This week my grand-daughter, who is nearly two, has been experimenting with life in a big way. In many families her behaviour would quickly get her labelled as ‘naughty’, ‘manipulative’ or worse. She might be yelled at, told off or otherwise punished. Because of her stage of child development, she might very well resist this control and a battle would ensue. In the worst scenarios that would shut down her learning: she would be more reluctant to reach out and give things a go.
A scientist is someone who tries things out and observes the outcome. They might have an idea (theory) and work out how to make it happen. They see if the same action will have the same outcome in different contexts. They experiment. Children are scientists par excellence – until someone puts a stop to this. Sometimes this is for their safety or because it is time for dinner – but often just because it is inconvenient and makes a mess.
So what did this little one do? First of all she got hold of a box of toy animals and emptied them all out onto the floor. She then picked them up one at a time and said their name. She soon had enough of animals so tried a jigsaw. After managing a few pieces successfully she swept it all off the table. he has learnt to say ‘uh oh’ as she does this, as if it is an accident! At this point we sang a song about tidying up and all taking our share. She was happy to join in and helped to put the animals and jigsaw pieces back in their respective boxes. Tidying up happens routinely both at home and in nursery so she clearly expects to participate and seems to feel good about helping.
Then we had experiments with water. She turned her tippy cup upside down and tried to shake the water out. As she was not able to do this I gave her a hand and put some water into a plastic cup. She drank from this and then poured the rest onto the tray of her high chair. This was intriguing as she splashed her hand in it. I gave her a second cup and she poured water from one to the other – over and over again.
The brain of a two year old is making millions of neural connections (synapses) a day. These are the links between brain cells. Children are learning all the time from what they see, hear, play with, experiment with and manipulate. They already understand a great deal of language (understanding is in the Wernicke’s area of the brain) and beginning to use words (spoken language is based in the Broca’s area) to communicate. Their memory is building patterns of understanding and making connections between areas of learning. The limbic area of the brain that deals with emotions is also engaged so that positive emotions enhance the depth of understanding and retrieval. What inhibits this learning is stress. What promotes it is supportive adults, calm responses, talking about what is happening and celebrating when something is achieved. It’s all a matter of perception, perhaps adults need to be as fascinated with the world as those who are experiencing it for the first time.
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