Sunday, July 13, 2008

Object Permanance Intuitive Physicists Young Infants

Perhaps young infants, brand new in the world, experience their environment as a kind of nonsensical dream in which even the simplest properties of objects surprise them. Wow, they wonder, where does the world go to when I close my eyes?Or perhaps they do have some intuitive understanding that objects continue to exist even when they can't be directly experienced? This is the question psychologists have been trying to answer while researching what infants in their first year of life understand about 'object permanence'.
Object permanenceObject permanence is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when we can't actually see them. Famous Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget thought that children couldn't properly grasp this concept until they were at least 12 months of age.This idea was challenged by a series of studies carried out by Professor Renee Baillargeon from the University of Illinois and colleagues. These studies used children's apparent surprise at 'impossible' events to try and work out whether they understood object permanence.
A blocked roadIn one study infants as young as 6.5 months watched a toy car travelling down a ramp. Half way through its journey, though, it went behind a screen out of the baby's view before exiting the other side, once more visible. In one condition the infants saw a block placed behind the screen in the way of the toy car. And yet when the car was released, experimental trickery was used so that the block didn't stop the car's progress. Miraculously it still appeared from the other side of the screen.This 'impossible' condition was compared with another condition where the block was placed near, but not in the way of, the car's progress - the 'possible' condition.Baillargeon found that the infants looked reliably longer at the seemingly impossible scenario. This suggested they understood that the block continued to exist despite the fact they couldn't actually see it. They also must have understood that the car could not pass through the block. This seems like reasonable evidence that infants can understand object permanence.
Simple explanationIn further studies Professor Baillargeon tested all sorts of variations on this theme. Toy rabbits, toy mice and carrots were all used, with some defying the laws of nature in the 'impossible' conditions and others studiously following them in the 'possible' conditions. Each time, though, infants looked longer at the apparently impossible events, perhaps wondering if they were dreaming. These studies have now shown that infants as young as 3.5 months seem to have a basic grasp of object permanence. While others have argued for alternative explanations and interpretations, when all these studies are taken together the idea that children understand object permanence is arguably the simplest explanation.
Intuitive physicistsUsing these results Baillargeon and others have argued that young infants are not necessarily trapped in a world of shapes which have little meaning for them. Instead they seem to be intuitive physicists who can carry out rudimentary reasoning about physical concepts like gravity, inertia and object permanence.

Infants first Word

An infant's very first step in their year-long journey to their first word is perhaps their most impressive. This first step is discriminating and categorising the basic sound components of the language they are hearing.
To get an idea how hard this might be think about listening to someone speaking a language you don't understand. Foreign languages can sound like continuous streams of noise in which it's very hard to pick up where one word starts and another word begins.
Young infants face an analogous challenge but not initially at the level of words, but at the lower level of pure noise. Their first struggle is to tell the difference between the most basic components of speech, the individual sounds we are making, the phonemes.
Noticing the difference between 'b' and 'p'Until a classic study carried out by Peter D Eimas and colleagues from Brown University in 1971, psychologists were not sure how soon infants could discriminate phonemes.
Eimas and colleagues' study used infants aged between just 1 and 4 months old and tested their ability to discriminate between a 'b' sound and a 'p' sound (Eimas et al., 1971). To get an idea of how difficult this is, consider the fact there's only a 10ms difference in timing between the two. To be able to hear this difference, a baby has got to have a very fine-tuned ear.
The method they used for intuiting whether the infants had noticed a change from one sound to the other was pretty ingenious. They were hooked up to a fake nipple which measured their rate of sucking, the idea being that this was a proxy for how interested they were in what was going on around them. The more interested, the faster they suckled.
First, infants' suckling rates were measured while they were exposed to one repeated sound, say the 'b'. Initially infants found this interesting and sucked a bit faster. Then after a while they get bored and there suckling rate reduced.
Here's the crucial part: in some experimental conditions the sound is changed to a 'p', while in other conditions it continues with the same 'b'. The question is whether infants notice this change, as evidenced by an increased suckling rate, and thereby demonstrate that they can discriminate the tiny difference between a 'b' and a 'p' sound.
Innate ability to discriminate phonemesWhat Eimas and colleagues found was that even the one-month old infants appeared to be able to tell the difference between a 'b' sound and a 'p' sound.
This findings, and more like it, suggests to many psychologists that infants are born with skills which enable them to categorise sounds that only slightly vary. This skill is one of the basic building blocks of language learning.
Most languages contain about 40 distinct phonemes and an infant's ultimate task is to master all of them. During their first three months of life infants make all kinds of sound, but none of them bear much resemblance to speech.
But, partly because of this innate ability to discriminate the components of speech, by 3 months they start producing vowel-like sounds. They've conquered their first few phonemes and are well on their way to their first words.
The first wordWhile infants seem to be born with an ear fine-tuned for language, this starts to subtly change at around 11 months of age. Subsequent findings have shown that adults cannot successfully distinguish as wider a range of phonemes as infants.
This is because until about 11 months of age infants are masters of discriminating phonemes used in all different types of languages. But after 11 months infants settle down with one set of phonemes for their first language, and lose the ability to discriminate the phonemes from other languages. Infants are beginning to specialise in their own language.
The specialisation at 11 months in one set of around 40 phonemes, along with other linguistic processes, is clearly crucial as it quickly brings a magical moment: the first word.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Books For Children

