Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/blogsgi/public_html/wp-includes/ms-load.php on line 138
Motor Skills | Child Development | giggle Blogs

motor skills

December 9, 2009

Learning Through Play

Our babies love to explore and make sense of their world as I have described in my blogs over the last several weeks– from solids (like blocks and balls)  to liquids (like water) to light (by exploring their shadows from the sun). We adults have labeled these investigations or mucking around as  “play” since the children are really enjoying themselves; to the untrained eye, it certainly does not look like work. But play is a child’s work.

Who's that in the mirror

Who's that in the mirror

And children are highly motivated in their jobs – - to figure all this stuff out. There is an intrinsic human drive to explore and master one’s environment so we just need to harness that energy and effort. How our children do their work is very concrete; they need to get their hands, mouths and bodies on things to test them out and see what they are all about. An important fact that we have not yet discussed much is how these real concrete contexts and experiences are the vehicle for all their learning—Learning Through Play. All the stuff we think of as learning and intelligence gets exercised and develops through our babies’ hands-on explorations and experiences.

Take language development: babies don’t start out an experience saying “geez I would really like to build my vocabulary by 10 new words”. The language development is embedded into and a by-product of what they are doing and other goals. Babies want to figure something out and daddy keeps calling that thing they are fascinated with by the name “shadow”, so that vocabulary word is very meaningful to them and sticks with them. The shadow then leaps forward closer to them when they walk close to a “wall”; dad narrates the action so they learn the word “wall” because it created an exciting effect they were interested in. Vocabulary building and language development happens while our babies engage in something meaningful to them and that context provides the opportunity for all the vocabulary about the specific actions, objects, features and effects that activity affords.  Flash cards provide no context so they are not as effective; nothing beats a real authentic experience and real interest for learning. This is true of the development of all competences as well as language—a babies social & emotional skills, their cognitive skills, physical skills and all.

What do we as adults and parents want our children to be learning while they go about actively exploring their world & “playing”? Language development, certainly important, is considered one of a broader category of competences. Experts have identified three important categories of learning and development that we should know about and try to gently embed into our child’s explorations and experiences. These are the 3 Cs: Character, Competences, and Concepts and I will explore each in my next post.

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.