Building Brainpower 1: Hide-n-Seek, Dad’s Way

Learning can seem like magic when you observe it.

Starting with “peekaboo”, then moving to on-the-spot games like cover-uncover the binky (or some favorite little toy) with the spit-cloth, you are making magic happen. You are laying the foundation for a mind. Object permanence, the notion that even if I can no longer see it, I know that it exists. That quickly grows into I know it exists, and that it is somewhere where I can’t see it right now, so I COULD go find it. That’s where I’m heading with this: hide-n-seek.

First is the drive to explore, find things, get things, get into things…To recall where those things are kept and go there to get them! Who hasn’t found their child, new to and excited by the mobility of crawling, in the lower cabinets? Or in the laundry basket pulling out folded clothes; in the kitty litter pan pulling out…

Yeah, those kiddie cabinet locks are a pain, but you need them because kids are smart. And that’s just baseline smart with little effort or intent on behalf of the parent. The little rats basically come wired for trouble.

This is why intent and effort at this early stage have incredible returns on investment later on.

You really need to guide the development that itty-biddy humans are pre-wired for, because they’ll figure stuff out, alright. A responsible adult can move them in the direction of the right stuff to be figured out. While “responsible adult” might not apply to me in the traditional sense, I still attacked parenting with a mission in mind. I wanted my daughters to be super-sharp and out-of-the-box thinkers. Unafraid, self-assured, confident… And I know that type of person and mind is built. Beginning this building right out of the gate maximizes success.

At the same time baby-mind is developing that concept of object permanence with things, it is beginning to grasp the same concept with people. For example: Mommy or Daddy aren’t in the room, I can’t see or hear them, but if I call or cry they’ll come because they’re somewhere. They exist nearby and if I need something, they can help.

Once that understanding becomes locked in, baby starts to sleep in later, maybe start waking up giggling or babbling instead of crying for comfort because they know that comfort isn’t far away when they need it. They start to self-soothe and then even self-entertain. Baby thinks “Those important nurturing others that tend to me are somewhere nearby, so I can take a few minutes to swat away at that mobile, or shake and interrogate this Teddy here and try to make him answer a few questions.”

Okay, maybe not exactly that, but you get the picture.

The simpler object permanence concept starts to connect to the people and things in the environment and there is now an awareness of places beyond the immediate space-empowering planning to pursue some need or curiosity. Behavior is starting to become goal oriented and reaching out for other places and discoveries as mobility and curiosity increase.

Hide-n-seek is a powerful tool at this time because it exploits both the desire to interact and the growing desire to explore. Parents and guardians are vital in the development of mind and mindset, and you might as well have fun while you’re doing it.

The learning that goes on is perpetual, and it accumulates…

…threading, spreading, reaching, winding and weaving-making connections between things already known and the new things discovered- a nucleus of self and security shoots feelers out to establish other smaller conceptual “home-bases” (for parents, home, rooms, toy box, favorite foods…) that also shoot out to connect to related concepts. A connection might be made between the unusual sound of Mommy calling from some room where her voice resonates, and the room that makes it happen. That connection is made as Baby gets carried to it for a bath. The resonant sound is now attached to that bath place and Baby can hear in-person how it sounds, maybe shouting to hear their voice do it.

And, oh! The little yellow squeak ducky is there in its spot. Then it’s there again, and the next time, and again, every time it’s bath time. Pretty soon the mind has grasped where to go to find and get Ducky- It’s Loudvoice-Bathplace. When Baby becomes More-mobile Baby, he/she just might escape your sight, especially when you hit the walking/climbing stage. They’ll be on the way up the stairs to get Ducky on their own because they’ve pretty much mapped home in their memory.

They have become an adept seeker, and are now ready.

Stretching the mind of an adept seeker-child.

Seeking starts in the arms of one parent while the other hides. Looking in closets, under the beds, behind the shower curtain, with an occasional sneaky giggle from under the blankets as a “clue”. Baby starts to get that Daddy, Mommy (Brother, Sister…) are somewhere, but hiding on purpose, and the fun is discovering where.

Now while you are strengthening a mind and making connections, be warned that you are also inviting future trouble. Your consistent guidance on the how/where/when/why it’s appropriate to go off seeking is crucial. Trust me, the last thing you need is to be invited to the neighbors’ for dinner and have it be your toddler looking through Mister’s sock drawer. Curious is good, precocious and lacking discipline- not good.

