NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
March 19, 1998
Kim Bushaw, Parent Line Program Specialist
NDSU Extension Service
"Crystal, no! Don't touch. Hurt. Owie. No, no. Mommy's," Lilly exclaims excitedly as she darts toward her darling 10-month-old daughter who's unloading the last of her handbag.
Lilly isn't used to her mobile baby yet. Lilly and Avery had lived in this house for five years before Crystal was born. So for those five years Lilly's purse has been stashed on the floor near the front door. No question now, the handbag needs a new home, higher and out of the sight of this little explorer.
Lilly starts by checking Crystal's mouth. She feels nothing but drool and four sharp teeth.
As she quickly puts the items back in her purse, she stops to watch Crystal pick up a tube of lipstick. The child pops it to her mouth and examines it, moves it from her mouth to look at it and then pounds it awhile on the floor next to her. Next it's back to her mouth for more examination.
Lilly realizes Crystal is learning about the lipstick tube by moving it around her sensitive mouth, then focusing her eyes on this strange object and then pounding it on the floor to hear its reaction before it goes back for additional taste testing. This baby is certainly curious about her world.
Frustrating, damp and unsanitary as these first experiments can be, they are important. Early childhood educators tell us that for something to be entered into the brain of young children, it first needs to be placed in their hands. Hands-on learning is the lesson for the day in brain development. Recently I heard a person proclaim that when you say "Don't touch" to a child, it's the same as saying "Don't learn."
Plants, cords and many other dangers lurk in most homes. Practice safety first by letting the child learn about only those items that are safe to explore.
I recall my frustration with a math worksheet my young child brought home. On a poorly copied page was a drawing of several pennies and a nickel plus the question "How many of these make one of these?" Visually, there was hardly a way to tell the coins apart. As an adult I could reason from the question that they must be asking how many pennies equal one nickel, but my kindergarten-aged child had no way of knowing such a thing. He didn't have the ability to reason.
After struggling awhile, we dumped out several pennies and nickels and spent nearly an hour discussing them, counting them, feeling them, and noting the similarities and differences. Then when he felt ready, he figured out the problem, wrote the answer and pocketed the change.
Crystal counts on her senses and actions to give her information and build her brainpower. Our son was easily fooled by appearances, and when asked which was more, a dime or a nickel, he was convinced it was the nickel because it was a bigger size. To him, three pennies were more than two dimes because three is more than two. Note this is not a good time to send the child to the store without help.
At age 8 this boy was able to clearly identify all common U.S. currency and anticipate about how many coins to count out for baseball cards. By around 11 years old, many children will be able to predict what will happen, plan how to test to see if they predicted correctly and even consider some of the other possibilities.
At each of these stages, the child is able to build on what he already knows. He tries out an idea to see if he is correct and then changes any concept that isn't accurate. A young child may learn the word for dog because he has a dog. Later, when he sees a cat, cow or fox, he will determine it also has four legs and a tail so it too must be a dog. When the adult renames the new animal a cat, the child must readjust his thinking about all four-legged and tailed animals.
When Lilly discovered Crystal's need to construct her knowledge by exploring things, she put her danger-laden purse on the top shelf and found as many safe and interesting things for her daughter to mouth as she could. She stopped thinking of this exploration as messy and germy and reminded herself that she was raising the top student in drool school.
More than 100 Parent Line columns are in the book "Please Tell Me This is Just a Stage." To order, send $9.95 per copy to Distribution Center, Box 5655, NDSU, Fargo, ND 58105-5655.
Kim Bushaw answers the Parent Line, an information and listening support warmline for North Dakota parents from the NDSU Extension Service. Call the Parent Line at 1-800-258-0808 (231-7923 in Fargo) with questions about this column and other parenting topics.
Source: Kim Bushaw (701) 231-1070
Editor: Becky Koch (701) 231-7875