EXPLORATION: We are powerful and natural explorers— Babies are the model of how we learn, actively testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment and conclusion.
So wrote John Medina in his book Brain Rules, ending with this 12th rule that pretty much sums it up. We are born to be curious and the brain is designed to make sense of our explorations— noting pattern, making predictions. drawing conclusions. Even as a young teacher (so many, many years ago!), I was talking about teaching as “leading the children to the edge of discovery” and planning my classes accordingly. I believed in children’s innate urge to figure things out and was rewarded many times over as indeed they did. And they still do and I still am.
I liked that Mr. Medina chose babies as the pinnacle of the learning process and after a week with 16-month old Zadie, I’m reminded why. We jaded adults need the promise of a hike to Machu Picchu or a safari in Kenya to feel like we’re going on an adventure, but Zadie just opens her eyes each morning and the world offers itself to her as a grand escapade, a fabulous journey that begins with whatever she notices first. She might make a mountain of pillows or arrange blocks on the floor or wander down the hall, stopping to look into each room and exclaim “Wowie!” It doesn’t take much to entertain her.
Repetition is a big part of her play and though adults can tire quickly of the games, it all is essential to her brain growth. There’s a lot of opening the drawer and closing the drawer, giving you something and taking it back, putting the two Legos together and pulling them apart. If you’re going to start a “Peek-a-boo” game, be ready to settle in for the long haul— 25 peek-a-boo minimum. If she closes the page of the book you’re reading and you react with “Whoops!” and she laughs, you can kiss that story goodbye. The new game is you opening the page, her closing it, feigning surprise and the reward? That laugh of sheer delight.
My daughter and son-in-law are such wise parents, having boycotted Toys-R-Us and been cautious about electronic addiction. Her toys are a few stuffies, some musical egg shakers, a rubber ball, some Legos, simple things that ask more of her imagination to animate them and less of batteries and electrical outlets. Our hopes is that she will grow up like her grandparents did, with an inner life rich in fantasy play, a lifelong habit of entertaining herself and finding large possibilities in small things.
Of course, she’ll be fascinated by the movement in the i-Pad and find worthy things to explore there in good time— no way around that. But my hope is that the simple fascination with the egret at the outlet, water lapping on her legs, sand, pail and shovel, will never be overwhelmed by the flash and dazzle of the over-hyped screen. A difficult prayer for our times, but one well-worth making as I see how happy she is each moment of the day surrounded by loving adults, simple toys and the natural world. Happy, that is, except when she has to take a nap and miss some of the excitement.
Like now. Time to go sing her a song. With my simple acoustic ukelele.