Journal Entry 7 for Development in Early Childhood

This week, a short staff gave me the opportunity to stay in the art area again, though the more significant interactions happened incidentally in that area. A flower was put out, but only Nicole went by to make an observational drawing. Instead, children came to and went from the craft table and painting easels, where they interacted with each other.

An. and L. were at the craft table when L. saw a friend (S.’s sister, I think) walk in. While L. went over to give her a hug, An. looked at them blankly and seemed unsure what to think of it. When L. came back, she immediately said, “You’re my best friend. She’s just my friend.” Although I was struck by the empathy, I was even more surprised that L. said this without having apparently seen An.’s expression. My sense was that L., instead of reacting, anticipated this feeling of minor jealousy, which requires more active awareness.

The closeness between them likely facilitated this reaction, but two more incidents revealed how sensitive they were. C. had taken an egg in a cup outside, and shortly after, we all saw her rush inside, crying and running to Karen. They all paused midway through their work and watched C.. The conversation roughly went:

L.: I never saw C. cry like that.
An.: Yeah, I wonder what’s wrong.
B.: Maybe she want her mom.
An.: Why does she want her mom?
B.: Sometimes they cry when they want their mom.
L.: But she came from the sand area.

The conversation continued between them as they explored possible reasons for why she was crying. On the one hand, they themselves seemed outwardly unaffected by C.’s state, though perhaps non-verbal cues and expression also develop over time. Even so, they all empathized with C., which fascinated me from a theory of mind perspective. They explored hypothetical situations of what potential causes, considered how those would affect them, and reasoned that against C.’s observed behavior. This process of thinking made me realize how tightly connected several aspects of development are: in empathizing with C., they needed to project themselves into her point of view and reason through counterfactual worlds to guess what had happened.

Cognitive Development

This ability to take another perspective happened in a less emotionally involved situation soon after when Ae. had brought in a beetle in a plastic egg. Thankfully, it seemed as though most of the children hadn’t developed any sort of disgust towards it and eagerly looked at it. Ae. pointed out that “It can’t get out because it’s slippery,” watching the beetle desperately try to climb the sloping sides of the egg. When the excitement died down, he put the top on the egg. At that point, I mentioned something like, “The beetle might get lonely inside the egg because it can’t get very far if you close the egg.” What followed was:

J.: We could let it out in the classroom. (Pauses) It would be a giant world.
Me: Why would it be a giant world? It’s not giant to us.
J.: Because it’s so small. The room would be giant to it.

In this case, I was impressed by how she not only took the mental perspective of the beetle, but also absorbed and considered its physical shape as well. In fact, the perspective of it being small required that she, in some sense, imagine the beetle trying to interact with the room, either walking through it or using the objects in it, since the perspective of being close to the ground doesn’t necessarily make the room big.
The conversation continued when Al. jumped in with another comment:

Al. (with a disgusted look): It could get into our food.
(Several other children looked disgusted)
Me: Yeah, that wouldn’t be very good. I don’t think I would like eating a beetle.
Another child (from the background): Frogs eat them.
Me: That’s true. Maybe if we were frogs, we would like to eat them?
Everyone: Yeah!

This particular idea had much wider agreement with the children, which I think has 2 interesting aspects to it. First, we discussed in cognitive development how children form a “belief-desire psychology.” Presumably less advanced than empathy, infants slowly develop the ability to distinguish their own preferences from the preferences of others, reflected in having different desires. In this case, that resulted in understanding that as a frog, they would like the beetle that they typically don’t like. Second, this particular example seemed easier to engage in since it was closer to a fictional situation. They weren’t necessarily projecting into another person but simply imagining a hypothetical world. This sort of thinking seems closely related to the dramatic play that the children are, of course, wonderful at. This particular example is the most direct link I’ve seen between their play and the skills that emerge from it.

The last episode I want to relate came when L., J., and An. were painting. S. came in, walked up to everyone, and said, “You can’t talk.” After he left, J. came to me and said, “He said to me ‘you can’t talk,’ and I didn’t like it.” I asked them why he might have said that, and when no ideas came, I proposed that maybe he didn’t want to talk to anyone and therefore didn’t want anyone to talk to him, either. L., very acutely, responded instantly, “Then why is he saying that to us?” When the subsequent discussion didn’t enlighten us, I suggested that someone go out to ask him why he said that. J. chased him down, came back, and told us, “He says he’s ‘laning’.” An., clearly unsatisfied, asked what “laning” was, which I had no answer to and proposed that perhaps this was just some game he was playing.

J. then went out again and came back with a new revelation. “He says it’s too loud, and he wants it to be quiet.” We all accepted this, but since it still didn’t answer our question about “laning,” all three went out to talk to him after finishing their paintings. The final revelation came when they came back and told me that he was “laying eggs” and needed quiet for that. After class, Peckie confirmed this with me since S. had found something that needed quiet to lay eggs.

Although their process didn’t engage with possibilities as deeply as the previous events, they demonstrated the same empathy and were concerned for why S. was behaving as he did. The problem solving began from their own discomfort but soon became focused on trying to understand what S. was doing, and this time, they talked to him directly to get an answer.

