Today, I was once again surprised by my daughter.
Several months ago, my mother made a toy from a clean sour cream container. She punched holes of three different sizes in the lid, then bought several sizes of puff balls that would fit through the holes. She showed Harmony how to put the balls through the holes, and how to push the larger balls through with her finger, but Harmony showed little interest. I told my mom that the toy was too advanced for her. My mom brought the toy out every few weeks for Harmony to see, always putting it back in the toy basket when Harmony didn’t respond. This happened four or five times. Harmony had the opportunity to take the toy out if she wished, but while she sometimes played with the puff balls, she favored her other toys.
Suddenly, last week, Harmony paid attention to the toy. To my surprise, she watched closely as my mom demonstrated once more how to put the puff balls into the holes. Then Harmony proceeded to carefully pick up the balls one by one and put them in herself. She began slowly at first, constantly dropping them or missing the holes, yet persisting with her efforts. Over the past few days, she has taken the toy out to play with on her own volition.
Now many questions arose in my thoughts: What changed in Harmony’s mind that caused her to be interested in the toy when she hadn’t been interested before? Was her physical motor control not ready? Was her mental ability to grasp the connections between the various components of the toy too undeveloped? Should we have allowed her to find the toy on her own rather than show her how it works? Is it continued curiosity, the desire to improve her skill, the excitement of discovery, or the enjoyment of play that draws her back to the toy (or a combination of all of the above)? Once she understood how the toy functioned, what other abilities might have been activated/triggered/developed? Why is she unworried about making mistakes, when older children often become frustrated if they do not succeed immediately at a new task?
I always told myself that I would not think of my own children as “experiments” in my study of learning processes. However, I am finding that the observations I make of Harmony are not the cold, clinical evaluations of a child psychologist or researcher, but the loving observations of a mother who is eager to discover how her own daughter explores the world in particular and how these reflections might apply to all children around her age in general.
It is exciting to watch Harmony grow! New activities, new games to play, new interactions with her family, and new experiences all help stimulate her mind, body, and soul. I believe that I often underestimate her. Perhaps it’s because as her parent I see her all the time. Familiarity makes me forget that Harmony is changing at a slow but very steady pace. At nine months old, she surprised me by learning a skill that I didn’t think she was ready for yet.
I hope to remember this important lesson as I interact with Harmony, other young people, and my students: children are often much more capable than we give them credit for.