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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

May 19, 2010

Toddler iPad Adventures

To share or not to share that is the question– do we let our little ones get their hands on our new iPad. As you might guess from my previous, Screen-based media (10/28), post I do believe that there is a responsible way to explore almost anything that a baby can get their eyes, ears, nose, or hands on. Tools and devices such as the iPad will be an increasingly important part of our child’s world so why not let them get a jump start if they show an interest. And my daughter Whitney definitely showed an interest in what daddy was doing with that electronic thing in his hands and wanted to get her hands on it. So I downloaded a few Apps targeted at her age & stage and let her have at it. Wow, was I impressed with how quickly Whitney mastered the interface and figured it out. Computers, iPads, mobile devices, DVDs/VOD boxes are truly our children’s machines and I think we need to rethink our ideas about No Use policies with an open mind and creatively figure out the best uses of these machines at each age and stage of development:

The problem solving required to figure out the machine and the Apps on these machines is wonderful. As demonstrated in the video, Whitney quickly figured out the on/off button, the way you finger scroll to get to different Apps, how to stop the scroll and then touch the desired App to launch it. She then quickly mastered the featrues of each App, even how to make it bigger and smaller on the screen (which BTW took me a lot longer to figure out). Our infants and toddlers are not intimidated in the least. They want to jump right in and give it a try. If we provide the minimum support our babies need and scaffold them appropriately for their age and stage, there are no limits to their discovery.

May 12, 2010

Baby in the Kitchen- Mixing and Mashing

After the garden the next step along the food chain is letting a baby help out in the kitchen with the preparation of the meal. Again there are lots of developmentally appropriate ways to get babies involved in the preparation of their meals. We like to say if you can mix, mash, oosh it or goosh it, you can get your baby involved. And once again, mama’s little helper has a much better chance of eating it if she was involved in making it!

Here Whitney gets involved in stirring the batter for a waffle mix:

Mixing not only exercises Whitney’s fine motor skills while controlling the tool and stirring the batter, she is learning lots of vocabulary with the different ingredients of vanilla and cinnamon. She then turns her attention to art and becomes Jackson Pollack with her dripping batter creating circles and other designs. Learning can be taken in so many directions from this simple base and it is easy to follow a child’s lead.

eebee’s Adventures has a book called Mix & Mash Adventures that give lots of ideas for baby friendly recipes and ways to turn toddlers into active helpers in the kitchen. Here is a clip done with Parents TV that shows some of the fun learning opportunities in the kitchen:

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.

March 23, 2010

Baby Blankets

My three children each have a special baby blanket that they sleep with each night and scream for whenever they have a boo-boo or other need for comfort. One night I will not easily forget is the one when I returned from a trip with my son – and forgot to pack his blankie to bring back home.  You can only imagine the look I got from my wife when she unpacked the bag and realized the blankie was 2 hours away.

They do not call these “security blankets” for nothing. It is a familiar object that babies development a strong attachment to and it helps them with transitions and other times when they are feeling insecure or just in need of a little extra comfort. It is tough to improve upon these indelible staples of our babies’ early years. However, even baby blankets can be created to enable more interaction and a closer bond with mom and dad.

The eebee Snuggle time blanky was designed with a way for parents to wiggle into that special time when baby is holding tight onto their blanket. There are simple arms on the sides of the blanket so that parents can slip their fingers in and cuddle with their little one. So the blanket is actually  “puppet-able”.

eebee Snuggle Time Baby Blanket

My littlest one, Whitney, loved to play little body parts games with me as she would hold onto her eebee blanky and I would tickle her cheek, nose, ears and chin. Whitney would giggle with anticipation as I held my fingers right above the next part of her face I was about touch with the puppet. Adding this type of human dimension to the classic staple of a baby blanket does adds a richness and helps facilitate the development of communication exchanges between baby and parent . These back and forth exchanges between a parent and child are especially important during the 3 months to 12 months time frame when the brain is being wired for social connection and communication about the world. (Read more at www.RaisingWhit.com, Infant stage Q2 & Q3) Figuring out new and different ways to create these exchanges on a regular basis with your baby  is an ongoing priority for parents. Having something as central to a baby’s life as his blankie that can also help facilitate these important interactions can really help.

March 11, 2010

Stroller Toys

Stroller toys come in many shapes and sizes; one common purpose of each though is getting our babies to pay attention to something while we adults get something done or saving us from a meltdown while in a place like the grocery store.

