Thursday, April 30, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
We spent last weekend building a board for Isaac's electric train set, and now we're practising running one train into the siding while the other loops around the main circuit. Isaac wants to run them both together and 'have a race'. Which engine will go faster? The bigger one, obviously. It's a battle between the Mallard (which any schoolchild knows was the fastest steam engine ever built) and a dumpy diesel-electric tank engine. No contest, then, in Isaac's view.
It reminds me of Piaget's Genevan studies on time, speed and distance. Claiming to have been put up to the challenge by Albert Einstein, with whom he had once shared an academic symposium, Piaget wanted to know whether children based their judgements of speed and distance on their reckoning about time, or whether their ideas about motion were more fundamental. Here's how I describe those experiments in the book:
Picking up on Einstein’s challenge, Piaget’s Genevan researchers presented children with various scenarios involving moving objects, such as clockwork snails crawling across a table, or two small dolls which were made to pass through tunnels of unequal length. Preoperational children would get hopelessly confused by questions about ‘how long’ and ‘how far’. Failing to take differences in speed, or starting and stopping points, into account, they might judge that something that had travelled further had also been travelling for more time. Slightly older children could use information about relative speed, such as the fact that one doll had overtaken another, but still tended to answer questions about temporal order in terms of spatial order: that is, interpreting questions about ‘before’ and ‘after’ in terms of distance rather than time.Our own experiment is not a particularly accurate reprise of those classic Genevan studies. The relative speeds of our two engines actually seem to be changing constantly: one minute the Mallard is outstripping the tank engine, and the next the smaller loco is making all the running. Isaac is excited; I'm plain emotional. Much of what we've arranged here comes from my old boyhood train set, some of which in turn dates back to a train set from the 1950s. Thirty years ago I packed a handful of tiny black track pins into a Freightliner container, thinking 'They'll be useful again one day.' Today I'm sifting them in my clumsy, grown-up fingers, and reflecting on the foresight of that long-ago ten-year-old.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Image by Ed Yourdon via FlickrHow much are children attuned to the troubles of the world? Quite a lot, it seems. A report out today, based on 1000 face-to-face interviews with six- to twelve-year-olds, shows that concerns about the global recession are topping the lists of children's reported worries. Fears of violence to self and others also loom large in children's lives, with 30% of respondents saying that the bullying was a problem.
I wasn't surprised to read about these young people's attunement to economic and political realities. A paper due out soon in the journal Infant and Child Development reports some work done by my graduate student, Sarah Laing, on children's fears, worries and ritualistic behaviours in middle childhood and adolescence. For her study, Sarah devised an in-depth interview in which 142 children aged between seven and sixteen rated how intensely they felt fears and worries about a range of topics, as well as getting an opportunity to come up with their own items of concern. We found that worry, as opposed to fear, was particularly strongly related to children's performance of ritualistic behaviours, such as bedtime routines—suggesting that these sorts of behaviours may provide children with a way of coping with high anxiety. We also found that bullying and harm befalling a loved one were prominent on children's lists of worries, a pattern that was clear right across the age range.
Sarah's study also showed that the anxieties of the age were finding their way into children's emotional worlds. Sarah collected her data in December 2004, when the war in Iraq was raging. The war was the most intense of all sources of worry for the 11–12-year-old age group, ranking as highly as worry about harm befalling a loved one. The good news is that fear and worry become less intense as children get older, although we found a surge in intensity at the end of adolescence, as (presumably) the realities of adulthood press ever more strongly.
I'm happy to send readers a preprint of the paper if they'd like to see it.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Image via WikipediaThose who are following the book on Twitter will have noticed this new development. Why anti-parenting? I think I'm simply trying to underline the point about this not being a parenting book, but rather an exhortation to use science and imagination to reach a better understanding of where small children are coming from. I'm hoping the tweets will be daily(ish).
Posted by Charles Fernyhough at 6:26 AM
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
Sunday, April 5, 2009
I'm in Denver, feeling slightly dazed at the end of the SRCD meeting. SRCD rolls around once every two years, and draws thousands of developmental psychologists to North America from all over the world. It's been an intense three days of symposia, posters and networking. I caught up with plenty of old friends and made some new ones, but also managed to get a feel for some new developments in the field, which I hope to write about here in the coming weeks. Right now, though, I need to catch up on some sleep and get over the effects of the altitude (Denver is the Mile High City) and the excellent Colorado beer.
Posted by Charles Fernyhough at 12:52 PM