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.
Vygotsky’s view of child development from 6-12 months:
In the first six months, the adult introduces objects to the baby. In the second half of a baby’s first year of life, he begins to become interested in the manipulation of those objects. Adults are still a very important part of an infant’s development as they can help the child manipulate these objects and draw their attention to different things. From the infant’s perspective, adults are an extension of their arms and legs, and the provider of knowledge regarding things they do not yet understand or know about in the world. Adults carry them around, assist them with difficult manipulations of objects and share information about the world.
Facilitating your child’s development:
- Introduce more complex objects
- Model new operations
- Provide your child the opportunity to practice these new operations and apply them to new objects
- Make sure you choose appropriate toys and everyday objects for this age and model how they are used
- Be aware of what your child can do and proceed with activities that are just ahead of what your child can achieve alone
- Be sensitive to what your child can do and assist with what your child is on the verge of achieving
- In the later part of infancy, provide toys and objects that have different characteristics that can be experienced differently, e.g. different sizes, weights, colours, textures, different methods of holding
Again Vygotsky emphasises the importance of having an adult facilitate the child’s learning because only another human being can vary her actions in response to the baby and engage him by changing objects and varying the distance of the object from his grasp. “Objects alone, no matter how colourful or technically sophisticated, do not engender the same development as an adult… Only another human being can make the small, subtle adjustments necessary to increase engagement as a child learns to manipulate objects.”
Although it may appear that babies learn simple behaviours through self-discovery, Vygotsky believed that such developments are not independent. It is the adult who teaches a child to shake a rattle by holding his hand around the rattle and causing the baby to shake it.
Through these interactions between adult and child, the baby will learn language. As the baby begins to make gestures towards objects, the adult provides the necessary language. For instance, in response to a gesture towards an object, the adult might say, “You want your teddy?” Eventually, the child will come to associate the word “teddy” with the soft toy.
Here’s where it gets interesting (especially since I have used a number of these programs on Gavin myself):
“The importance of the contingency, or connection, of language to the child’s own actions cannot be overstressed in this age of baby media programs and interactive toys and videos. Listening to adults talking or to the radio or television where the speech is not interactive does not have the same positive effect on development as direct, face-to-face communication. For this reason, even videos and toys that are specifically designed for babies with slowed-down action and with interactions where the toy or chracter seems to be responding or talking to the child can never substitute for the real thing. The verbal interactions that are required are those that are truly responsive to a particular child’s specific vocalisations. These very personal interactions extend the baby’s own initiations and are relevant to the object that the baby is touching or seeing at that very second. General words from a video or toy that occur at the same time an image appears or the toy moves do not have the same impact, because the baby might be looking at another part of the screen or something else. The toy or video’s words are not contingent on the baby’s actions but are contingent on what appears visually.”
In other words, these electronic media and toys with their mechanised dialogue can never be as valuable as the true interaction between a baby and a loving adult.
Okay, so such videos and toys are definitely secondary when compared to the full attention of a loving adult, but does that mean they are completely useless? Although I offered a lot of these programs to Gavin – Tweedlewink, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Little Einsteins, Your Baby Can Read, Signing Time – I also spent a lot of time playing with him. I’ve always attributed his early and advanced speech development to these programs because that is what they promised and that is what Gavin achieved.
Would Gavin still have developed his speech as early and with the level of complexity that he has now without these programs? Honestly, I couldn’t say. Would I omit them in Gareth’s learning program? Probably not. At the end of the day, I guess the take home message is: if you can only implement one program with your baby – play with your baby as much as possible.
Additionally, based on the paragraph above taken verbatim from Tools of the Mind, it would seem that of many of the early childhood education programs I’ve written about so far, Glenn Doman would be the best bet to begin with for the following reasons:
- materials are presented by an attentive and loving adult
- baby faces the adult who can modify the program based on baby’s responses