Go to your room… and play!

Most parents and educators don’t know the real importance of playtime when it comes to a child’s development and the different results that can come from each style and way of playing. Gopnik (2016) says “Play helps children to interact, learn how things work and think about possibilities and understand other people’s mind.”

 

What’s play?

The act of play is founded in many different animal species and the biologists have been trying to define it for years. Not being able to really find an objective definition, they found a group of characteristics that, being present, classify the behavior as playing.

According to those, play is not work, it’s fun and voluntary. Play has a special structure, a pattern of repetition and variation (how many of us have read the same story about a hundred times, to our child who still keeps asking for it?). And another important characteristic is that playing “depends on safety and security” (Gopnik, 2016). Children that don’t have their basic needs fulfilled or are not safe, don’t play and that can be observed either in human children or animal cubs.

The impact of playing

Playing is a common behavior amongst the young animals of every kind, but how did this interfere with their evolution? The answer is easy: the more they play, the more plastic their brains become.

“For neuroscience, a plastic brain is a brain that changes more easily” (Gopnik, 2016) which will allow us to make more and more efficient connections after an experience and learn with them and the more you play, more easily you adapt to new situations and circumstances.

In the 60’s, a group of scientists conducted some experiments on rats. One group of rats had a sterile environment and the other one had a rich environment, filled with all sorts of toys. The conclusions were very obvious: the second group’s “brains grew bigger (…), with more connections and larger frontal areas.”

Animals with a longer childhood tend to play more, which matters a great deal in leading them to become more resourceful, intelligent and adapt better to different circumstances. If that playing happens in a safe, protected environment with a bigger investment from their parents, it’s even better.

Play is a possibility of experimentation, and with it, children learn some of the tools they’ll need as adults, helping with their learning and developing their skills. And best of all… it’s fun!

Play pretend

Pretending is a very human way of playing and also a very old one. “Archaeologists have recovered four-thousand-year-old dolls and miniature kitchen utensils in Bronze Age children’s quarters.” (Gopnik, 2016)

This “is central to our powerful human learning abilities” (Gopnik, 2016) because playing, especially playing pretend, is closely related to hypothetical or counterfactual thinking, which means, the ability of imagining an alternative way for what things should be (from as simply imagining different uses for a simple tool, up to envisioning a different political organization in your own country).

Just like science, playing teaches our children to call into question what they see, imagining hypotheses, testing, and finding their own conclusions. This will have a great impact on their adult lives and has been incredibly fundamental to our evolution as a species.

Playing pretend gives children the ability to think about possibilities, and helps them understand what other people think, want or believe. “Children who pretend more have a distinct advantage in understanding other people” (Gopnik, 2016)

REFERENCES

GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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Once upon a time: be a teacher, tell a story

Language is our primary way of communication, and it is “the only way to acquire fictional, mythological, or religious knowledge” (Gopnik, 2016). Children learn what we tell them, that’s why talking and reading to them is so good.

Once upon a time

Telling stories has been, since the beginning of times a way of transmitting important information about culture, religion, safety and a lot of other different themes.

In ancestral cultures, the elders are the ones with the important role of telling stories. They are the “master storytellers”, developing imagination, culture, and spirituality in children as well as, giving them cultural wisdom and historical knowledge.

Nowadays, our society developed the fear that children might not be able to distinguish fantasy from reality, but many studies have shown that they are perfectly able to do so, from a very young age. In fact, they might sometimes seem confused “because they have such strong emotional reactions to stories, including the stories they make up themselves”. (Jacqueline Woolley: Estes, Wellman, and Woolley 1989; Woolley 1997, cit. by Gopnik, 2016).

Actually, children not only can distinguish fantasy from reality but are also able to tell apart different worlds of fantasy. They know that Batman can speak with Robin, but never with SpongeBob.

Why? Why? Why?

If you deal with a small child in your daily life, this title means something to you. They are always asking us why things are the way they are, and they will not be happy with simple answers.

Sometimes, you might ask yourself if they really want to know or if it’s just a way to extend the conversation and have more attention from the adult. Let me tell you: they really want to know. When a child asks you why, he or she wants you to give an answer and will, in turn, learn from it.

One of the first things a toddler learns to ask is “what’s that?”, because they want to gather information and understand the world around them. After it, comes the “why” and those explanations “lead them to deeper levels of understanding” (Gopnik, 2016).

Asking questions is something that children need to be allowed to do. They are very attentive to details and they want all the information they gather to make sense in their heads. Telling them stories and answering their questions is the best way to help them develop knowledge about the world, society and themselves.