We see loud clackers, lots of music things, vibrating and distracting motion. Sure we want the quick fix but what is in it for the baby? How can we provide something that supports our babies’ development as well as gets us a few minutes of quiet and calm.

eebee stroller toy

eebee stroller toy

Well one idea is a peek-a-boo stroller toy. One of the most popular games for babies is peek-a-boo and there is a good reason for that. Babies are working on the concept that when things are hidden behind hands, a blanket or something that it has not completely disappeared from the world. They have not yet figured out that objects don’t disappear but are just hidden. Academics call this the concept of “object permanence” and it is why babies don’t tire of all the peek-a-boo variations. They need a large experience base to figure that objects don’t disappear from the world just because they are hidden.

Therefore our eebee stroller toy uses the popular vibrating mechanism found in a lot of stroller or hanging toys to shimmy eebee above and then behind a blanket. Babies love it so it meets the goal of engaging them with something and it enables our babies to work on that elusive concept of object permanence with each session. Again its about taking those everyday moments and creating some rich learning adventure out of it.

March 3, 2010

Stacking Toys

We are all familiar with the numerous types of stacking toys which usually have a spindle/pole on some base with graduated rings of different sizes. No doubt your baby has one or has used one somewhere like on a playdate or doctors office visit. It’s a classical developmental baby toy.

Typical Stacker

Typical Stacker

Well let’s use the stacking toy as an example of how you nurture all these important developmental objectives of Character (eg Humanity), Competences (eg Language Development), and Conceptual understanding (eg Physics of Rings & Poles). Most of the time when I see parents playing with their baby on one of these things, the baby puts on a small ring first and immediately mom says oh no the big one goes on first not that one. The parent wants to match the perfect graduated sizes from big to small just like they were packaged at the store. However that is not what it is about at all. Again it is all about mucking around and exploring with these objects and their classic play patterns. The eebee’s Adventures “stacker” actually gets rid of the spindle and makes the rings fit on just about anything (see photo below).

eebee Stacker

eebee Stacker

Sure you can stack them on the arms and legs of eebee just like you can a spindle but more importantly you can create a much more emotional experience by stacking them on your babies arms and legs, having your baby stack them on your arms and legs and stacking them and matching them with lots of objects around the room. For example, you can take the yellow ring and play an interactive matching game with your baby. You say can “This ring is ‘yellow’. What else is yellow in this room. Let’s find it and stack this yellow ring on it.”

Taking the focus away from the spindle and matching, fitting, stacking in lots of rich ways creates more numerous opportunities for Language development. Not only do you name the color “yellow” like in the example above you make yellow come alive more by “doing” yellow and having the baby actually find other yellow objects, fit the ring on the yellow object and feel the joy of having matched yellows or even saying yellow themselves if old enough. Babies learn by doing so naming exploring “yellow” exploring the object it was matched to “chair”, “bucket/pale” and all the other objects makes this classic stacking game a great language and vocabulary development tool.

You can also nurture character development such as Humanity during the play by emphasizing the emotional experience of the play. Watch the range of emotions that your baby expresses during the stacking experience from the excitement of matching colors to the frustration of not being able to get the ring onto the spindle or object. Label those emotions and show you understand what they are experiencing and can make the same expression to reflect back that you can feel that emotion with them.

Your babies are also learning a lot about the physics of solid objects rings with holes and poles and arms that fit those holes. We take for granted all these concepts that babies need to explore with hands on experience. So this simple play and exploration around a stacking toy can nurture and exercise character, competence, and concepts. This is how development works; it is paying attention and tuning into all these little everyday experiences that accumulate and add up into big important influences on our child’s development. It is the little things we do every day that count.

February 18, 2010

Awareness- Part 3

Twos take another leap in their ability to gain awareness of their world and use mental models to reflect upon it. First is that our Twos are not only able to create a mental picture of the world but are also able to hold that representation of the external world in mind for longer than just the immediate moment and can use it to complete tasks and meet goals. Whitney revealed a strong ability to keep a visual map of where she was and where she needed to go. For example, when asked to go get a ball out in the yard while viewing it from the second floor of our house, she could hold her representation of the house, the front yard and where the ball is in that yard as she navigated downstairs, outside and through the yard to retrieve it. (see “Get Ball” video clips at: www.RaisingWhit.com, 24mths).

Mental Maps used to find something

Mental Maps used to find the ball

The second important milestone is the capacity to rehearse and review one’s own actions– to picture “me” doing things in that external world. Here to is an extended ability to hold that representation in mind longer bringing new levels of awareness and reflection. As mentioned in the previous post, humans unlike any other species have a robust self recognition and ability to picture and supervise themselves performing complex tasks. This type of conscious awareness is unique to humans. Although some primates like apes have a limited form of imitation, none can match our toddlers budding skills at mental rehearsal and accurate reproduction of actions. (see “Imitating Stretching” video from last post)

These two milestones come together to create a powerful new ability to understand and keep in memory “mental models” or scripts that lets a toddler meaningfully explore and categorize the world. They are beginning to master the everyday routines and scripts that compose life from wakeup time and mealtime to bathtime and bedtime. They have a growing understanding of their world, their life and an ability to hold these images and understandings in mind. These multisensory pictures or ideas are the most deliberate and conscious productions of the mind. The ultimate model of models is “me-in-my-enviroment” and our toddlers are starting to perform the mental rehearsal of placing themselves in all these different roles and routines. Now our toddlers can form a mental image of his wants and desires, label it with specific spoken words, communicate or act on it.

