How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Part One

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, Practice, Practice … goes the old joke.

We think of violinists and pianists, but every toddler is performing the same miracle of intensity and practice right under our noses. We are accustomed to it and fooled by the small laughing faces smeared with sweet potato and any dirt they can find. Let’s follow Emma to her ta da! moment at eighteen months and then we’ll explore the neurology behind it, her negotiations with her parents and the implications for teachers and parents.

This is Emma playing under her wooden baby gym. She is ignoring the toys as she works on turning over. In one short year things will change dramatically.

At eighteen months old, Emma is active for her age and persistent in teaching herself things she wants to learn. Emma is fortunate in her parents.

They are not only active themselves, but her mother is a former competitive athlete and her father loves to cycle and hike. He once cycled across four provinces, including British Columbia. Her parents don’t discourage her from most of her experiments in action so she keeps busy and keeps them busy.

You will notice that in the picture above, Emma has her leg up on what is the bottom step of a climbing structure. The toe in the left side of the picture is her mother’s. In the next picture (on another day), you can see Emma as she reaches the top of these steps. She has made it clear to her parents that she does not need help so an unseen hand, ready to grab an arm, a shirt or the back of her overalls hovers discretely behind.

There are all sorts of activities at the top of the steps but what she wanted was the bridge in the pictures below. As you can see, Emma is having great fun charging across this bridge made with wooden slats and her mother is having only slightly less fun trying to keep up. She wouldn’t have held her mother’s hand but for her mother’s insistence.

Emma sometimes decides that she wants to learn how to do something and then persists until she learns it to her satisfaction. It isn’t always obvious to anyone except her why she wants to learn something.The goosestep she appears to be doing in this picture is not that at all. She is not throwing her leg forward but executing a sidekick every few walking steps. It was quite deliberate and unusually well executed for a toddler. What made her decide to do it puzzled observers. Why she was doing it was a puzzle but that she was doing it must have both strengthened the muscles in her leg and hip and maintained if not increased the flexibility that allowed Emma to swing her leg up on the step in the second photo. I have no expertise in toddler fitness so I am speculating here, based on having raised three children of my own.

It is characteristic of her parents’ style that they are unobtrusive but present to stop any major falls. Otherwise Emma is allowed to experiment with pretty well anything she thinks she can do. Emma’s first ideas about how to get down from the sofa were not good ones. Only the pillows on the floor and her mother’s firm grip of her leg stopped it from being a painful experiment.

Emma experiments with going up the slide. Her parents made a point of teaching her how to get down from places where she has climbed up. The photo below shows how they have taught Emma to turn around so she can lower her feet first.

Sometimes Emma climbs where her parents don’t want her to go. They deal with this much the same way they deal with headfirst descents: they make it clear to Emma that climbing on the computer desk is not acceptable and they remove her. But first, of course, a photograph is in order! By contrast, the couch is an acceptable climbing spot so long as she doesn’t get on the back because that is too high.

Emma likes to try new things and her parents encourage her. Swings are a good example of how her parents introduce and encourage her in trying new things. First there was the baby swing with Dad in front pushing the swing. Emma could see her dad and they shared a smile of delight. Next she sat on her daddy’s lap while he went back and forth on the grown up swing. Later when she went again to the playground, shewanted to sit on the swing by herself. Her mother put her on, made sure she understood she had to keep her hands firmly wrapped around the chains and gently pushed from behind.

It was possible that Emma might fall but highly unlikely. Her mother was right there and Emma is a sturdy child with a good sense of balance.

These months of practicing climbing and balance, building strength and derring-do have led to this moment caught on a parent’s camera. The baby who lay under the baby gym, just a short year ago, trying to turn over, is now climbing on it.

How did she get there?

Next Post:  Emma’ s Brain.

NATURE AND NURTURE

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