This week was also my first chance to run a snack table on my own as Peckie was filling in at another table. For the most part, I didn’t find it too difficult to maintain control, except when there wasn’t any particular topic to focus on. A big difference from usual was their willingness to engage with me. When Peckie is there, the children will often come forward with their own stories or observations, which becomes a point of discussion. This time, however, I felt as though I needed to be more directed in asking about what they had done, and between their reluctance and less familiarity on my part about them individually, we drifted between topics quickly. It didn’t help that the chosen book was the very short “Tough Boris,” and the post-book awkwardness was a little tricky to work with.

The Schickedanz reading this week, however, brought up the good idea of discussing the book after reading. In past readings, I’ve struggled to know when to inject my own observations and discuss the book while reading. Although intended to get the children more involved, “stopping to point out word meanings detracts from the pleasures of hearing the rhythm and rhyme” (Schickedanz 226). I’m also unsure how sensitive the children are to the difference between my comments and the actual text of the book. In the future, I’ll probably try to push discussion to the end and see if we can cover the same content as I would have during reading.

Journal Entry 6 for Development in Early Childhood

This week, I was out on the back 40 where I saw both a mix of typical outdoor play and another more structured activity. For the morning, Peckie setup a station on the picnic bench where the children could squeeze oranges to make juice using a large juice squeezer. With the somewhat finicky cone, a separate cup to catch the juice, and a mechanical handle, the squeezer was a good activity to understand the mechanics of the device and develop the appropriate motor skills to operate it.

When multiple children were sitting around to operate it, they invariably managed to organize themselves into taking turns without any prompting from any teachers. The closest to a slip-up that I saw was when S., who had previously gotten accustomed to doing many in a row when he was squeezing by himself, squeezed two oranges in a row, but when A. caught this, she insisted that they all do 2 at a time, restoring balance there. An even more surprising act was when N. was helping another child use the squeezer. Noticing that the other child was having difficulty, N. helped to push down the lever, doing most of the work. After that orange was done, N. gave another orange to the child, saying, “It’s your turn because I did yours.”

Thinking back to my own childhood, I remember once playing a computer game at school with 2 friends where we took turns on levels. Since I had played it before, I “demonstrated” by playing the first level, then played the second level as well, since the other one was just to show them how it was done. In that instance when I was 5 or 6, I only demonstrated selfishness that I didn’t see at all with the squeezer. Overall, I needed to do little to oversee the activity. Other than offering baby wipes to children as they came up and cutting more oranges for them to squeeze, I could be passive through most of the activity.

A major part of this activity was the children teaching each other how to use the squeezer. As the Tudge and Caruso suggests, “Teachers should avoid suggesting solutions to children” (214). Not only does this suggestion prevent me from intervening incorrectly, it allowed for them to work together to make juice. “When children try to achieve a shared objective… they must … try to adopt an agreed-upon strategy for realizing the goal” (213). In this case, it was turn-taking and juice-squeezing skills that needed to be organized. Overall, my role was largely in support to make sure that the materials were always available and appropriately used. Although juice-squeezing isn’t really conducive to elaborate structure or creativity, it does set forth a clear objective for them to work together on.

Dramatic Play

During my time outside, I witnessed two extended periods of dramatic play. The first was between two girls in the kitchen area outside. The main focus was around a pot, which had mostly red water, sand, and flowers and was being stirred. The first quote that caught my attention was when one said, “Here’s some sand” and proceeded to dump it into the pot. Although perfectly accurately, this struck me as strange because it showed how fluid reality and fiction were to them. Unless they truly wanted to cook with sand, I would imagine that the conversation would also maintain the fiction of what the sand represented, such as cinnamon or flour. Were they not so engaged in their play, I might have asked them what the sand was as I suspect that the fictional nature of the sand was never precisely determined. That hypothesis, however, comes only from my realization that children’s fiction often isn’t as complete as I would consider to be substantial otherwise.

Another interesting moment arose when they had a minor conflict about who got to use the wooden spoon. Until then, the wooden spoon had been used for stirring, but the girl who was stirring wanted to take it away to get dirt while the other took over stirring. The details of the conversation are lost to me now, but it came together after a slight pause, and one proposed, “How about whenever you go away, I get to use it, and whenever I go away, you get to use it?” “Okay, this spoon is for dirt,” the other said, offering a plastic spoon for her to go foraging with. Having seen and experience instances where children want to keep items for themselves simply for the sake of having them, I was again surprised by this deal, which engaged real conflict resolution and reimagined the purpose of objects in their fictional play.

After snack time, I stood by a tree where C. and J. had climbed up and were playing “clones.” Although most of the play was focused on shooting the other team from their vantage point, there were some notable distractions, such as when C. randomly offered J., “Take a soda. It’s a clone soda.” Curious why he had qualified it, I asked C., “Is a clone soda different than other soda?” He hesitated, then said, “No it’s sweeter.” Satisfied, he continued his distractions by proposing that the tree had “clone berries” that he began handing out for us to eat. The interesting twist came when the other team came close, and C. realized that it was no longer time for dining in the tree; the same berries became “clone grenades,” which he began throwing down onto the ground. The final transformation came when O. joined their play, and the “clone grenades” went back to berries (I think) that C. passed to her to gather in her satchel.

