Archive: August 2009

August 24, 2009

Open-Ended Exploration

Have you ever noticed that when you give a child a present, they are often more interested in the box and wrapping paper that it came in than in the toy that was packed inside?  Researchers have known for decades why this is.  Children are naturally drawn to what are called “open-ended materials”  or materials that have no limit to the amount of things that you can do with them.  Children love playing with these classic play materials — like sand, blocks, water or paper; these materials can engage them for hours as they watch the effects that their actions can have on them.

And what the children are doing with these materials is no small thing.  In tearing a piece of paper into pieces (dividing one into many), they are getting their first intuitive sense of math; in rolling a ball or pushing a block down a plank, they are developing an early understanding of physics.

In fact, this is how child development and learning works — in the real context of every day life. All the real elements of solids, liquids, gases, space and sound that children encounter throughout the day provide the raw material for great play, exploration and optimal learning. Babies naturally want to master their world, so exposing them to the broad range of materials and contexts that the world provides and slowing down to let them explore them, allows them to exercise and develop their budding skills and understandings — their full potential. The richness of these early experiences set the foundations for their entire learning career and life.

Learning and development during 0 to 3 years takes place at a rate that exceeds any other stage of life. It is an extraordinary period of life – and the responsibility of it can be daunting. We wonder: What are we supposed to do as parents? What happens somewhat automatically as they mature and what is influenced by our actions and the experiences we provide?

The research is clear: it is not one piece of the puzzle such as genes, parenting or the environment that sets the important foundations but the dynamic interplay among them all — with us parents in the central role of orchestrating it through our continually evolving relationship with our child. We are told that we are the first and most important teacher in our child’s life and all the wonderful things we wish for our child do not have to be left to chance.

The good news is that what to do is pretty simple and a lot of fun. In a nutshell, we are supposed to get down on the floor, explore and play with our baby. Enter their world — see what they see, explore what they explore, feel what they feel, think what they think and wonder like they wonder.

There are no short cuts; no magic product; no silver bullet. It requires time — your time. This blog will give you all sorts of ideas and tools on how to spend time with your baby to give your baby the best possible start.

I also co-founded a company called “eebee’s adventures”, a developmental alternative to Baby Einstein, that helps families discover how to create great play in their home.  With the help of my friend “eebee” (which stands for Every Baby), a lovable character who doesn’t just talk about it but shows in live action 101 ways to explore everyday objects around the house — from the classic opened materials like water, blocks, balls, lights and shadows to making the daily routines of mealtime and laundry time more fulfilling for both of you. You can find out more at www.eebee.com.

I also have my own baby girl named Whitney who will help me share lots of observations from the “field”. I hope you will join me in sharing our experiences and thoughts about our children’s development.