Why do our little ones want to get their hands on any loose object in the house? Why are they so fascinated with opening every drawer or door and dumping out whatever they can? Who hasn’t seen the delight of a baby getting a hold of mama’s purse, emptying the entire thing and rummaging through each item. Another classic is the grabbing of the glasses from Grandma’s nose. These Everyday objects are what populate our babies’ world so naturally they want to seize and explore. And of course, the value of, or interest in an object skyrockets when mom, dad or other important person has it; they want what you have. They are fascinated by the variety of objects and relationships between objects such as the spatial relationship of the container (purse) and the contained (lipstick case).
Infants bring to their mouth objects that they can grasp– the edge of their blanket, the end of a rattle, a shoelace. In so doing, they gain information both about the shape of the object and the capacity of their mouth. The mouth is like a third hand and the object to mouth relation is an important foundation for reading the spatial world. Infants will search for objects they drop. This helps them figure out the relation of objects to supporting surfaces. Whitney like most babies never seemed to tire of dropping objects from her high chair (http://bit.ly/7qAJyB). They also experiment with relations such as when object is out of reach or only hidden behind a fold in the blanket. And of course infants love to make the whole visual world disappear by covering their eyes with their blanket, then peeking out again. These games teach them the concept of covering, which is not really the same as disappearing.
Toddlers have improved dexterity and therefore have more possible ways to handle objects and understand the relationships between them. The child can place and release one block on top of another, in effect saying, “I can make that block (the one on the floor) grow.” They also like to swipe the top block off, in effect saying, “I know this tall object looks like a whole, but see, it is really separate parts.” They not only explore separate and whole, but also inside and out. ONEs love to put small objects into cups and containers, then dump them out. They are exploring the paradox between gone/not-gone, inside/outside, attached/not attached. (See Whitney at http://bit.ly/6iF4LS)
Watch carefully for early examples of sorting objects. The one year old shows his/her thinking more by the order in which he touches objects than by physically sorting them here and there. He might touch four of the little cars and none of the little cats. This behavior indicates that he has organized in his mind that the cars are all members of the same category. But he can put two cube blocks together in a stack, and later in a row. These pairings are not categories, but simply physical adjacencies that make something he likes.
TWOs invent new ways to play with relations such as inside and outside. A cube can go in a cup, but also the cup can go over (cover) the block on the table. The child has discovered the inverse of cube inside cup, i.e. cup outside cube. As children play and talk about containers, they are “unpacking” the complexities of spatial relations. Watch to decide if your child is more interested in placing an object in to leave it contained, placing it in to make it disappear, placing it to take it out, making the container become the contained (e.g. nesting cups) or even opening and closing the container without interest in contents. Then gently summarize in words what you see, such as, “You closed the lid.” Then do something slightly more complicated and put your action to words, “I put the lid on the bottom.”
When children explore small objects, we can see the way they think. We know they are thinking about physical similarity when they sort a group of objects into categories, such as all the red ones here and the yellow ones over there. We know they are thinking about vacant space when they deliberately make a gap between two blocks and call it a “door.” The more we slow down, let them grab hold of those everyday objects, the more our children will figure out what all these objects are and how they’re put to use.