Some of My favorite Books for Children
I’ve read each of these books at least three times.

The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
The Silver Crown, Robert O’Brien
Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Half Magic, Edward Eager
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
The Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
The Second Mrs. Giaconda, E. L. Konigsberg
Black and Blue Magic, Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright
The Narnia Books, C. S. Lewis
The Rings tetralogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
The Phantom Toll Booth (can't remember the auther but it's great)
Okay, I must stop here.
And Harry Potter, of course.

Kids As Consumers - Buy Buy Buy

West Side Family Pre School

Does your infant sport clothes from Baby Gap? Does your three-year-old carry a Gucci handbag? Does your first-grader have a Playstation, an iPod, and $80 shoes? What sort of message does it send to children when parents give them these sorts of expensive things? What sort of attitude toward money does this foster?

One topic my friends and parents at West Side Family Pre School often discuss is
the marketing barrage children face from infancy onward.
“Even diapers are branded,” one parent told me
“Especially diapers,” said her husband.
This is no accident. Marketers know that forging brand identity early can lead to enormous profits in decades to come. Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, and Thomas the Tank Engine may seem innocuous — and on their own they probably are — but as part of a larger marketing engine, they’re perfect tools for teaching kids to become consumers.
Licensed characters are huge moneymakers for companies. In 2005, Winnie the Pooh earned Disney $6.2 billion in retail sales, according to Gregory Thomas, second only to the mouse.
[Mother Angela] believes all of this merchandising is the real problem, not necessarily the characters themselves. “They’re trying to sell kids other products, from clothing to bedding…there always needs to be something else that they’re striving to buy,” she says. “It scares me when I see advertisements that showcase all these different products that show the child being engaged with a toy,” she says.
Parents want their children to be happy. If a Thomas the Tank Engine playset is going to make your son beam, that can be difficult to resist.

, “I think we’re seen as consumers…how much wallet share do kids have, and how much can they influence our spending.”
Finding the balance between what their kids want, what they need and what’s available is difficult, say these parents. And they are the first to admit they are by no means perfect. “The only thing we can really do is in our home environments, in the environments we choose for our children,” says John.
But as is so often the case, it can actually be more expensive for parents to follow their principles than to give in and embrace normalcy. In a way, the branded characters subsidize the products needed to raise children.
Resisting the urge to spend for the sake of convenience or pleasure is difficult for parents as well (especially when toting around a baby or toddler). And, as all the parents pointed out, often the “best” choices — natural wooden blocks or organic hemp clothing — are also the most expensive.
“The most challenging thing about making an effort to not brand your child in what they wear, or play with…is the fact that sometimes there aren’t choices and sometimes the choices are economically out of reach,” says one mother.
Things become even more complicated once children enter school. There they are exposed to branding and advertising in the most insidious of ways: peer pressure. Older kids, especially, feel the need to identify with particular brands in order to fit in with a particular social group.
I can offer no solutions. What solutions are there? Unless you want to raise your kid in a cave, they’re eventually going to be exposed to marketing and branding. The best a parent can hope to do is raise their children to think independently, and to demonstrate through their own behavior that branded is not always better.
To learn more on this subject, Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds by Susan Gregory

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Memorial Service for Winston a Chocolate Lab

Goodbye Winston

When I graduated from seminary it was the pinnacle of achievement, a dream come true I wondered what life had in store for me. About two weeks later I was still on a cloud from the ordination. A knock at my door, from my neighbour Judy “he died early this morning, he just went to sleep, the house seem’s so empty” tearfully asked me if I would perform a memorial service for Winston. We dog people all knew him, he was the pride of the neighborhood, a large good natured Chocolate Labrador with dark penetrating eyes. He had died suddenly, everyone who knew him was surprised and saddened. He was especially gentle with little dogs like my poodle Charlie who likes to frolic with Winston.

