fredag 6. februar 2015

Exploring Eggs and Avocadoes

I challenged two of my students to observe their own children’s encounters “new materials”. For those 10 and 9 months old babies most of materials were new; the trick was to choose materials that would not harm them during their multi-sensory explorations. The assignment requested that each child got chance to explore two similar but not identical materials/objects. This would provide opportunities for babies to acquire new experiences, recognize similarities and to be surprized. Here is a reconstruction of what the students wrote in their assignments.
One of the students gave her 10 months old girl a cooked, pealed egg first. The girl brought it directly to her mouth. The egg was smooth, slipped from her hands and rolled over the floor. She quickly followed by crawling, supporting her weight with one hand on the floor and catching the egg with the other. When she finally grabbed the egg, she grabbed it so hard that the egg went to pieces. She picked some of the pieces and started to put them in her mouth. Then she suddenly realized that the taste was unfamiliar and looked skeptically at her parents to check if it was safe. They were smiling, she sensed their encouragement and continued to eat, cluck out loud and enjoy.

The second experiment took place few days later. This time the girl was given a raw egg with shell. Her mouth opened the same moment she grabbed the egg with both hands and she went on rubbing the eggshell to her gums (a new tooth was on its way out). After some time she started to swing her arm. If she slipped the egg it would fly away: Her mother was watching nervously. To her surprise, the egg did not crack when it fell on the wooden floor for the first time; But it surprised the girl when it finally did: With her eyes wide open, she gave her mother a questioning look. She started to pick the eggshell, but the mother decided to remove it to prevent the girl from putting it is her mouth. This upset the girl, but she soon calmed down and started to play with egg content. She crawled around and with her hands extended the egg area on the floor. She was excited when a bubble suddenly appeared in the egg white, and tried to pick it up. She tried several times but each bubble busted. After about five minutes of bubble catching, she lay down on her stomach and started to lick the floor. The experiment ended when the mother evaluated that the floor was dangerously slippery for the girl.

The other child, nine months old boy, was given a peeled avocado to play with. It was slipping away as the boy was trying to catch it. He was crawling and chasing the avocado across the floor, but it repeatedly slipped between his fingers. After some time he seemed to realize that there was more resistance in avocado than he had expected. He sat up a kind of trap for the avocado and caught it between his legs. Now he could squeeze it much harder and longer without losing it. The squeezed substance colored his socks and trousers green and he could not any longer see where the avocado was hiding, so he began squeezing his own foot. The avocado had disappeared, only the big brown seed remained – however, the boy did not see any connection between the two such different shapes and material qualities. He continued playing with avocado remaining, smeared them on the floor and found it amusing to crawl over the slippery surface.

For the second experiment, the boy was given an unpeeled avocado. He did not seem to recognize the object; The difference between the two avocados was probably too large: both the color and the consistency were different. This avocado was explored by rolling. At some point, the boy tried to squeeze it, but soon realized that it did not lead anywhere. He tried biting and tasting, but lost interest when he did not find much he could do with the object.

During their active interactions with the objects / materials the children discovered materials’ specific qualities. The materials offered different affordances and different types of resistance, and challenged different forms of physical and mental activities. What is this - and what can I do with it? Some properties were more interesting than others were. The boy’s mother comments that soft materials might be more fun to explore - her son played much longer with the soft avocado.

Both of the mothers noted how important intersubjective communication with their children was for making the material exploration possible at all. The boy’s mother wrote: “He was so aware of my reactions to his activities; He stopped his activities, looked at me and waited for an encouraging smile before he continued. He knew that he was usually not allowed to spill and smear things on the floor and he needed a "confirmation" that it was OK to do that this time.”

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