The difference from a year ago is that these are now more complex models with beginnings, middles and ends; and she can now move away from having to rely on the primarily behavior based interactions. She can use verbal shortcuts to get she needs met as more words become associated with these mental pictures. The life of action is transitioning to a life of mind. Albeit still isolated islands of ideas without the more coherent worldview an adult carries around that integrates ideas into unified narratives. This is an early phase in the life of mind.

In the second half of the year, our children do begin to build bridges between ideas and construct more coherent narratives and reason logically. Before 3 years, toddlers will start to weave together autobiographical narratives. Narratives go further than just words to describe things. Narratives have a dramatic through line with actors who have desires directed toward goals which take place in a context with a beginning, middle and end. Whitney could now comprehend and make up narratives about her own life. Another aspect is the ability to create larger stories across a broader range of experience. Whitney was now beginning to understand how one event leads to another (if I fall down, I get a booboo on my knee and have to get a bandaide); how ideas operate across time (If I eat my dinner now, I will get dessert later); and how ideas operate across space (Mom is here and dropping me off now and will go away and come back later to pick me up). Ideas can now be used to explain emotions (I feel mad because mom won’t let me do that) and for logical thinking (that is fantasy instead of reality).

From infancy to three, our babies are mastering this critical capacity for broad human awareness and reflective thought. Again, it does not happen automatically and rich experiences in the baby’s real world set a more robust and solid foundation. From birth we can help our babies remain in a calm alert state for full employment of their five senses and the optimal engagement with their surroundings. We can develop a close intimate bond with our baby by interacting with our baby at a slow pace following their lead. We can explore the world with our baby noticing their emotional reactions to things and encouraging back and forth facial expressions and gestures, expressing a broader range of emotions with appropriate natural timing. We can help them exercise their budding mental representations and memories by recounting events and the day before bed and anticipating what is about to happen prior to the day and the events. We can help them construct narratives from their lives by starting a story about your trip to the zoo and letting them fill in and co- construct the story as you both recount it to a sibling or spouse. There is much to do in our role as parent. Two amazing books for much more detail are: Daniel Stern’s Diary of a Baby for a eye opening perspective on how your baby sees the world and Stanley Greenspan’s Building Healthy Minds on what you can do at each age & stage of this development.

January 26, 2010

Language Development- Part 3

During the third year of language development, early advantages compound as two year olds have learned that words represent things and know enough words to help them figure out new words by context very quickly.  You may notice your child making good, quick guesses as to what certain words mean.  This is called fast mapping the meaning of new words.  I noticed that if I used a sentence with all familiar words except one, but the context was familiar Whitney would quickly figure out the meaning of the new word. Two year olds are best able to carry on a conversation with others when there are only two people involved in the conversation (see video at http://bit.ly/6Ueixh).

Picture 5

As Whitney started having more conversations with others, she would also begin to recognize if her message was understood and to repeat it and clarify if necessary. This is an important step in effectively communicating with others. While this ability generally emerges around 2 ½ year of age, it isn’t until children are older, that they ask for clarification from others when they do not understand. Children are also learning to use language to demand reasons from others, which makes it possible for children to test limits and challenge caregivers verbally.  Whitney began to ask why she couldn’t have a cookie before dinner and would even use language to try to negotiate, most often in the form of pleading, to persuade us otherwise. By the time they are 3, our children have learned to use language to express their feelings, to try to resolve a conflict with someone else, to negotiate and to make their needs and wants known. They have mastered an enormous amount in these brief few years.

All of these early language developments then have an influence on the later developments of multiple academic and social skills during preschool, primary school, and beyond. So language in particular is a key skill to nurture and support in our babies.  It is important to note that what is not mentioned for support is flash cards nor anything about the ABCs. Language develops as your baby interacts with and shows an interest in real things. So as you play with water, blocks, balls and other things around the house, narrate what is happening, describe the details to keep the flow of language a rich source of stimuli for your baby. If your baby has siblings around the house that will also help increase the language a baby hears. In addition, the media we choose makes a difference. Research now shows that Baby Einstein is not well designed for language acquisition; but content does matter, Baby TV that has different design features such as eebee’s Adventures better supports a babies’ need for language acquisition in a context that makes sense for babies at a pace they can follow.