Wednesday, September 7, 2011
THE GENIUS OF TODDLERS
Meeting some of my new 2 year olds today at school today reminded me all over again about one of the reasons why I absolutely love toddlers and two's: their brains are growing at an incredible rate. One aspect of brain development involves forming an intricate network of neural connections in response to experiences. This is the toddler's specialty! All the action is triggered by sensory information. Each one of a toddler's five senses is on high alert every minute. Each day is a heroic quest to accumulate sensory experiences which will lead to an ever-increasing understanding of the world.
More neural connections are being formed in the brain when you are one and two years old than at any other time in your life. Think about it: a large part of your own brain architecture was created when you were so young that you probably don't even consciously remember your experiences. I think this is why my two's take their work and their play so seriously: they're in the process of designing a brain structure that will be allow for a lifetime of learning. And to think that all of this learning and growth is initiated through the five senses! Fascinating!
Some of the toddler sensory exploration I observed today at preschool:
(Note: fake initials)
-L. was pushing the doll stroller around the room and creating challenges for himself along the way. At one point he tried to push the stroller up over the threshold to go outside, and worked very hard to learn just how much he had to lift the wheels to get it over the bump. L. was combining information from his eyes, his hands, his feet, and his ears, and using that information to solve a self-chosen problem. Fabulous expression of triumph on that little face when he succeeded!
-Z. is very familiar with the preschool environment. When he walked into the beloved preschool play-yard he was apparently disconcerted to find that some water-pipe construction had torn up a part of the garden. Upon seeing the pile of dirt and the caution tape, he evidently compared that with the prior visual information about preschool that he already had "on file" in his brain, and wasn't thrilled with the discrepancy. His mom told me when he saw the mess, his comment was, "Ya gotta be kidding me!" Ha! This cracks me up, because although I've known Z. for about a year, so far, I've never heard him say more than 2 or 3 words at a time! The impact of this visual image prompted his brain to use very elaborate language to express himself.
-P. was fascinated with the pretend-kitchen, and in particular, the pretend-microwave. He spent a lot of time putting toy food into the microwave, shutting the door, and pushing the pretend buttons. While engaging in this activity, he was extremely focused and calm. When other children (probably equally enthralled with the prospect of microwaving stuff like mom and dad) came near, he became unhappy and a look of distress could be seen on his face. Clearly, he was worried because he felt a very strong need to continue this activity until he felt "done" (meaning: he had maximized his learning from the activity,) and the approach of other children threatened his ability to complete his self-appointed learning task. Multiply this example times a thousand, and you can get an idea of what life is like every day in a toddler classroom! Most of the inevitable toddler conflicts (I call them social learning opportunities) arise from the urgent internal drive to complete a sensory learning task.
-R. and her big brother went into the bathroom to wash their hands. I encouraged the brother to climb up on the step stool and wash his hands with her, because I knew that big brothers are intensely observed by little sisters, and are often the most important role models of all. R. observed, wide-eyed, as brother soaped, scrubbed and rinsed his hands, then followed his lead, exactly imitating the actions she had just watched him doing. Big smile! Then walking away, she made a great effort to mimic his big-boy swagger, as well!
-Today the pretend-kitchen was, as always, a popular and busy part of our classroom. F. was busy with the dishes, and I suddenly saw an "I've got an idea!" look on his face. Then he started supplying sound-effects as he poured and sipped imaginary tea. This was quite interesting to other children and several joined him in his noisy tea party. Many senses combined to make this a fascinating moment for F. and a few friends. Lots of learning about friendship, pretend-play, cause/effect, and much more!
-B. said the white crayon was "broken, " because she couldn't see the marks it made as she scribbled on the white paper. I gave her a piece of black paper to experiment with and she tested the white crayon on the black paper, and then tried several other colors, comparing the results. I observed an "Aha!" expression on her face as she figured out this interesting problem. Priceless!
All this and much, much more happened today at our Meet The Teacher Day classroom visits. You can almost hear the crackling and popping as the synapses formed! And this is just our first day. Wait 'til these kiddos see what I have planned for their growing brains next week!
Posted by ANNIE CASTLE DECKERT, M.ED.PSYCH.