The big lesson for me from these examples is simply how fluid dramatic play can be. When I think of fiction, I imagine a fixed setting where a plot is played out. For the children, however, objects can constantly change identities and other children can come and go, and these modifications always happen in a way to continue the play in an engaging, if unexpected, direction.

Journal Entry 5 for Development in Early Childhood

This week, I was in the art area where most attention was around drawings of the chickens. We put Fluffly and Sparkles into a box on the table, where the children could make observational drawings. A. was one of the first to draw, and she drew and finished quickly without getting stuck on any particular details. After getting the letters to spell out Sparkles, she began to look around for some sort of cue or acknowledgement of her work. Curious to see what she would do on her own, I continued to talk to other children and watched her out of the corner of my eye. She briefly went back to add a beak, then appeared to be done with it. She then pulled out another piece of paper and traced over her previous drawing in a different color, labeling it as Fluffy. Afterwards, she went over to paint and ended up with 2 very similar paintings, both with large vertical bars of colors covering the entire canvas. The biggest difference between them was that the second painting used fewer colors than the first.

My sense of A.’s development at this point is that she’s perfecting the skills she has developed so far into specific conceptions of her art. Whereas other children were working hard on the fine motor skills to control the pencils or were looking for confirmation that they had indeed drawn a chicken, A. worked swiftly without difficulty. Although she did pause briefly for approval, she continued on without it and repeated the same activity again. The reduction of the color palette for her second painting suggested to me that she had developed particular preferences. Although this feels like a narrowing of creativity, her choice to use more colors in the first painting makes me think that she is still willing to explore various mediums. To summarize, I was impressed to see A. work towards a goal in her art across drafts and show greater persistence and control than most of what I observe in the classroom. In future interactions, I feel as though I can explore her goals more than I do with most children; we’re mostly told not to ask questions such as, “What are you drawing?”, but perhaps a situation will come up where I can discuss these ideas with her and put words to her goals and actions.

After snack time, I went outside, where I saw four or five children playing in the back near a tree. Without prompting, one of them came over to see and asked if I wanted to know what they were doing. Going to look, they placing strands and wads of tape on the tree, which was explained to me as a “trap.” Even now, it’s not clear to me how sitting on some tape would be anything more than annoying, and given how tenuous I thought the idea was, I decided not to ask them about it. Instead, I asked them who the trap was for and proposed that maybe it was for the teachers. This idea initially gained no traction, but over the next few minutes, their story turned into one of trapping the teachers.

The potential different effects of these two questions (what the trap did and who the trap was for) revealed to me the difficulty in furthering fictional play without hijacking or breaking it. Had I asked how the trap worked, I’m skeptical about whether they could have given me a sufficient answer. Later, when Jasmine asked one of them how a piece of tape along the railing of the bridge would trap the teachers, Jasmine ended up providing most of the details of how the tape was a sensor for whether the moving agent was a student or a teacher. This detail, although more complete, did little to further their play and closed off their imagination in what it could be. Going back to how the trap worked, I felt that I could have provided some interesting story for them, but that wouldn’t motivate further activity, and if they were unsatisfied with it, they might find their play pointless and move on. On the other hand, providing a target for the trap seemed to give them something concrete to work towards in unifying their efforts towards a common goal (trapping me).

I was particularly impressed by how the play developed socially. K. and S. came over expressing concern that they were hurting the tree. When Nandini articulated their concerns and asked for a solution, Daniel proposed they instead setup the trap on the bridge, which they all enthusiastically went over to build the trap together, K. and S. included. From there, trap making accumulated several other children as they worked towards a common goal. Although they weren’t coordinated, their work did require specific interactions, such as having one child hold the tape, another pull the tape, and another cut the tape. Asking around for tape or scissors and trying to avoid trapping each other (while keeping me in) all required that the children engage with each other. Overall, their play required little encouragement, and my role as a target allowed me to stay involved while passive and “trapped” by them. As Stephens describes, “… children learn to internally ‘police’ their own behavior so others don’t have to do it for them” (181). Although this fictional play didn’t obviously have the same dramatic characters as most described in the reading, all of the children did accept roles as “trapmakers,” and these roles required cooperation without any input from me.

Journal Entry 4 for Development in Early Childhood

This week, I stayed mostly in the sand area with Seyon, where the big activity for the day was a volcano. That morning, Seyon had snaked the hose through the sand with the end in the middle of a packed pile of sand, and slowly trickling water through the hose caused water to slowly seep up to the top. When Seyon left to greet students and build the same setup in another room, I was left to watch over and organize this activity on my own, which was quite difficult because I didn’t know what the volcano was supposed to do.

Before most of the children arrived, I had some difficulty dealing with K., who insisted that the hose be at much higher pressure than the millimeter turn at the faucet that Seyon had instructed me to put it at. I had to watch him closely to prevent him from running past me to the faucet, and we ended up in a silly battle where he would turn the pressure up, and I would turn it back down. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to have any particular authority over K. in this situation, which was probably fair. He had done the volcano before, whereas I knew nothing about it other than Seyon’s instruction. His awareness of that fact made it difficult for me to forbid his behavior, and it persisted even after he went in to speak to Seyon about it. Ultimately, Nandini and Jasmine put an end to it by pointing out that children weren’t allowed to use the faucet: only teachers could.

