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2009 October | Child Development | giggle Blogs

Archive: October 2009

October 28, 2009

Screen-Based Media

The recent announcement by Disney that they would provide refunds to customers who had purchased Baby Einstein products from 2006 on has fanned the flames of the controversy surrounding “baby TV.” Should we let our babies watch TV at all?   Is all baby TV the same or are there actually distinct alternatives? What are the socially responsible ways to use TV? Since the Kaiser foundation has reported that more the 90% of US households use TV with their babies, I certainly hope we parents are finding sensible ways to use the medium. My personal view is that screen based media is an important part of our world; it is a powerful tool and there are positive ways for our babies to observe, play with, explore and interact with some types of children’s media. My own personal experience with my children is that used in moderation, of course, TV can be used in positive ways. That is why Stephen Gass and I co-created what we believe to be a healthy alternative for baby tv viewing – - eebee’s adventures – - which has been called the “un-Baby Einstein” by the Chicago Tribune. eebee DVDs are not only about the minutes of viewing time but the hours and hours of play and exploration before, during and after the viewing. eebee is a catalyst for real world play and exploration. That is why eebee’s Adventures are the only DVDs carried by a discerning store such as giggle.

Here is an excerpt from the eebee blog that was posted yesterday:

Imagine you’re smiling, laughing, talking, singing or playing a simple game with your baby-and your parenting skills are questioned simply because your playful interactions are a result of something you were watching on TV?

Recent headlines on the topic of “baby TV,” most of which damned Baby Einstein specifically, and, by association, all baby media, and by further association all parents who ever used or even thought of using a baby video with their child, would lead you to believe that all screen time is harmful or simply a waste of time. Others, including many academic and child development voices, argue that baby TV is not a black and white proposition. New research suggests that appropriately designed content can result in learning as well as in increases in real world interactions. It also challenges the somewhat simplistic assumption that if we just turned off the TV all would be right in the world of parenting and child growth and development.

Back in 1999, the American Academy of Pediatricians issued a statement recommending no TV for children under the age of 2. Their concern was based on the lack of research about babies and TV and a fear that TV viewing would take away from critical real-world social and physical interactions. This was followed by some studies that attempted to draw connections between early TV viewing and later learning problems. Many of these studies have been refuted. The most recent research indicates what parents already know: CONTENT MATTERS. The real issues are ones of moderation-making sure that you limit the amount of screen time; content-looking for programming that a baby is capable of not only attending to but understanding; and context-using TV like any other developmental experience for your child…talk about it, describe it, play along and use it as a scaffold for interaction. Damning the medium itself does not help us to understand how, when and why it might be an effective tool. We live in a highly media and screen-centric world. Our goal is to better understand the effective and responsible role of media in all of our lives…and we know now that what’s on the screen and how it’s presented can and does make a difference. That’s what we need to focus on.

Click to read the rest of this baby tv post (www.eebee.com).

October 23, 2009

Ball Play & Exploration

Another classic open-ended material that Whitney loves to explore is balls – - or really anything that rolls. We have all seen our babies fascinated by touching a ball and it taking off to the other side of the room—just batting at them creates dramatic effects (see video at RaisingWhit.com or http://bit.ly/26sGce). Once Whitney could better control her hand movement and ability to grasp and manipulate a ball, she explored bouncing it and making noises with it  (http://bit.ly/1b3him). Once toddling she began to toss it and pronounce “ball” (http://bit.ly/1SuU1t) and eventually she started kicking and throwing.

Again while our babies are mastering the world of balls there is lots happening in their learning and development:

During infancy, babies love just batting balls like they bat at blocks except now there is a big difference in what effects their actions have. Unlike a cube that slides when pushed, a ball rolls.  It moves in a continuous motion for a greater distance, often seeming to be magically alive! The dynamics of moving balls, once learned, will help your child make better predictions of effects and learn the physics of form. The ball also provides unparalleled opportunities for forming a social bond between two people who sit at a distance but feel connected by rolling a ball back and forth.  The distance confirms their separateness; the exchange of rolling confirms their togetherness.  And their turn taking is a precursor to the rules of dialogue and game playing and the concepts of inter-connectedness and fairness.

As toddlers get more sophisticated with their ball explorations they discover that any object can be dropped, but only balls can bounce and roll. The focus for your toddler will most likely be the motion of the ball. A ball gradually rolls to a stop, at first lively, then motionless.  The child eventually learns that some motions are autonomous (a pet hamster) and other motions are indirect (caused by an external action such as a push or toss).  They learn that balls on ramps do not need to be pushed, only released, yet are not alive, and don’t go around obstacles.  By playing with balls and ramps, children learn the subtle differences between the living and the physical worlds.

By two years old, your child will eventually learn the structure of action, that more tilt of a ramp means faster ball speed down (a direct functional relation- MORE tilt yields MORE speed) or inverse relation- more tilt means less distance needed up the ramp to get the ball moving quickly.  Your child will also learn to read space as a symbol of what has not yet happened, but will.  A long drop from a high position means the ball will bounce high.

