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1.What Piaget and lots of theorists thought was important about Piaget's theory
2.What a lot of people who actually
work with children think is important
OBJECT AND PERSON PERMANENCE
What object permanence is: the understanding that
an object exists even when it cannot be physically perceived.
According to Piaget, there is a natural progression in the development of object permanence. First, children understand partial visible displacement. Julia demonstrated this just a few days ago and we were very excited. She had been playing with her book and it got pushed under the blanket. She saw about one-fourth of the book sticking out, grabbed it and stuck it in her mouth.
Partial visible displacement is when a child can see an object being partially covered up. How would that fool them? Well, it doesn't look the same. Look below:
Obviously, to the right is the letter V and to the left is just a line, half of the letter V, if you like. These are not the same thing. Well, to an infant, when you cover up a book, it doesn't look exactly the same, does it? So, it must be that the book no longer exists. When we did this same test with Julia a month ago, she no longer showed any interest in the book, because, according to Piaget, anyway, she didn't recognize that part of the book sticking out as the very same book she had been playing with.
Julia has still not mastered total visible displacement. That is, when we cover the book up entirely, she does not look for it, but simply crawls off and does something else. [Yes, I really do these tests on my baby, and no, she is not disturbed by being an experimental subject all of the time. In fact, she is quite a happy baby, but thank you for your concern anyway.]
The final step in the development of object permanence is invisible displacement, that is when you hide an object when the child is NOT watching, so they did not actually see you move the object. We tried this with my oldest daughter when she was about a year old. We hid her rocking horse when she was at daycare, and the first thing she did when she got home was start searching the house for her rocking horse that used to be in the living room. Maria was actually showing mastery of object permanence sooner than Piaget suggested was normal. He said that most babies acquire complete object permanence around eighteen months.
Why this is important... Because it is the basis for language and thought. We use words to stand for ideas, that is, to mentally represent something. As adults, we don't have to go around pointing at things to get other people to understand us. We use symbols, such as writing, or, at earlier ages, words, to represent those ideas we have. Before you can use a word to stand for something, you need to be able to separate the IDEA of, say, a book, from the actual physical book itself. You can think about a book, have an idea of one in your mind, talk about it, without a book actually being anywhere in the room. Object permanence is the very beginning of thought. Kind of cool, huh?PERSON PERMANENCE
What it is... the understanding that a person exists even when we cannot perceive him or her. You have probably played the game of "Peek-a-boo" with an infant. You hide behind a blanket or cover your face with your hands. Then you uncover it and say, "PEEK!" and the baby thinks this is the funniest thing he or she has ever seen. Babies love this game and will play it over and over. On the other hand, the same game played with your friends at a party is not nearly as amusing. Why is that? Most likely it is because the infant is just getting the idea of "person permanence". He or she is surprised and delighted to find that you are still there. Your friends, on the other hand, are not the least bit fooled. They mastered the idea of person permanence a long time ago. They know that is really you under your coat and they wish you would quit putting your coat over your head and playing that stupid game.
Why it is important... because before an infant
can develop attachment (which is CRUCIALLY important to child development,
in my opinion) he or she must have the idea of person permanence. What
is attachment? It is the realization that one person in the world is special
among all others. For example, almost all infants develop an attachment
to their mothers, and then to their fathers. It is the basis for the development
of love, trust and a healthy personality. Now, how can you develop attachment
if you don't realize that people are permanent, that they exist even when
you can't see them? You will learn more about attachment in the next chapter.
On the negative side, once infants develop attachment, and realize that
their parents are special to them, they also realize that other people
are NOT their parents and develop stranger anxiety, screaming like they
are being murdered when left with a babysitter, or even with Grandma. Oh
well, nothing is perfect.
2.What a lot of people who actually work with children think is important
I think that object and person permanence is all well and good, contributes to an understanding of children and is worth knowing. However, I think it is unfortunate that many people think that is really all Piaget's theory had to say about infants. In fact, he made a very important contribution by pointing out how children learn through their senses and physical exploration. On the previous page, I gave a brief description of how baths can be a time for sensorimotor exploration. PLEASE do not get the mistaken notion that you need lots of toys and money to provide a good environment for cognitive development. At the moment, the favorite object that "Julia the toy-rich baby" likes to play with is a box that some lightbulbs came in. It is light, so she can pick it up and wave it around. It has two parts, so she can pull it apart and put it back together. It is multicolored with a picture and writing on it, so she finds it interesting to look at. She can put it in her mouth. What more could a baby want? Listed below are numerous activities which allow sensorimotor exploration. Many of them are free. See what others you can add."You" in these examples refers to the infant, but you can do these yourself if that is the kind of thing that makes you happy. None of them are illegal for adults or anything, although they may gain you some odd looks.
DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE ACTIVITIES FOR THE SENSORIMOTOR PERIOD = AS RECOMMENDED BY JULIA
"Those are leaves on the tree,
Julia. Green leaves. Leaves are green. Touch them."
How much of it do I think she understands? At this point, probably close to none. I do know two things for certain, though.
1. Young children learn through repetition, and she gets a lot of it as I constantly label everything she sees and experiences through the day - blue boat, red boat, yellow boat, and so on.
2. At some point, she will start understanding language and at that point it will be all around her. She won't have missed a day when she was ready to learn that she wasn't exposed to a constant stream of language.
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