Last time you were in the backyard or grassy park, what kind of learning adventures did you notice your infants or toddlers undertaking and what did you do to support and extend the experience? There are lots of rich learning explorations to be had in the backyard. Here in the video below, my daughter Whitney found lots of things that peaked her interest for further investigation from flowers and butterflies to bees and clovers:
I tried to encourage her to explore those interests simply by labeling them and then probing with more questions. I also tried to embed some “numeracy” into her clover collecting by supporting her counting skills. Whitney was starting to learn that the order of numbers matters and discovering that the last number tells how many. Notice how when she counts that clovers first by herself she really can’t do it so well but by my helping her lay out the daisies in a row and scaffolding her, she could better exercise her early counting in this meaningful context. For us parents finding ways to embed the learning in everyday fun and meaningful activities is what it is all about. So next time we are out in the backyard, let’s look for all those great opportunities to create richer learning adventures.
The recurring idea in my posts is that we can take any old everyday activity or routine and make it a learning adventure for our babies. Take the daily jog. You can’t really get more mundane than that and it is largely an activity for the adult to get exercise. Babies are not doing a whole bunch besides sitting in the jogger seat. So how does this become a learning adventure for a baby? Simple, you narrate the heck out of whatever you encounter along the way. Don’t worry about sounding silly or talking too much, the more the better, click the play button below:
Notice how every step of the jog really is an opportunity for learning– from getting Whitney’s coat, to buckling her buckle, to the seaguls, piers and kayaks we run across while jogging. One small example I would like to point out is “scaffolding” her while she snaps her buckle. At first Whitney cannot get the buckle to snap so she asks me to do it. In these situations we do not think twice about helping out and buckling the buckle for our toddlers but when we do it for our children we deprive them of a learning opportunity and an opportunity to learn that “can-do” disposition for tackling the world. Instead of buckling it for her, I “scaffold” to enable her to do it. It is the simple step of just holding the female part of the buckle steady for her so that she can better direct the buckle into it. This way she learns that she can do it herself; not that she needs to rely on others because she can’t. Again, we as parents should be providing the minimum level of support so that our children can do it themselves and feel that emotion of applying the effort and getting the result they want. This builds the disposition for perseverance and a can-do attitude. Done numerous times a day or week it makes a huge difference.
With the arrival of Memorial day and the onset of summer, it is easy to predict that anyone with a baby is going to be doing lots of water play over the next few months (if not already this past weekend). So next time 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 supplying tools and encouraging play extensions that come to mind based on what interests your child. Over the summer let’s all look at our child’s water play with new lenses.