So take advantage of all this rich exploration ball play affords. Watch for cues from your child that invite you to play. See what ball-action delights your child– the roll across the floor, the drop off the edge of a table, the movement only one way down an incline—and repeat that action yourself. Your response can be slightly slower and more deliberate to emphasize the cause and the effect.  After the play proceeds a few rounds, make a slight variation to see if your child picks up on new variations you can introduce, such as tilting the ramp less to make the ball roll more slowly or making a gap between planks to make the ball drop through. Balls and ramps provide children with a natural laboratory for science and physics – cause and effect, conditional causes, and how to increase or diminish an effect. Be their scientific assistant that helps create and reflect upon the causes and results of their experimentation. To see a host of ideas, eebee’s adventures has a great ball play adventure in its Exploring Real Stuff DVD currently available in stores like giggle or at www.eebee.com.

October 15, 2009

Block Play & Exploration

We have all sat and watched our children playing with blocks. I never really knew what to expect when I put my children together with a bunch of blocks but I guess I was thinking that they would create some interesting structure with them or at least sort them into categorized piles of squares, rectangles, cylinders or cones.

For a baby of course these things did not happen. Instead I would see my 6 month old bat the blocks around on the floor, struggle to get her hand around one to pick it up; eventually picking up two with one in each hand, then banging them together. I would see my one year old fill a container up with blocks, then pour it out, or maybe nest blocks inside each other and certainly knock over towers that I created (raisingwhit.com or http://bit.ly/3INbHj and http://bit.ly/32oZbo ). So what is happening with these seemingly simple block explorations and why should we care?

Let’s take a closer look at each age & stage. An infant with a cube, a cylinder, and a cone block will notice that the cube will slide, the cylinder will slide or roll (depending on its orientation on the floor), and the cone will also slide or roll, but the roll will be arched instead of straight. By moving through the blocks and batting at them, the infant begins to make a connection between the form of a block and its movement.  When sitting upright, the child will not always pick up the block that is closest at hand.  Sometimes he will reach way across the tray or table to get a particular block.  That means some thinking is going on.  Perhaps that block has a brighter color, a point or corner that the child recognizes as “graspable.”  Perhaps the block is sought exactly because it is far away.  In any event, the child is “reading” the blocks and making decisions about which ones are familiar, more fun, or more predictable in its action.

Babies are developing an understanding of cause and effect. They also begin to understand that an effect sometimes “resides” in the action performed by the child and sometimes in the shape of the object.  Thus, pushing one block does not always produce the same effect when pushing a differently shaped block.  Even in infancy, there is lots going on without the creation of complex structures!

One year olds will naturally explore the blocks by picking them up and sometimes placing them in a particular place. They do not usually “build” with blocks.  However, what they do can tell us something about how they think.  If a child picks up only the round blocks, that means he notices the differences in the shapes.  If a child bangs two square blocks together, that means he notices the similarity in their shape.   If a child starts to stack a cube on the pointed top of a triangle, but changes her mind, that means the child understands the function of blocks, the relation between shape and action (the cube will fall down).

Learning the relation between form and function helps children become better problem solvers, such as figuring out how to open a box by noticing where the hinges are located. Learning how to make new shapes by realigning parts will increase your child’s creativity and ability to make more interesting structures or better symbols when they begin to use blocks as representations.  Learning to group similar blocks together moves the child toward thinking about sets (i.e. classes) and their qualification (all, some, few, and many).

Some time after two years, children will shift their goals from moving blocks to making structures, such as an aligned tower or a symmetrical row.   They may continue to move blocks, but now their movement has a “script” such as turning it into a pretend airplane or pretend car.  The learning occurs as your child continually makes changes or adds complexity to the structure of his arrangement or adds nuance to his pretend play with blocks.

Your child, in essence, is learning all about the various levels of what we loosely call “organization” and “logic.”  We say that something is organized when we can see a pattern or logic to the arrangement of the elements. Building structures with blocks gives your child an opportunity to invent, study, and modify the rules of organization, that, in time, are used in logic and mathematics.

Again, this exploration of open-ended materials in their world is how the richest learning works. In the context of exploring and figuring out blocks, they challenge and exercise all the budding skills of development from the physical skill of precisely placing a block on another and the cognitive skill of organizing structures or pretend play in a logical fashion to the social skills of soliciting your help. To see tons of ideas for block play, eebee’s adventures has a great block play adventure in its Figuring Things Out DVD currently available in stores like giggle or at www.eebee.com.

October 8, 2009

Parenting 2.0- Principle #3: Master the art of playpartnering

So we’re exploring some part of the baby’s world (Principle #1, posted 9/21)- –  classic open-ended materials like water, sand, blocks, pots& pans; we’re tuning into what our baby is experiencing, seeing the wonder through their eyes (Principle #2 posted 10/1).  Now what do we actually do? How do we best get involved with our child’s play and exploration?