A more central issue that came out of that conflict and the activity over the day was how exactly to regulate unstructured activities in a structured environment. We intend to provide opportunities for children to explore different activities, and often, that requires some design from our side. When these activities become more complex, however, it seems reasonable for children to lack the patience or trust to see everything through. Griffith points out, “Activities that require teacher assistance and supervision have in common the problem that a child cannot invest enough of himself into them independently so that they become creative” (137). I think this idea extends beyond creative activities into play. Although I would want to encourage them to follow through with an activity, children need to explore on their own, and they often seem to gain more through their own tangents.

In the case of the volcano, it took some for the water to reach a point where it would be active. Meanwhile, the children were getting impatient as the volcano remained dormant. Several wanted to increase the water pressure, again bringing me back to the issue of how much to control their play. When the volcano was finally active, many children had passed through and lost interest. Although it was a shame to lose them, those who remained had quite a bit of fun with it. Uncertain about what was supposed to happen still, I mainly observed as Seyon covered the top of the volcano with sand, causing various leaks to appear. This quickly turned into an activity of covering up the leaks, which the children became very engaged with. This particular approach seemed effective in helping to direct unstructured play: Seyon primed the environment in some small way, attracted the children’s attention with some observation, and allowed them to engage with it as they wished. I imagine that had they wanted to see the volcano explode, that would have also been a viable progression in their play.

This bubbling was the first part of the volcano, but when the water became to overflow, a stream formed from the top as water ran down the side of the volcano, causing the sand to erode and cave in. Seyon pointed out that this was “stage 2” of the volcano to the children, but when the children decided to stop the stream, we didn’t intercede and insist that they see it through. Although it was heart-breaking to me because I wanted to see what would happen, the children had managed to develop it into their own activity, such as catching the water at the bottom and pouring it through the top of the volcano again.

This week provided my first opportunity for conflict resolution when B. and R. both saw a treasure bubble out of the volcano at the same time and insist that they each deserved it for seeing it “first.” The first thing I did was to take the treasure out of their hands and hang onto myself so that they could focus on the situation and not having the treasure itself. Squatting down to their level, we discussed various options for solving this problem, such as allowing one of them to have it and then working together next time to find another treasure for the other. R. pointed out 2 more treasures that appeared in the volcano and cleverly proposed that B. could have those because “two is more than one.” Although the self-interest here was obvious, I was still impressed when B. refused. In the end, I asked Seyon to join and help, and he proposed first that they break it in half with a hammer. That didn’t immediately get traction, but he then proposed that they throw the treasure back in for someone else to find next time. I was shocked when they accepted.

Seyon dug the hole, I threw the treasure in, and the children enthusiastically covered it back up, talking about how they would remember where it was to find it next time (by the way, did they remember to look for it?). Thinking about it now, I still don’t really understand what they really wanted, though hindsight has given me a few ideas. First, I think they were overly optimistic and excited to find it again. In that case, perhaps their goal all along was simply the process of finding the treasures and not the treasures themselves. That is somewhat supported by their greater enthusiasm for this idea rather than splitting it with a hammer. Second, they seemed to have some concept of fairness, though perhaps bordering on spitefulness. Throwing it back in seems equivalent to being the child that didn’t receive it in a deal, but they also didn’t want the other to receive it, which makes sense. In any case, I was surprised that the conflict ended up not being centered around the treasure at all, since they both happily went away empty-handed.

Block building

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to observe any block building this past week since I’m only in the classroom once a week and was mostly in the sand area. Even so, I have had a chance to observe the children on the hollow blocks outside on the patio previously. As blocks, they have similar properties of composition and creativity as unit blocks do, though the scale makes them appropriate for different types of activities. Particularly, I think the larger scale allows them to interact with the blocks as structures for themselves. Instead of having miniatures, the children are capable of building obstacles, structures, and scenes that they can inhabit.

For example, last week, there was a popup cylinder on the patio that the children were playing with. This was combined with the hollow blocks, used to stabilize it from rolling, which the children crawled through. Although these types of structures require the same knowledge of balance and construction that unit blocks do, they deemphasize the finer motor control to perfectly balance two pieces in exchange for ability to create their own playground of sorts. Another child ended up building an entire fort with a roof and space to crawl through.

My limited observation also suggests that the hollow blocks are also used in a more directed manner than the unit blocks. Whereas the unit blocks can be used to progress through carrying, building, enclosures, and other stages, play with the hollow blocks always seems intentional, whether using them as a dock to fish from (2 children from the first week) or objects of their play. In these cases, the learning with and use of the hollow blocks is intended to support other behavior instead of building for its own sake.

Journal Entry 3 for Development in Early Childhood

This week was the first opportunity I had to work closely with Peckie, my liaison teacher, as we both supervised the patio area. This situation was helpful in gaining insight into the design of the activities, the background of individual children, techniques for interacting with children, and other perspectives on observed behavior.