REFERENCES

GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Social Learning: an unconscious and effective way of learning

Imitation. Something our children do from a very very young age, however, it might be more complicated than it seems at first glance. This is a very special way of learning that is more than simply copying or mimicking what someone else is doing and the proof is given by many studies that reach the following conclusion: when faced by two people doing two different things to try and achieve the same goal, even a very young child will imitate the one which attained better results.

This also shows us that imitation is an intentional action with a specific goal, becoming a potent form of casual learning. It’s a secure way of getting to know objects and people, what they do and how to manipulate them, that involves observation, logic reasoning, and decision-making. We can learn a bit of everything by watching our models and according to Gopnik (2016) “developmental studies have shown […] how intelligent, complex, and subtle imitation can be, even in babies.”

Imitation gives us the possibility of learning without necessarily going for trial and error. We can simply observe other people’s actions, their consequences and formulate our own conclusions, in other words, learning.

Children will imitate the adult, believing that we know better, but they’re also able to tell when you don’t actually know what you’re doing. If you show some reluctance or officially admit you don’t know how to do something, you’re also teaching them something very important: the fact that no one knows everything. And that’s fundamental for them to build self-esteem, realizing that everyone has difficulties with some tasks.

This also allows them to develop their creativity. Children are experts in thinking outside the box if we allow them to. The moment you admit you don’t know how to use an object, for example, is the moment they start to try something new, without our prejudices and predefined ideas standing in the way, they are effectively contributing to evolution.

Emotionally and culturally, imitation allows the child to feel the sense of belonging. Every society has its own rituals, mostly without a practical meaning, keeping the group united. The imitation of those rituals will provide integration in the group to the new members.

Imitation is actually a very important tool for practical, social and cultural learning.

REFERENCES

GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Grandmothers: the fairies of love

For most of us, the grandmother was a figure quite present throughout our childhood. They gave us their love and their patience, even when our parents were already tired of all the mess. For us, as a species, they have an important part in our personal development and nature gave us a help with that.

We live 30 years or more past our fertility period, which is very different from the rest of the species on our planet (as far as we know this reality is present just for humans and killer whales) and this has had a great impact in the way in which we raise our little ones.

According to Kristen Hawkes (cit. by Gopnik, 2016) grandmothers are of vital importance in our life, contributing “substantially to the welfare of early human children”. They have a role in feeding, caring (their help allows parents to have a bigger number of children, despite the enormous length of human childhood), they often have even more time and patience for the child and their experience can also be useful for the parents to learn how to care for their young children more effectively. The grandmothers also take benefits from this relationship, keeping themselves active and often healthier, as well as raising their self-esteem.

We are a cultural species, where the groups join together different generations and the youngest learn from the elders, giving our grandparents an important role as a link to our historical past. We learn from our ancestors’ experiences and that’s fundamental for our survival, as a species.

The idea of the grandmother that spoils the children is, in fact, recent. Throughout history they’ve had a major role in a children education, giving them great responsibilities in the child’s successful upbringing. They are teachers and caregivers and their role allows us a “longer immaturity, larger brain size, and advanced learning.” (Gopnik, 2016)

REFERENCES

GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

(Image: “Grandmother’s love” – Painted by Cynthia Snider)

Love is complicated: children and the biggest long-term commitment

As a species, we have a unique ability for loving. We love and care for our partners, our children and grandchildren, and sometimes even people that aren’t related to us. We live longer than most species, eventually enduring menopause which gives us quite uncommon situations, where nature is concerned, and a special relationship with our grandchildren.

Sexually, we’re mostly, a monogamous species, which is a rare situation amongst the majority of the animals, and even other monogamous ones seem to have sex with different partners, as some recent DNA studies had shown. However, for our species, this goes further than sex and providing for children, as we have the complicated social, institutional and legal parts of our system and society, accounting for this.

The “ideal” situation changes regularly, depending on the time and culture of each population. It can go from a lifetime of being faithful, to a complete and total freedom. Objectively, none of them is perfect, one partner might become boring and multiple partners might lead to jealousy and problems eventually.

 

Monogamy and parenthood

Regardless of the sexual arrangement, the link between sex and love is deeply “ingrained and widespread in human culture” (Gopnik, 2016), but pair-bonding is extremely correlated with “paternal investment”. Our babies are very fragile and “needy” and not that long ago child mortality was a big issue amongst our species.

Humankind didn’t need much time to realize that due the specific characteristics of our babies it was better to have fewer children and more resources for each one. Cooperation between men and women (even with different roles) would give our infants better chances of survival. This might explain our monogamous tendency.

An overwhelming love

Romantic love is known for being almost hallucinogenic, being said to alter your consciousness, making you perceive the person you love as far more perfect than they actually are. Same happens with babies. You can’t hear your newborn crying and stand indifferent to them unless you’re terribly ill.