First and foremost, if we are fully present on the floor and having fun with our little ones, that is the heart of it. To go further and fully master the art of playpartnering, we are supposed to do what childhood educators call “scaffolding.”

Think of it as supporting the construction of your child’s knowledge, skills and character. The goal is to place your support at the right spot where you give the learner just the minimal level of support so that he can do it on his own. Your job is to either raise the bar– increase the challenge right at the edge of his competence so he does not get bored but continues to learn—or to lower the bar– decrease the challenge to reduce anxiety because it is too hard.

Easier said then done. The trick is to naturally bridge the play and exploration to richer more meaningful experiences and learning by embedding your agenda for learning into your child’s.  When I can relax and realize that it is about her and not about me and my anxieties about what she needs to learn, I become a much better partner to her.  What I am learning to do is to find  “teachable moments” where I can bridge to some learning objectives, building off of whatever she was doing instead of trying to force her to do something on my agenda and schedule.  I could keep my objectives in mind and then slip them in as the opportunities naturally arise. Based on my trials and errors, I culled together three notions that I think work:
1. Block out some time: Frequently I tried to multitask squeezing interactions in as I was leaving for work or unpacking when I got home or even during mini breaks when working from my home office. These moments are fine but I have come to realize I am cheating Whitney and myself if I do not carve out a real block of time just for the two of us. So I now combine a block of dedicated time with my more spontaneous interactions. The balance is great: I get a chunk of time just to focus on Whitney, our one on one time; and I still am on the lookout for those spontaneous moments where I can see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

*         Minimum of 20 to 30 minutes for a Whit session-

*         No distractions — turn off cell phone, forget about computer and checking emails

*         Slow down, clear mind, open heart. Let go of the usual daily scripts that run around in the head (eg What I need to do at work. Who I need to call).  Just be there with her, fully present. Pay attention to what she is doing and what makes her happy. When I catch myself off thinking about something, bring my attention back to her.

2.   Be the Provocateur & Partner: Our role is to expose our babies to lots of stuff and certainly invite them into explorations of their world (balls, blocks, water, sand) but they might decline our invitations. Don’t force things but certainly be creative about how to peak their interest. And once they dig in, we are their partner or scientific assistant and follow them extending as far as the exploration can go.
3.    Forget about “instructing” and think “cultivating”: As the parent, it is tempting to want to give your child some competence or character trait. However, at least from 0 to 5 years, that is not the way it works. Your child needs to construct her abilities herself; you can certainly help her build her competencies but only when she is interested and at her pace. You cultivate like a good gardener; you don’t preach or teach.

October 1, 2009

Parenting 2.0 — Principle #2: Keep it about your baby

Principle #2:  Keep it about your baby. Make a fun goal or even game of observing and making sense of what your baby is doing– tune into their agenda, enter their world, and see through their eyes as if them.  Child development research provides us lots of lenses to view our child’s behavior from what skills they’re developing, to what knowledge they are acquiring to what character traits they are revealing (more on this– the 3 Cs– in future posts).

As a child development guy, I noticed I had lots of ideas about what I wanted Whitney to be working on. I wanted our time to be packed with high quality learning experiences. These expectations and ideas were getting in the way. I needed to just relax, slow down and enjoy whatever Whitney was doing. I grew to appreciate her point of view and what she was trying to figure out or accomplish. I learned to better speculate about her goals, better notice what strategies she was trying out and what ideas or theories she held based on what she was trying. Here are a few things I found helpful:

a)   Learn to speak “baby”- without words or even with limited words, it is quite a challenge to comprehend what is going on inside that cute little head of our little ones. We have to observe their behaviors; see what they are looking at, see what they do; speculate about what they are feeling based on facial expressions and body language; speculate what they are thinking based on their choices for actions taken. Infer what they are learning from the experience and how it could be extended. Like any new language is does not happen overnight but takes lots of practice as you get better along the way.

b)  Have faith that your baby is wired to learn: Although the experts tell you that babies arrive ready and are motivated to construct their own competences, I found it really hard to slow down, let go of my objectives, and follow the interests and pace of my baby. We should marvel at their natural curiosity, their desire to master the world. It is amazing how skills beget skills. The more opportunities afforded to exercise the skills and abilities they demonstrate now; the more new ones grow from there.

c)  Take these small baby experiences seriously — The importance of these foundational first few years cannot be underestimated. Your child’s brain grows from 20% of adult size at birth to 80% before year five. More than 80 trillion connections are being formed among your child’s one billion neurons. These connections are being made with each experience of your baby’s life — as your child actively sets & meets goals, solves problems and sees the effects she can have. During these formative years, your child is shaping the set of mental tools that she will rely on throughout life.