Peckie pointed out that the workbench area was unique to our classroom in being a regular activity. When I first came to the classroom, I was surprised that it was there since it seems like a particularly dangerous activity. Helping several children make things, however, I was surprised how deliberate their work was. For all of them, they looked to me to hold nails with pliers. I’m not certain where this behavior comes from: it’s possible that the teachers have, until then, always watched closely and insisted that the children have a teacher help them. A more generous possibility is that the children are aware of their own motor control limitations and can’t go forward without it. In either case, the workbench doesn’t seem like the right place to necessarily push them to become more independent.

Woodworking as an activity has several qualities that make it similar to other activities in the classroom but unique as well. Like blockbuilding, woodworking is the composition of bigger things from basic shapes, though the purpose seems to be somewhat different. A strength of blockbuilding is that it provides “…an excellent open-ended medium for communicating and playing out their ideas for developing cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically” (130). Although I haven’t yet been able to interact with children playing with blocks, the readings suggest that the play aspect is central to blockbuilding: the blocks become symbols for other objects, and children can engage with others around these manifestations of their imagination. Woodworking, however, seems to be a largely solitary activity (except for the assistance from teachers), and the real education comes from learning how to use the medium. That quality seems closer to playing with clay, where the manipulation of the material is the main limit instead of imagination. When I was helping one of the boys put together a box, he clearly knew what he wanted but had difficulty getting there. First, the nail split the wood we were working with. He quickly realized he could use another piece to connect the wood instead, though hammering those pieces together without support was more difficult. Throughout this work, I remained relatively passive, helping him when he needed another pair of hands but otherwise allowing him to explore the properties of the materials and develop solutions on his own. I was surprised at his persistence in not being dissuaded by the failures and difficulties.

Another activity on the patio was at a table with trays of water and vials. A particularly interesting situation Peckie setup involved packing peanuts. Earlier in the week, the children had discovered that one type of peanuts dissolved in the water. That day, those were available in one bowl, and in another bowl were peanuts that didn’t dissolve in water. A. came to the table first and knew that the Styrofoam was supposed to “melt” and pointed this out to me. He took several pieces from the bowl with non-dissolving peanuts, placed them into vials with water, and jammed them to the bottom. Over time, he seemed to notice that they weren’t dissolving and used tongs to continue to jam the peanuts further into the bottom of the vials. When I asked him, he confirmed that the peanuts were melting, but he was clearly dismayed that it wasn’t happening. Although his behavior seems paradoxical, it really isn’t so surprising that he could maintain a belief clearly inconsistent with reality; that mistake doesn’t disappear with maturity. In this case, however, it strikes me as inflexibility in his representation of possible objects. To me, it seems obvious that the different packing peanuts were different, but to A., all of them were the same and had the same properties.

O. (I think) came to the table next, and she reached for the peanuts that melted first. She mentions how much she likes to get the peanuts “soft” and dissolves around 10 of them in vials by submerging the peanuts and shaking it up. She then does this to a few in her tray, which has accumulated some amount of water. At this point, I reach for the other packing peanut, give it to her, and ask her if it will melt as well. She drops it into her tray where it stays intact. She first dumps a lot more water into the tray, then tries to place a piece of partially dissolved Styrofoam into it, which I thought was amazingly creative and am still impressed at. Finally, she breaks it into smaller pieces, which she seems satisfied with.

Clearly, O. was more creative and persistent in trying to make the Styrofoam melt; I’m uncertain, however, whether she truly had a better understanding of the peanuts than A. did. O. seemed to resolve her problem by breaking it into smaller pieces, which is qualitatively different but does reduce the peanuts to some degree. I regret not discussing with her more directly whether she understood the difference between the peanuts. Her choice of multiple interventions suggests that she knew that there was some difference in the process: placing dissolved Styrofoam in the other specifically seems like a way of inducing properties in one object from another. However, her ultimate belief and goal to dissolve the peanut remained the same, and I’m uncertain whether her resolution of breaking up the peanut physically was truly sastifying to her.

Journal Entry 2 for Development in Early Childhood

For most of my time during this past session, I was in the language area, either helping children with stories or watching them set puzzles. Although several children came through, there seemed to be a few children who primarily stayed in this area and that most of my attention was fixed on.

N. came in first and sat down next to me, drawing a picture. I didn’t think much of it at first, but her father came to me and told me that N. liked having me in the classroom. Although I was glad to have made that connection with her, I also felt like I needed to be careful. In our reading, Griffith points out that “[A teacher] makes no effort to charm or involve the children through becoming the center of their attention, though she is always ready to help when needed” (61). I wanted to make sure that I was being fair to all students as well as maintaining my relationship as a teacher to them. With multiple students at the table, I tried to attend to all of them equally, though N. was particularly interested in interacting with me as well, such as perching an eagle puppet on my shoulder, and it was clear that she was there not to play with the items in the language area but to play with me. I’m interested to see how this progresses going forward: my hope is that my presence won’t be too much of a distraction for her, and she eventually did end up leaving and playing with other children outside. If she does insist on playing more specifically with me, however, I do think I will need to talk seriously with her in that I am not really a permanent playmate for her.

