This article is written as my interpretation of the Tools of the Mind program. If you wish to read the words from the horse’s mouth, you should purchase your own copy of “Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education” by Elena Bodrova and Deborah J. Leong.
The application of Tools of the Mind can begin at birth. The two important individuals to commence this learning process is the baby and the caregiver. It was interesting to note that many of these activities follow a common sense approach and any parent keenly interested in the development of their baby would probably have stumbled upon some of these methods already.
Vygotsky believed that adults provided the framework upon which a child’s development is built. This is because he believed that it was not an object’s physical characteristics that affected development but rather its cultural meaning. In order for a child to discover the cultural meaning of an object, the child must interact with an adult. For this reason, it is important that a child’s first few years be spent in close proximity with an adult who is intently interested in the development of that child. It is also important that the child receive adequate one-to-one attention. In other words, the ideal childcare setting should be one where the caregiver is a parent, a close relative or a dedicated nanny.
A dedicated caregiver is required because the early interactions between caregiver and infant provide the scaffolding for future development. How that caregiver interacts with the baby will shape the baby’s development and set the pace for further development. Caregivers need to respond to the emotional expressions a baby and alter their responses as the baby grows. Although babies are incapable of expressing emotional responses initially, it is important for caregivers to react to the newborn’s reactions – crying, sneezing, facial expressions, etc. – as if they are intentional attempts to communicate as this sets the foundation for the newborn’s development of communication with his caregivers later on.
Implementing Tools of the Mind
The adult’s role in an infant’s development in the first three months of life is to “take the lead”. Taking the lead involves singing, talking, telling stories and reading books to the infant long before your baby expresses an interest in such activities. You should also respond to your baby’s cries with the appropriate response – verbal or non-verbal – above and beyond the need to feed and be held.
In the later months, as your baby begins to develop “social smiles” and other expressions of his own, it is important to give your baby the opportunity to express himself rather than anticipate his expressions. For instance, instead of feeding your baby just because it is “dinner time”, it is best to wait until he expresses some desire to eat. This offers your baby control over the interaction by allowing him to initiate the interaction.
At the same time, you should continue to communicate with your baby as you proceed with daily activities. For instance, “I’m going to pick you up, then I’m going to give you a bath.” You should also wait for your baby’s response to provide him the opportunity to respond before proceeding – it offers your baby the opportunity to be an active participant rather than a passive one. Talk to your baby as you would talk to another adult – provide your baby opportunities to respond to the things you say rather than talking non-stop.
Once your baby begins to coo, babble and point to objects, use these gestures as your baby’s intention to communicate and respond appropriately. Comment on objects pointed at and respond to babbling as if it were part of a conversation. Break off when baby looks away as that is your baby’s signal for you to “stop”.
As you can see, many of these adult-infant interactions are normal, everyday interactions that most parents instinctively conduct with their babies anyway. However, now you know what to focus on, you can do more.