I asked “Is this my path of service, yes I loved animals, but seminary for this?” Slowly, I began to understand as the week went on articles peoples reaction to losing a pet began to appear in my life. I was being taught. I began to understand how animals are a part of each family and very much beloved by their owners. Many people care for their pets in the same way they do their children they are an integral part of a family. With people living alone they are often only family and the dog or cat is often their only physical contact.

By honoring the memory and significance of these special family members, comfort is provided to their owners.

I realized that Love grows’s from a place deep within and is not limited only to the human species. Love knows only how to love, and it has no limits. “Oh God this is such a life lesson, thank you”
I thought about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1st Corinthians 13 -4)

Three weeks later I officiated a heartfelt service which was held in a small hall on the West side of Manhattan. There was a photograph of Winston at the front of the chapel. People shared their experiences and memories.

“We prayed
God, Bless all the Animals and especially Winston. He was a quintessential teacher of unconditional love. Dogs have been serving man since Biblical times and before, as protectors, hunters, herders and companions and they are especially dear to us God. Help us to always be kind to these caring, loyal creatures. Let us appreciate the gifts they give and show us how to let them know in return, what valuable friends and servants they are to us. For all the working dogs who rescue human beings in trouble and for all the service dogs who help and protect those of us who have "different" abilities, we also say Thank You God. Amen

There were many friends of Winston who spoke warmly about their relationship with him. Martha, whom Winston stayed with while Judy was in California. She recalled Winston’s patience when her 18 month old Karen played with his tail for hours while Mom was on the phone with her work. "One morning Karen walked out of the kitchen I was on the phone with a client, Winston followed her as she ambled into the living room where she tripped, Winston ‘woofed’ to alert me. I saw he did not leave my Karen’s side and carefully observed as she struggled to finally stand up. I watched him scrutinizing her and when she was up on her feet he ‘congratulated ‘her with his friendly nuzzle on her hand. It was amazing to see” Tears rolled

Judy’s father talked about how Winston was a companion for him while he was undergoing chemotherapy for throat cancer Winston was always attentively by his side. “He knew my pain” said Jack .”Just when I felt like I could n ’t go on he would be there looking into me eyes imploring me to keep going” I never really saw a dog until I met Winston, I used to relegate dogs as being beneath me as a human but Winston was an equal, he was my teacher”

Winston’s dog walker Kate was in tears. “I have never had a relationship like this one. He sensed when I was feeling ill with a bad flu last winter he’s normally a rambunctious dog in the park on this day he became very gentle, anxiously keeping his eye on me as we walked.
Lori spoke about her dog Biddy a small white poodle, a friend of Winston’s and how last year she became very ill. Lori told about a visit.
“Judy and Winston came over to visit Biddy who could barely walk, Winston gently licked her face then lay beside Biddy for the whole time we were there Judy and I tearfully exchanged a few words. Words felt so clumsy as we watched this white poodle and this large lab saying their last goodbyes. Biddy passed that afternoon”
This time of sharing was both sacred and healing.

Next we sang the hymn “All things Bright and Beautiful All Creatures great and Small, All things wise and wonderful the Lord God made them all”
Jack, another Riverside Park Winston admirer shared this reading about ducks:

Ducks are expert Peace Makers.
If two ducks get into a squabble over
territory or food - each swims away and
flaps its wings - immediately shaking off any negative energy.
Then they are able to swim side by side again with no bad feelings.

Thank You God for this wonderful example - a gift from your ducks. May we always quickly shake off our ill feelings and return to a state of blessed peace.

When the time of memory sharing was over, the ceremony closed with this simple prayer...

