Tag Archives: brain development

The Toddler’s Perspective – they see the world differently than we do!

I love this video of toddlers who are scared of (or combative with) their own shadows.
The parents try to explain rationally that “it’s just your shadow. It’s OK. There’s nothing to be scared of.” But the kids are still thinking “there’s this creepy black thing following me everywhere and I can’t get rid of it. It’s like it’s stuck to my feet! I’ve never had this experience before, so it’s freaking me out!”
But as funny as the video is, I think it also illustrates a point well.
Toddlers have limited experience of the world, and because of this, they simply see the world differently than we do. They have developed theories based on their life experience, and our “rational explanations” may not always jive with their theories.
I thought of this once when I was trying to get my 3 year old out the door for story time. I kept saying “We have to hurry. Story time is happening right now, and if we don’t go, we’ll miss it.” And he didn’t understand.
Then I thought about it from his perspective. As far as he can tell, it’s ALWAYS story time at the library!
EVERY TIME we’ve ever walked through those doors, we walk into the story time room, and then in the next minute or two, story time starts. It’s like they wait for him to get settled in, then they start. So, since he “knows” that story time will always be there for him, he doesn’t see a reason to give up the fun game he’s playing right now to go there.

My role as a parent is to explain things so that he develops his understanding of the world, and refines his theories of how things work. But, I also have to remember to be patient with him as he does so. When he’s not listening to my “rational explanations”, I try to stop and think about why they don’t make sense to him and then find a new way to explain.

Toddlers love repetition


All young children love repeating the same thing over and over. It gives them a great sense of mastery over their world when they know what to expect and they know what is expected of them. This is true of ALL children. But especially of my little boy.

With his big sisters, I was all about variety in their activities, and diverse experiences, and exposing them to as many things as possible. Sure, we had some books we read again and again, and some favorite places we visited often, but I definitely actively sought out new adventures for them, both for their sake, and – frankly – because I was young and impatient and easily bored of the ‘same old thing.’

But my boy demands routine. He insists on the familiar. He revels in repetition.

He dives deep into things with a devoted passion. When he had just turned two, he fell in love with Cat in the Hat, and we spent 3 months reading it over and over.We all had it memorized, and we were all grateful that there are so many of us in his daily life that can read to him. (Between me, my husband, the grandparents, and the sisters, he has 6 dedicated readers to go to. So each of us only had to read the book about 100 times, rather than the 600 repetitions I would have had to read without my village of support.)

After that, it was about 6 months of trains. The Thomas the Tank Engine videos, train books, toy trains and tracks, the trips on real steam engines, the sitting by tracks and watching trains pass by. Now, it’s not that trains were the ONLY thing we played with. On a regular basis, I “made him” do other things, and there were plenty of trips to the playground and the library and concerts and books about other topics… But definitely trains dominated. Again, it helped that his abuelo (grandpa) loves trains and was quite happy to play along.

Then it was 5 or so months of the alphabet. Listening to YouTube ABC songs in the car everywhere we drove, playing all the ABC apps that exist for the Kindle Fire, putting together letter puzzles, singing the ABCs, playing the “I’m thinking of an animal that starts with the letter R” game.

Now we’re five months into the planets. The books, the videos, the planetarium visits…  I’ve got the three year old who is sliding down the slide shouting “Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars…” and telling the other kids “the sun is the center of our solar system. The planets orbit around it. It takes one year for the Earth to orbit the sun” and so on. And everywhere we go he finds sets of nine objects to line up to be the planets. Whether it’s balls, rocks, sea shells, sugar packets at a restaurant… the smallest items are Mercury and Pluto, the biggest is Jupiter, etc.

Sometimes this repetition / focus drives his sister crazy. She’s 17 and thinks the world is more interesting with variety.

It doesn’t really drive me crazy though.

Most of the time.

Partially because I’m older and more patient. Partially because of all the other adults (and adult-like older siblings) who help support his passions – if it was only me doing all this with him, I’d have worn out by now. Partially because I can see how much he learns by doing it. We know from neuroscience that children learn / build connections in their brain through repetition, especially in a setting where they feel happy and safe. My boy learned to read before he was 3. He can memorize books, songs, and videos… the other day he was quoting a Bill Nye the Science guy video word for word… He’s also on track for learning all the things he should be learning at 3 – how to hold a marker (and draw planets), how to sort things by categories (rocky planets, gas giants, dwarf planets), how to make things of clay (yep, planets), how to carry a tune (yes, singing songs about planets) – and lots more skills we expect at this age. We’ve also talked about things I didn’t expect to cover at this age – like states of matter.

And really, the biggest reason I’m willing to repeat things over and over is simply that it makes him happy. The joy and satisfaction he finds in a deep mastery of a topic is pretty hard to resist.

Videos and Podcasts about Brain Development

With two jobs and a toddler at home, I don’t have a lot of time to read. I’m guessing you may not have much time to read either!

But, with a smartphone or tablet that can play videos and mp3 sound recordings, there’s a whole world of free educational opportunities on the Internet. I can listen to these while driving, working out, doing dishes, or walking to the store. Here are some good options for learning more about brain development and toddlers:


The Zero to Three podcast series is fabulous: “Each podcast features an interview with an expert that focuses on how to apply the research of early childhood development to your daily interactions with your baby or toddler.” Creating Healthy Connections: Nurturing Brain Development From Birth to Three featuring Alison Gopnik, Ph.D. is just one of the great podcasts you’ll find there: http://www.zerotothree.org/about-us/funded-projects/parenting-resources/podcast/

YouTube videos:

Infant Brain development: A brief video on brain development including animations of how brain wiring occurs. (3:15)

Nurturing your child’s Early Brain development: Chaya Kulkarni, Director of Infant Mental Health Promotion at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, tells why it’s so important to nurture your child’s early brain development, and how to do it. 11:07

Early learning and the Brain: Discusses research into early brain development at the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-Labs). Very accessible presentation about what research can show us.5:42

Wiring the Brain for Success: Early Childhood and Developmental Psychology Expert, Dr. Becky Bailey shares her insights on how neuroscience reveals optimal situations that will wire our children for success. Focus is on how children must first master their survival skills (brain stem), then emotional skills (limbic system), then executive skills (frontal lobe.) 17:48

How Parenting Affects Your Child’s Brain: Child and family therapist Jennifer Kolari explains how positive parenting, safety, and love stimulate the production of oxytocin in a child’s brain and how that benefits the child and the parents. 9:23  More from Jennifer Kolari.

Brain development and Nurturing Children’s Growing Minds: If you want to dive deep into this topic: Victoria Tennant did a presentation to foster parents (some number of years ago) about neurobiology of the brain, the effect of abuse and neglect on a developing brain and what you can do to help a child be all that he/she was meant to be. (Part 1 is over an hour.)