Monday, 18 February 2013

Geeky Things You May Not Know About Babies and Children

For today's blog post, I am going to write about some of the parts of my coursework I've found interesting so far. This is partly so that I can ensure I've actually learned the topic, since there's an exam at the end of the module.

  • You know the game where you hide a coin in one of your hands, and have a child guess which hand it's in? You can play that with a child... but until the age of around 5 a child cannot play it with you. Until this point in their development, they think everyone knows the same things, so they don't understand that you don't just know where the coin is.
  • If you show a five-year-old two identical balls of plasticine, you can agree they have the same amount of plasticine in both... but if you roll one out into a sausage shape, your five-year-old will most likely think the sausage has more plasticine than the ball. By the time they reach six or seven, children are able to see that there is the same amount of plasticine in each ball, even if one is moulded into a different shape.
  • Similarly, if you show your five-year-old two beakers containing the same amounts of water, and agree they contain the same amount of water... if the contents of one is poured into a wider beaker the five-year-old will tell you one of the beakers now contains more water than the other.
  • BUT if you have your two matching beakers, and say "oh dear, this one has a chip in it, we'd better swap it for that one" before you pour the water into a different-shaped container, your five-year-old can usually follow this and will agree both beakers still contain the same amount of water. The first one was an abstract concept and a bit pointless, but the second one contextualises the change of beaker; there's a reason for it so the child understands it better.
  • Babies are born with arguably better hearing than adults. They are able to distinguish between sounds that adults hear as the same. You know how Japanese speakers sound funny speaking English, saying "velly" rather than "very?" It's because in Japanese they don't have a distinction between those sounds. Japanese babies are born perfectly capable of hearing the difference between the two sounds, but as they grow up and learn their native language, they lose the ability to hear differences they don't need to hear on a regular basis. This is why you can hear a friend speaking Spanish on holiday, and they sound fluent to you - you can hear no difference between what they're saying and the Spanish person they're speaking to replies - but the Spanish person can hear a bad English accent in the Spanish that sounds so... Spanish to you!
  • Although their ears are in full working order when they are born, babies eyes are far from 100% at this stage. Or rather, their eyes themselves are fully developed but the part that picks up the image and then relays it to the brain is not so fantastic. Because of this babies can't see a lot - and we don't know how much, because a 2-day-old infant isn't fantastic at saying "yeah I can see it but it's a bit blurry..." We do know that they can't see fine details, and that they prefer to look at human faces. They are also able to distinguish between their parents' faces and those of strangers, from very early on.
  • Babies also prefer to look at simple, symmetrical patterns with curved lines. Remember in this post where I said I'd made some simple pictures on postcards and stuck them on the wall for S? Turns out science agrees with me. That doesn't happen very often.
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