Ending Prayer
We send Winston now into God's loving hands, knowing that God created you and that God will tend to your Spirit throughout eternity. May gods blessing shower this community of friends who are united in love and caring.
God's Light surrounds you, God's Love enfolds you, God's Power protects you, God's Presence watches over you -- wherever you are, God is -- and all is well. Amen

An experience of connecting friends and neighbors through love. It helped Judy and others to process their own grief.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Helping the Child feel Comfortable During the Wedding Ceremony

Children might not do everything you think they will during the ceremony – it won't be perfect but it will probably be cute and entertaining. (My favorite story is the one where the little boy takes the rings up the aisle, but every few steps he turns around, makes a ferocious face and growls at the crowd. The crowd laughs hysterically but no one understands. Later, when he's asked what he was doing, he seriously answers, "Being the ring bear!"

Here's some things you can do to make them more comfortable:
Bring their favorite babysitter or assign a helper – ideally another member of the wedding party who will enjoy keeping an eye on them, hang out with them before the ceremony, and take them outside if they start to cry or need to move around.
Bring a change of clothes for the wedding reception – this way they can eat, run around, play with crayons or other toys, all without fear of ruining nice clothes.
Show them exactly where their parents will be sitting
f they have a part like flower girl or ring bearer consider buying them a book that talks about being a flower girl or ring bearer.
For a child whose parent is getting married, be sure to include them in the ceremony. This may mean asking the officiant to mention their names several times, or it may mean doing a family medallion ceremony, unity candle ceremony or ring ceremony that will include them in the new family that is being created. You could also include a vow to the chidren that the home will be a haven for them. Having a part to play in the wedding ceremony can often make a child feel less anxious about the marriage.
Whatever you do, be sure to be patient with children. They may get suddenly shy, or uncomfortable with what's going on. In the end, let them do as much as they are happy doing.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Children at the Wedding Location: Chanterelle New York

Below is a snapshot of a part of a recent wedding I did in New York

Blond haired girls proudly carried their small bridemaid bouquets of pink lily's wrapped with pink velvet ribbon into the room. They glanced at the grown - ups, who were greeting each other "why I have not seen you since December, you look so good" ...... "Did you attend the concert the other night ?" A blue velvet jacketted lady said,"Oh Bea I have not seen you in so long" The Bride and Groom were waiting for some guest's to arrive from Cape Cod.

I noticed the girls did not quite know what to do with the bouquet and at one piont one of the young boys made the flowers 'talk' by squeezing the lily so it 'opened it's mouth' and said "hello" in a deep voice, there were gales of laughter from the children. "Do it again Will" asked Myra pushing her bouquet at him. Will quickly looked around, the grown-ups were busy, he reached over and squeezed the lillies and said "I am Power Ranger Lilly" More laughter, then they sat down. I took that opportunity to walk over and sit next to them. "Hello I'm Barbara" I smiled "So what do you think of all this?" "It's beautiful" said Marina wisfully "Mom said they are in love" she gave a little giggle. "Luv, Ugg I think I am hungry, when will we eat?" 4 year old Eddy. I looked at Miram who was sitting to my right "What do you think love is?" I asked. "Well it's kissing" she said" and ..." Ron eagerly jumped in, " I kiss my black and white kitty named Simon"
"I kiss my teddy bear" joined in Marina. "Does he have a name?" I asked.
"Its Teddy" she said smiling. Pauline pulled her chair closer and said loudly, "Gina Hopkins kissed Albert Dorkins at school" We turned to look at her " Oh How did that happen?" I asked. "It wasn't easy," admitted Pauline, "Me and two other girls had to catch him first but I'm a good runner."
Thomas was sitting with his Game Boy, not looking up. "I would n't let a girl kiss me, yuk" he commented, and continued with his Game Boy. Nita a red haired older girl was looking on thoughtfully. "I want to have a boyfriend" Her big sister, red haired with glasses was standing behand her chair grinning. "I know who you like" she paused for effect, as her sister blushed, "it's Tony Flanagan, he deliver's the papers. Do want to know something she gets up so early in the morning just to see him deliver Dad's paper" Pauline looked up "I know him, he has blond hair, he is handome, and his brother Brendan goes to St Joseph's"

" I want to reach you a song, it's called 'I open my heart to you', and if you want you can sing it to the Bride and Groom and teach it to everyone" I said. The children seemed to like that idea.

We went over the melody a few times and they had it with enthusiasm. The boys did not want to stand up but said they would sing sitting down.

The Bride and Groom loved it and we taught the song to all the guests and fifty voices joined the children, hearts melted at Chanterelle in lower Manhattan that day.

We learn about ourselves by learning about other people.