So with the child at this stage, mobile, and knowing the home, I am going to switch from “child/baby” and just use a name. I am going to tell you how I did this with Chloe, the oldest of my three daughters.

We had followed all the required steps. The formalities had been observed.

For Chloe, finding me had become no challenge-other than how fast could she. Our house was quite tiny. But speed is a measure for concepts that are almost reflexive that get done pretty much the same way every time. Before calcification settles in you’ve got to throw in a curve and keep that hide-n-seek nucleus loose and capable of sending out new thread-connection to some novel concepts.

So I didn’t just hide, I used dishonesty and diversions.

It was probably by the tenth time of doing the same-old same-old that I changed it up a bit. Sitting in a chair covered by a big blanket was just too easy. Hiding behind the curtains that hung to just a few inches off the floor was too easy. Dad was either the lump in his chair or the feet sticking out from under the bottom of the curtains.

So I mixed it up.

Since we had already added the “Are you ready?” yell, and the “Not yet,” or “Come find me!” response, it was easy to buy the time to play a little trick and get myself hidden. Chloe was a good counter and could get to 20 and beyond with no problem.

This time my response was “Not yet, count again!”

I was busy, you see, constructing a “Dad-lump” under some blankets on the chair. Something bigger and poofy-er for the midsection, a couple throw-pillows maybe; a knit winter cap stuffed with some socks for the head, something to fill out that lap/leg space under the bottom of the blanket. Then, for the pièce de résistance: a baseball cap perched jauntily on top and a couple boots poking out on the floor down below.

There was no way a sane person, even a child, would think that lump was me.

But they’d think it just might be!

Chloe came down the stairs and ran to the Dad-lump to tear away the hiding blankets, only to be surprised by the stuffing. And then the giggle from behind the curtain where a different pair of Dad’s shoes could be seen. Sure, it only added about five seconds to the time it took her to find me, but keeping her from finding me was the last thing I cared about. I was dropping a new, little, pliable concept-nucleus. One for subterfuge and how to do it right.

I could have stopped with the lumpy stuff covered with blankets. But the hat perched on top and the boots down below added a twist. Visible cues that Daddy is being tricky, but this is just silly. He’s not really wearing that hat or those shoes-he’s making a crazy-looking pretend Daddy! What now happens is independent creation and invention start to branch out.

Chloe would occasionally make a fake Chloe, with a hat, maybe a pair of mittens…which I had to discover loudly and with cartoon villain frustration. She also started to adopt some of my “misdirection” techniques:

“I’m under the blanket.” (When I’m really behind the curtain)

“I’m in the closet.” (When I’m really under the blanket)

“I’m behind the curtain.” (When I’m really in the closet)

She would hear where I was calling from and go directly to that spot, at which time I would protest loudly “No, not here, I’m in (that other place)!

Deception, invention, creation…

Scenarios, strategies and possibilities. A world of pretend is opened up through this kind of play. With it comes the understanding that by using the creative mind-more things become possible. I am not advocating destructive dishonesty, but an ability to conceptualize and describe possible realities, stories that haven’t been told, ways to use the materials and supplies around to make cool things happen. I don’t want you to think I had fun lying to my children. At least not yet.

Because next comes the Lying to Children as a Brain-Builder!

Raise Them Right

This appeared first in The Cortland Standard

It’s graduation season, and I’m watching the second of my three daughters spread her wings. Is she ready?

As a teacher, I’m all too familiar with “college and career ready” propaganda, but as a parent I feel that’s a limiting construct. I want my daughters reality-ready. I want them  readied within themselves to meet head-on the world that actually is, not the one someone else defines. I want them to have high expectations of themselves-not aspire to anyone else’s. Above all, I hope for their approach to be “what can I bring to the world to make it a better place” not “what can I get out of the world for me”. Think about it: aim to make the world better for those around you, and the world around you becomes a better place. In my mind, that’s how they’ll fly-this graduating daughter and my other two. Actually, they already fly pretty well in that regard, so I am excited to see what comes next.

In addition to graduation season, it is high-season for political theater. This brings into sharp focus some contrasts between a self-interested bipartisan establishment, their mainstream news apologists, and my “what value should I try to bring to the world” mindset. It seems that the “do for others” approach is radical; far left; even (gasp) socialist!Is “being your brother’s keeper” radical now? I am proud to be raising daughters smarter than that, I just wish politicians were as well. All I have to say is watch out world, here they come.