Many of our babies’ characteristics help us love them irrationally. They are small and cute and somehow, we want to protect them. But our nature went further than that and made sure oxytocin had something to do with it.

During labor, women are flooded with oxytocin, a very important neurotransmitter that leads us to a caring behavior towards the newborn, and this act of caring will refill our oxytocin levels. It’s a cycle. Of course we’re never really this simple and our brain, our genes, and experiences will interfere with this cycle, but generally speaking, this is how it works.

“Children are the purest example of specific long-term commitments and attachments.” (Gopnik, 2016) And to deal with that, nature made us love them more than ourselves.

REFERENCES

GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Analyzing Rorschach: Major Details

When a patient talks about what he sees on the board they don’t always ‘use’ the whole entirety of the pattern to do it. Sometimes they just pick a significant part of it, focus in on it and start describing by what they interpret there. This is what we call major details and it can say a lot about your patient.

To be considered as a ‘major details’ answer, your patient has to pick a part of the board that is a frequent clipping in their population. Those details belong to the record of the factors implied in the cognitive functioning and its interpretation is based on the associated determinants (shape and color).

Perception of the shape

The way your patient perceives the shape he chooses is fundamental to the interpretation. It reveals his ability to control and adapt to reality without becoming disorganized. This kind of patient shows a strong ego, is an objective person and with some need for control over his life (in extreme cases, this might be a defense mechanism).

If your patient shows an inadequate perception (perceptive control of low quality), he might be unable to accomplish the defense mechanism he intended to. This might mean some adaptive problems, the affectivity overlaps everything else.

Interpretation

If you are facing a tremendous amount of ‘major details’ answers, this could mean that your patient is in a state of withdrawal from reality, sometimes showing a fragmented representation of himself. Sometimes, this is a necessary defense mechanism this person is using to help themselves stay within the confines of reality.

If your patient gives you a lot of ‘major details’ answers, but it’s not exaggerated, and sometimes he or she can actually give global answers as well, you’re probably in the presence of a person inside reality, that uses concrete, known objects to face their psychological emergencies, theirs being conflictual or affective.

Analyzing Rorschach: Global Answers – they are not all the same

How I mentioned before the apprehension mode is key, essentially fundamental to a better interpretation of a Rorschach test. In this post, we’re gonna talk about the global answers, which means, when the patient look at the ink spots as a single object or image.

Simple Global Answers

The patient does not elaborate much, which normally shows low investment in the test, however, provides us an easy way to read it. The answers are almost immediate and without any cognitive effort, you’ll find the test to be full of banal answers.

This subject is usually well adapted, with good cognitive functioning and a stable identity, based in and inside reality.

Vague Global Answers

Vague global answers can show an unsound approach of the world around the subject, which tells us that the subject doesn’t have his own identity well defined, especially if the answers are made with formal determinant.

However, most of the times, vague answers are used as a defensive process from our subject, who means to avoid the test itself, perceiving it as dangerous or a source of anxiety. It’s important that the therapist assures the patient that they’re in a secure environment.

Impressionists Global Answers

Based on the sensory determinant, these are answers that focused on the color of the inkblots, leading us to affections and emotions the patient experiences. The patient shows himself, most susceptible, intensely sensitive expressing his emotions.

As the former ones, this might be used as a defense mechanism to avoid particular themes or anguishes.

Combined or Elaborated Global Answers

In this type of answers, you can see an effort to combine different parts of the inkblot, there is more investment from the subject and, consequently, more projection. It shows us the existence of very personal psychic space and affectivity and a rich ability to think about them.

However, it’s very important to pay attention to the perception the subject shows. A good perception might tell us that we are in presence of a very creative person, yet, an incorrect perception might tell us that our patient could be unadjusted and have a somewhat severe difficulty in the mental organization.

Interpretation

Interpreting this or any other kind of answers should be done very carefully. The same type can means different things, according to the content and the person we have in front of us, so I’m just giving you global guidelines of what to look for, in order to help you to organize yourself.

As an internal process, global answers means that our patient is trying to look at the whole board and give an answer that might involve everything he’s seeing, a full or global meaning. This might show us, according to what he says, a huge capacity of elaboration (when you get very elaborated answers) or a lack of curiosity, and eventual disinvestment in the test when the subject does not explore the ink blot.

About his own image of the self, again, can also mean two different things. It can mean that your subject recognizes his own integrity and the surrounding objects, or, otherwise, that he is just defending himself from what he could actually see there, facing the test as a dangerous intrusion. Usually, this kind of patient uses the global answers to avoid losing control over the whole ordeal and the test. They provide the easiest way of controlling the whole testing situation.