A. was also there, and I felt as though much of her interaction with me and the other students was fighting for attention. When O. started drawing a rainbow, A. started drawing a rainbow, and when O. had me write stories for her, A. also wanted me to write stories for her. When another student made some comment, such as having a certain toy, A. would “one-up” the other student, perhaps saying that she herself had the same toy. Uncertain about what her motivation for this behavior was, I didn’t deal with it directly, but tried to spin it in a more positive direction. Instead of praising one student or another, I would say something to A. like, “That’s a coincidence that you both have the same toy.” In that way, I was hoping to draw more similarities between them, instead of emphasizing the difference, and have them connect on the issue instead. I did have some difficulty giving A. even proper attention however: because her requests always came slightly after another (being a copy), and since her patience was typically shorter than the required activity, I had little opportunity to directly interact with her. Should this happen again, I think I might try to deal more directly with A. in a way that doesn’t reward her behavior but also giver her a better feeling that I am treating her equally.

After snack time, I drifted outside and over to the sand area where two girls were stirring a large tub of water and sand. When I first asked them what it was, they told me that it was a potion, though when I repeated this back to them, they insisted that it was actually an ocean. As they sprinkled more “cinnamon” into the tub, it soon turned into an “ocean of cinnamon,” which both Nandini and I expressed our surprise about. While I was watching and talking to them, they also whispered to each other, and soon they explained that it was going to be a secret. Presuming that they intended that it being an ocean of cinnamon, I asked them, “What will you say if someone asks you what it is?” One of them responded that they would tell the asker what it was. When I pointed out that it wasn’t a very good secret if they told everyone, they then insisted there was a deeper. I didn’t press them for what that secret was, but we talked more at length about the nature of secrets and who we can share them with. Soon, one of them asked me if I wanted to know what the secret was (under the condition of secrecy, of course), and when I agreed, they told me it was a potion. When I asked what the potion did, they initially had no answer, then came up with something on the spot.

The biggest surprise in this conversation was the maze-like, improvised nature of their story. We discussed in class last week that children often do things without a goal, and it seems that they also similarly engage in fiction without fleshing out what seems to me to be essential details. As I went through the conversation with them, they were making up new aspects of their play. Instead of admitting to any contradictions in their story, they developed even more elaborate details to reconcile pieces together.

The deeper issue that caused them trouble in play was their ability for deception, which I find very interesting. In a cognitive development class, we discussed the difficulty that children have with deception and linked this to issues of theory of mind. My experience at Bing has shown that this isn’t strictly true since they are capable of deception, and they’re quite proficient in the ostensibly linked task of understanding and creating fiction. Even so, the girls were unable to both intend to keep a secret (in wanting to tell others what their concoction was) and actually keep the secret (asking me if I wanted to know instead of waiting for me to ask them). Pointing out these problems with secrecy motivated them to create even deeper secrets, which they were presumably guarding.

Journal Entry 1 for Development in Early Childhood

(This quarter, I’m taking Psych147, Development in Early Childhood. The main part of the class is spending some time every week at Bing Nursery School playing with children. As part of the class, we write journal entries every week about our experiences, and given the haphazard form of them, they seem perfectly appropriate for this blog. Names are of course knocked out, but hopefully you can follow. I’ll try to catch up till now over the next few days as we’re already 4 weeks in.)

Within psychology, I’m particularly interested in cognition and how people are capable of making inductive leaps. Although adults’ abilities are impressive, I find children’s to be more interesting. Through their development, children are simultaneously very good and very bad at cognitive tasks, often on tasks with ostensibly similar demands. I took this course hoping to understand what the characteristics of children’s cognitive development are and how learning occurs and is encouraged in schools.

Within a single session, I couldn’t really see the trajectory of development for the children, but I was generally impressed by how curious and perceptive they were. At the beginning of class, J. was playing with the hen and eggs, and he asked me, “Are there chickens inside these eggs?” I was initially uncertain about how to answer his question because I was uncertain about what the correct answer was. I was uncertain about whether I could communicate the full truth (that no, these plastic eggs don’t have chickens, but the eggs they represent would) in a way that he would understand, especially the distinction between the actual nature of the object versus its fictional, symbolic intent. I told him that no, the eggs were made of plastic, and he seemed satisfied with that response. I later heard twice the eggs referred to as plastic, and although I can’t verify that children transmitted the knowledge from my statement between each other, it’s certainly possible that they did this on their own.

In retrospect, the nature of the question should have revealed what exactly he knew and understood. First, his question clearly indicates that he knew that typical eggs do have chickens inside of them. More significantly, however, he was also aware of the fact that these eggs were somehow not of the normal variety and didn’t have the same internal characteristics. Even if the symbolic nature of the eggs was lost on him, it seems more clear to me now that he understood enough distinctions to follow any of my likely responses. Understanding and being capable of functioning within these fictional worlds seems to be critical at Bing. The “About Bing” handout states that “PLAY… provides the medium through which the children may imitate, explore, test ideas, acquire information, and draw conclusions” (1). J. certainly used this opportunity to acquire information from an adult (me) who should understand what his thought process was through his play.

