have to be about the words on the page and naming objects as much as just creating a fun interactive experience with mom or dad. Babies love to hold the book and turn the pages and this should not be overlooked as important early literacy skill. Watch Whitney’s important excitement in picking out and bringing me a few books and then orienting the book so that she can turn the pages:

While reading try to make the experience interactive by going off the page. Books do not have be read linearly from front to back. Make it interactive. There are lots of body parts books that are just about naming the body part like hand, face, foot; instead of just labeling try to help your baby “DO” or use the body part. Babies learn best by doing so get them engaged and interacting with you:

April 27, 2010

Exploring the Cabinets

For our babies almost any place and anything around the home is a world to explore– take drawers and cabinets. We have all seen our babies’ beeline for a drawer we just put something away in or the cabinet in the bathroom we just opened. Frequently my initial impulse is to say “no, no” that is not for you. But instead of going with that habitual response, when I can catch myself I say go right ahead; let’s explore this place and these things together. In fact when we do there are a lot of neat things to discover. The video below shows how a quick tour through the bathroom sink cabinet yields a bounty of learning and development with language, thinking and problem solving, and social interaction. Click to view:

This cabinet has a foot scrapper, and clothing iron, hair curls and more interesting stuff for Whitney. Now if  this stuff was hot like the clothing iron and the hair curls these are a no-no but while cold in the cabinet why not explore them. The clothing iron has a container for water, a button to press and a cool control knob to turn. Whitney exercises her problem solving skills in figuring out how these features work. She exercises her language skills as she finds the vocabulary to use for the “wa-wa” container. She exercises her social skills looking to me for approval and emotional support for her forays while I still nervously say “no-no” eventhough cold in the cabinet it is all safe for her exploration. And then she finishes with a flurry of door closing as she reveals her understanding of what happens when we are all done.  See these simple little ordinary moments can be quite the Learning Adventure. Eebee’s DVD episode Little Objects, Big Ideas is all about turning these everyday things into rich learning explorations.

These opportunities for learning adventures happen throughout the day in all sorts of settings. Reading the Who’s Your Daddy post titled Explore Your World reminded me that there are an almost infinite amount of opportunities to dive in and explore things around the house or as his post suggests around the neighborhood as well.  We parents just need to slow down, use a new lens to see all these opportunities and then jump right in with our babies.

April 19, 2010

Thinking- Ages & Stages

We have all wondered from time to time– what is going on inside that little head of my baby. Well, that rapidly changes from stage to stage. The foundations for thinking skills start very early. Even though for the first three months babies sleep most of the time and periods of alertness are brief, babies can attend to the world in an organized way. They demonstrate selective focusing of their attention and preferences for certain stimuli like faces and mother’s voice but have no clue that the hand that just passed their eyes belongs to them. Their mind is a world of feelings and a unified state of being either comfortable or upset. When comfortable they will attend to and learn about the world through their five senses.  Whitney used to love her bouncy seat with things hanging in front of her; We would try to vary the items on her bar so she could notice differences in what was displayed.

Calm Alert State

We adults want to help them obtain the calm alert state by meeting their basic needs and making sure they are not over stimulated. Learning to read our babies for cues to over stimulation is key during this period. As our babies’ day-to-day experiences accumulate, they begin to notice patterns in their world. They learn that if they cry, someone will respond. They learn that kicking your feet can make a sound from a certain dangling toy on their bouncy seat. From there, they begin to organize and integrate the world into spatial and sequential categories. By twelve months old, infants are even learning to string together two to three steps to solve a problem, such as retrieving a toy that’s out of reach and hidden under another object. This reveals important learning. They can hold a mental image of the toy that is out of sight; realize that the toy exists even though it cannot be seen; figure out a way or ways to retrieve the toy; and perhaps to recall ways that s/he found a hidden object in the past and to repeat that strategy now.

Toddlers experience a dramatic change in mobility—combined with viewing things from new vantage points – offering new perspectives, challenges and frustrations.  children begin to make comparisons between groups of things, able to make comparisons between the qualities of objects, such as size, shape, color and function, putting things together in like groups. For instance, when putting toys away, your child may create a collection of balls and another collection of blocks. We want to expose our toddlers to the full range of things, animals and people in their world. The more hands on exploration of the world they can get the better their foundation of experiences with and understanding of the vast diversity of objects and life.

By 2 years old, our babies demonstrate an expanded memory for the scripts of daily life, have spatial maps of their world and reason through situations and problems. Their increasing ability to form mental representations supports language development as well as pretend play.  Your young toddler can be exhilarated by his many discoveries. And by three, they demonstrate a vastly increased repertoire of symbols to represent ideas and images as they enter the world of imagination and can manipulate and transform these images in their minds. We want to support their budding narratives by encouraging them to tell their stories and to recount as many adventures as they are willing. These representations and mental exercise is the foundation for their future logic and reason.

April 2, 2010

Thinking Skills- Cognitive Development

Consider the cognitive difference between a reflex-driven newborn; a 12 month old who can control his attention & memory capable of action oriented problem solving; a 2 yr old with tentative mental models of daily events and conceptual discoveries of how things work; to a 3 year old with a vast repertoire of symbols to represent ideas and images and to manipulate them in mind as they enter the world of imagination. Picturing these transformations reminds us of just how amazing these developments are and leave us wondering how does it all happen and what is the best possible support we can provide.

Early experiences provide the raw materials for the construction of these competences. As trivial as any one experience might seem it is interacting with you and objects like the Blanky, the stroller toy, stacking toys, ball play, block play and light & shadow play– everyday explorations– where our babies transform genetic potentials into actual cognitive skills and competences. It does not happen through just maturation the environments and experiences we enable make a big difference for our child’s individual development

The 21st century will put increased demands on the ability to perceive and interpret patterns. Reading and communicating about visual imagery is essential in modern careers from analyzing MRI and Ultrasound patterns, to noticing discrepant patterns in the cosmos, and reading how cells interact with various proteins, for just a few examples. These important skills have their beginnings in early infancy as children learn to discern different facial features, navigate spaces, and distinguish colors and so forth.

Thinking skills, cognitive development, occur as babies engage in the world, exercise, and build upon their inborn capacitites. Review the many blog posts describing how our babies explore their real world of everyday objects; in next post we will discuss more about how thinking skills develop from everyday play and explorations.