Monday, May 23, 2016

The Right Device

With the right device you can make a pattern grow. - Phish
When considered through the lens of early childhood developing, these lyrics by Phish can snowball into a variety of ways to understand technology in the life of a young child. In this context, “the right device” is technology - anything from a wooden block to a spoon to a tablet. And the growing patterns? Those can be anything from the musical patterns a child makes by shaking a rattle, the sculptural patterns she builds with blocks, the patterns of play he makes for himself in his room, or the patterns of neurological connections happening in the brain because of his or her play.

First, let’s consider making music. Making patterns of sound is making music. For young children, the patterns depend on the technology for creating the sounds as well as the child’s ability to control that technology. Shaking a rattle once the child experiences how he or she can make a sound.
Shaking it two times in succession is the beginning of making a pattern.
Then, as the young child grows, the patterns can become more complex.
Coordinating the movement of his or her body with the instrument and changing depending on what is heard is an amazing feat of learning. In fact, scientists are constantly learning about how playing a musical instrument activates the brain in multiple places (engaging almost every single part of the brain) and in multiple ways (neurons working by themselves and in concert with one another). The types of instruments (technology) a child uses as she or he grows also gets increasingly complex. A xylophone, harmonica, ukelele and piano might be added to his or her repertoire, also adding potential for new patterns to make and practice.

Next, let’s consider blocks. Different types of blocks offer opportunities to learn different patterns of shapes. A child uses her or his body, the toy (technology), and vision to explore the process of making patterns. Whether the wooden blocks are being stacked on top of each other or sorted by color it does not matter. What matters is that the child is experimenting with making patterns. Magnetic tiles are qualitatively different from wooden blocks. Not only do they stay together using magnetic force instead of just gravity or friction, the flatter shape emphasizes new lessons in volume. And building with marble runs necessitates an added dimension of problem solving...building something that guides a rolling ball to where you want it to go. The pattern of direction of the ramps controls the movement of the marble.

In both cases of baby technology (musical instruments and blocks), the ways a child plays with the toys by himself or herself evolves as the child grows. He learns how to create music and she learns to build higher and more complex structures. However, one of the most compelling patterns of play that stems from both music technology and block technology is the pattern of human interaction. When two people sit together to make music they immediately begin to communicate through body language, musical sounds, and conversation. The same is true for two people building together. What is really cool is that the social interactions shape the young child’s brain; neurological patterns form based on the ways the adult communicates with the child!

So when I think about what “technology” looks like for babies and other young children I think about what Phish said, “With the right device you can make a pattern grow.” I ask myself, “what patterns would I like to see grow?” Then I consider what device/technology would help that pattern grow… And I go from there.

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