Considering my own childhood, I was certainly capable of understanding play and fiction. In pre-kindergarten, my favorite activity was playing at the workbench area where various plastic tools were available. A large part of my fondness for it was that the station was only big enough for 2 people, and I could play at it with just my best friend Michael. We were certainly not capable of creating anything real at the workbench, simply swinging around toy hammers and pushing around other pieces. Although it was intended to imitate some sort of work area, I was certainly aware that I wasn’t using a real hammer and that it didn’t have the same characteristics and capabilities of a real one.

At some point during my session in the classroom, I met O. and followed her through several different activities, including crafts, the swing, and almost looking at worms. I was immediately struck by how quickly she seemed to attach herself and bring me through her activities, grabbing my hand when she was done with the first and pulling me outside. At first, I was uncertain about doing this as my role hadn’t been fully fleshed out. Until then, I had witnessed the other teachers primarily supervising the children. Although they interacted with the individual children, they were also responsible for particular areas of the room and needed to have a broad sense of what was happening in the entire classroom. Following around a single student might be contrary to typical behavior of adults in the classroom, but I also saw it as an opportunity to bond with her individually. As I followed her around, I primarily remained patient, responsive, and interactive, but also more passive in following, not leading. In effect, I was her playmate for a short while. She seemed to like the attention I was giving her and the chance to demonstrate what she knew, such as “pumping” on the swings. When we went out to find worms, however, she found other children to play with, and after coming to a decision on that, she ran off with them, and I thought it best to let her go.

Bing seems to offer a very different experience than I had in pre-kindergarten. Bing seems designed to have a very open design for unstructured play, which naturally requires more teachers to supervise children in whatever activities they chose. My own experience was that pre-kindergarten was highly structured, with a schedule, set areas, and control over the movement of students. The flipside is that we had little more supervision than a single teacher with maybe one assistant since we were often engaged in something specific.

Overall, I had a great experience during my first week. The time went by very quickly, and I found that there wasn’t much downtime overall. The children were genuinely open to my presence, and I was comfortable interacting with them because they came so willingly to interact with me. Although I was uncertain about what role I should have in their classroom experience, I was mostly comfortable engaging them in their various activities and having them think critically about their actions.

Akinetopsia

(This was an essay for my cognitive neuroscience class to review a paper on a neurological disorder. I’m on break this week, so I should get a chance to write something for real soon. In the meantime, you can amuse yourself with the first graphic I have put together. I’m a little proud of it)

Akinetopsia

In 1983, Zihl, Von Carmon, and Mai published about a patient that had developed motion blindness after brain lesions. Although she was capable of seeing stationary objects, her perception of moving objects was impaired, a disorder known as akinetopsia. In this report, I will discuss some of the original findings in the Zihl et al. (1983) paper, then address more recent findings on akinetopsia.

Patient L.M.

Although previous patients with akinetopsia are mentioned, a review (Zeki, 1991) found that there were very few cases. The case study in Zihl et al. (1983) focuses on patient L.M. with bilateral lesions in the lateral temporo-occipital cortex and associated white matter. Other than minor difficulties with naming objects (anomic aphasia), her impairment was limited to an inability to perceive motion. Instead of perceiving fluid motion, she saw objects appear at various locations along their trajectories. An example of her impairment was that “she could not stop pouring at the right time since she was unable to perceive the movement in the cup (or a pot) when the fluid rose.” The authors ran several experiments to determine the extent of the impairment.

First, they established normal visual function on stationary targets. Visual acuity (sharpness), binocular vision, stereopsis (depth perception), foveal color discrimination, and recognition of shape stimuli and words were near normal and did not indicate any deficit. Potentials recorded from checkboard pattern stimuli, and various tests of visual fields, flickering, localization, and reaction time were all also normal.

Next, they tested various moving stimuli. With a moving spot of light in the fovea, L.M. had slightly better perception when allowed to track the stimulus instead of fixating at a central point. Generally, she could see slow movement ( <14 deg/s for horizontal and <10 deg/s for vertical movement), but could not for faster speeds. In her peripheral vision, L.M. was unable to distinguish either direction or speed of motion. She was unable to notice any motion in depth of a cube moved towards and away from her. L.M. under-predicted “motion time” as to how far an object should move along a trajectory. She also did not perceive motion affect effects or apparent motion. Tactile and acoustic motion perception, however, were normal.

With visual pursuit eye movements, L.M. could smoothly track at lower speeds (< 8 deg/s) but could not at higher speeds without her eyes jumping. When blindfolded, she performed as well as a normal subject with finger tracing, but she was not able to benefit and speed up from visual information as the normal subject was able.

General Findings

From L.M., the authors conclude that movement vision is processed separately from primary vision because there was no impairment with stationary or non-visual stimuli. The region responsible for motion perception has been identified as V5 (or MT, middle temporal), and temporary motion blindness can be induced by TMS over V5 (Beckers & Homberg 1992). Currently, there are no known treatments for the problem, though L.M. reported development of other senses to compensate for the impairment. A follow-up study also found that L.M. was able to distinguish human movements when lights are attached to joints of a person in the dark.

