developmental milestones

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.

December 10, 2010

Social Awareness & Seeking Approval

As our toddlers develop more social awareness, they soon begin seeking approval from those important to them. Toddlers want their efforts to be rewarded with attention, excitement and approval. Praise, the more the better but you want it to be descriptive of what was accomplished. Instead of the frequent “good job”, try to describe what happened:

“Wow, look at how tall your block tower is. You placed 1, 2, 3 blocks in that tower, congratulations”. Start early and be explicit about how effort leads to specific results that get your attention and praise. Read more…

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.

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.

February 10, 2010

Awareness- Part 2

The development of a versatile self awareness propels many new cognitive feats. Not only can they recognize themselves in the mirror, but they can decipher the rotations and transformations of their images in the mirror based on the actions they initiate. This is the beginning of the capability of manipulating their own self-image in their mind and the capacity to rehearse and review one’s own actions. This ability to bring our own body into full view enables powerful learning through social imitation and the detailed reproduction of actions.

Imitating Stretching

Imitating Stretching

It is hard to appreciate just how important this unique kind of self-awareness is. It is what allows us to self-assemble complex skills from a one year old learning to walk to the most advanced feats we adults can perform. Just consider the simple task of driving a car where a person must learn a whole range of relatively independent actions– starting, turning, backing up, steering, accelerating, braking, shifting gears, monitoring traffic, reading road signs, keeping track of directions and street names, etc. These sub skills are usually self taught, self rehearsed, and self evaluated. Each sub skill must be integrated into a complex hierarchy or metasystem that coordinates all of the sub components into a fluid whole. What early on takes conscious deliberation eventually becomes automatic and intuitive. One year olds are already building skill upon skill. Sub skills are embedded into more complex skill hierarchies such as walking. Toddlers must be able to stand up, balance themselves, take the first step and swing their leg for the next step and eventually stop.

Mental skills are being built upon existing skills. With the rise of multisensory images now being represented and remembered in mind, a remarkable spurt of problem solving occurs as these new skills are put to use.  Although still tied to concrete actions, our babies can establish intent , set & realize goals and perform all the associated problem solving to achieve it. During early ones, all this happens non-verbally, done with images translated to actions. For example, Whitney would spy a favorite toy, recognize her desire to have it, and exchange a whole range of gestures with me that logically followed each other. She would toddle over to the shelf the toy was on and then look over her shoulder at me to enlist my attention. Once she recognized she had my attention by my nob and look, she might wield her finger toward the toy and squeal with a “demand cry” (see video). Whitney was rewarded in her problem solving steps by me giving her the toy and she gave me the reward of a big smile. No words involved but lots of cognitive thought and mental problem solving. Theses processes are the  foundations for their very consciousness and thought that are being put in place.

Around half way through the second year, toddlers make another giant leap into the more mental world of words. Instead of pointing, grabbing your shirt and pulling you over to the doorway, they become able to look us in the eye and say “Go“. This transition does not happen overnight but is a gradual process beginning as early as 16 months and continuing up to their third year. Whitney’s “Non-verbal world” of the here & now is more fully joined by a symbolic “Verbal world” of the past and future, of naming and categorizing. These two separate worlds can be exhilarating and confusing. Her familiar nonverbal world of experience lives with a completely separate version of the same event, a new world of words. Life now and forever will be lived in parallel as the verbal and nonverbal constructions of experience live together.