Given the few cases of akinetopsia, these findings are largely specific to L.M., though the exact nature of the impairment has been studied in monkeys recently as well.

References

Beckers, G., Homberg, V. (1992). Cerebral Visual Motion Blindness: Transitory Akinetopsia Induced by Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation of Human Area V5. Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 249 (1325), 173-178.

Zeki, S. (1991). Cerebral Akinetopsia. Brain, 114, 811-824.

Zihl, J., Von Carmon, D., Mai, N. (1983). Selective disturbance of movement vision after bilateral brain damage. Brain, 106, 313-340.

What I Did This Past Summer

Sorry for the lack of content, but most of my blogging has been for TUSB, so head over in that direction if you’re really so bored. This particular post is another cop out but hopefully interesting. For the symsys forum in less than a half-hour, I’m giving a 5 minute summary of my summer so that the department knows that they know that all of the summer research interns have something to show for it. I prepared some, and in case some of you are curious what I do, I recorded a practice run of my presentation. Feel free to send along any questions or thoughts on it. My enthusiasm might not be so great in the video because I recorded it pretty late at night, but I love talking about this sort of stuff. Enjoy.

The Experience of the Exploratorium

This past Friday, I went to the Exploratorium on a field trip with other students in my major, symsys. We aren’t known for being particularly cohesive, so whenever an opportunity to meet and hang out with other students with similar interests, I usually try to make it. And though I had been to the Exploratorium this past summer with family friends already, it seemed like a place worth going again and again.

The Exploratorium is primarily oriented towards little kids, but it certainly has universal appeal. The museum is covered with a bunch of mini-exhibits, each showing off one or two scientific concepts. For example, a ring rolling around in a dish was supposed to represent chaos theory, and a drinking water fountain over a toilet bowl demonstrated our developed aversions. The advising fellows for symsys had justified the trip with the “Mind” area in the back, which was mostly a series of optical illusions. I had wandered around with Te, a senior who had taken a class on these exact topics. He would look at an exhibit, see the trick, then say something like, “Oh… that’s just lateral inhibition.”

While not all of us have had the same coursework, I think we all recognized some of the phenomenon at least from our high school education. But we were just as excited as the little kids running around, amazed by these things they had never seen. Reading about something in a textbook and accepting that it’s true just isn’t quite the same as being able reach out and touch it or feel yourself falling for a mental trick.

Just before I had left for the field trip, I had been in section for a class, “Mind, Matter, and Meaning.” In the class, we basically just talk about consciousness. Most of our reading is from David Chalmers’ “The Conscious Mind,” and our early discussion was focused around the difference between what he calls the psychological and phenomenological aspects of consciousness. Psychological aspects are primarily focused on what mental states do and the sort of functions associated with that. Phenomenological aspects are primarily focused on what mental states feel like and why something feels like it does. And when we’re trying to figure out if our brain and our mind are the same thing, this is where the phenomenological part gets messy.

Because it’s a hard question to say why something “feels” like it does. What does an apple taste like? What it is like to see the “redness” of an apple? What’s interesting about these questions to me is that they are absolutely subjective. We’re trying to boil down all these sciences into a disembodied, objective explanation, but what we feel seems linked to who we are. I’m certain many people have come to the questions about whether everyone else is conscious or what the nature of others’ consciousness is. I mean, even if I assume all of you fine readers are conscious (in the sense used above, not the awakeness sense; I know the latter to be false), how do I know what you see to be red is the same red I see? Maybe my red is your blue.

And I think it’s amazing to probe the differences in how we experience things. One of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve had here at Stanford was helping one particular student with a program in the computer cluster. She was a little slow in finding her mistakes, but she was entirely capable of using her computer and thinking through and fixing her mistakes. It probably would’ve been otherwise insignificant if not for the fact that she’s also blind and deaf in one ear. Thanks to Microsoft Sam, she could navigate her code line-by-line, jump between windows, and very quickly fix even syntax errors with her code.

I can’t even imagine how she could do something like that. For one, she was able to navigate her file system very quickly and without error based on snippets of words. I kind of have a sense about how my file system is structured, but I have to look things up everytime, and I know I’m constantly depending on context cues to go to the right place. So being able to have a mental representation for that is amazing. But moreover, I just can’t even imagine what code would look like if I had never seen a letter of the alphabet before. On a psychological level, I understand that in such cases, it’s common that areas of the brain responsible for processing visual input can be retooled to enhance capabilities with the other senses. On a phenomenological level, that’s just baffling. What does a block of code “sound” like?

But I guess if I believe the distinction here, it’s all kind of peripheral. Walking around the Exploratorium, I don’t have to feel to learn. It’s just the psychological process of learning where I have a new experience that creates a different representation and new pathways to understand something. And my joy is just a trained response to learning that causes my eyes to widen and my body to get jittery. Maybe a zombie version of me, which has the exact same psychological processes but no phenomenological experience, would have done the exact same things that I had. But I don’t think that makes the sensation any less valuable. I’d still say the Exploratorium is worth going to because you can actually see and touch everything.