Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Left of the Blue Wall
Adam and Dova enjoy a ride in my car.
Last month Doug started working again. This has turned our household upside down, so be thankful that you aren’t hearing about that! One of the changes is that I am now in charge of sending the kids to camp or school in the mornings. Morning commutes had been my quiet time where I reflectively choose which podcasts or music to listen to. When I had picked up the kids in the afternoon, we listened to The Beatles or other music the kids wanted (within reason). So how will my peaceful morning commute change with kids in the car?
On our first Monday commute together, I put on the usual NPR Sunday Puzzle podcast with Will Shortz. I shouted answers at the radio as I always do, solved the weekly challenge, and explained the answer to the kids. They were quite impressed that mom solved the challenge (so was I, this rarely happens in real time). Then I put on a sure crowd pleaser, NPR’s Krulwich on Science. We were all enthralled by the piece Have You Heard of B-flat. So much so that when we got home, we pulled up the song by Josh and Adam and played it over and over. Eventually, I ventured into more traditional NPR Stories from the Story of the Day and Technology podcasts.
I continued to put on my choice of podcasts or music in the mornings and the kids were fine for the most part. Imagine my surprise when I heard Adam request on the ride home, “Can we listen to more NPR?” What? Is this a 9-year-old boy speaking? How did I luck out like this? I absolutely hated listening to NPR as a kid. Then again, the podcast format allows us to easily skip over stories that aren't interesting to us.
I’ve waxed poetic over my favorite podcast, WNYC’s Radio Lab, many many times. But I never got Doug to listen to it, so I didn’t have much hope for the kids. Until last week. We started listening to the Radio Lab Shorts and finally a full length episode, Words.
Dova at age 3 in front of the blue wall at the Eric Carle Museum
In this episode, Charles Fernyhough described an experiment where a rat is placed in a white rectangular room with a biscuit in one corner. If the rat is spun around and disoriented, he has a 50-50 chance of finding the biscuit in the right corner afterward. If you take one of the four white walls and paint one blue however, you should be able to find the biscuit using the blue wall as a navigational tool. Even though rats can see color, they can’t make the relationship between the colored wall and the location of the biscuit, so they still only find the biscuit 50% of the time.
It gets interesting when Elizabeth Spelke’s research showed that children can’t make a relationship such as “left of the blue wall” until the ripe old age of six! They proposed that language itself allows us to make this relationship.
Here I am in the car with my 6-year-old Dova and 9-year-old Adam, both mesmerized by this show. I have seen the transformation in Dova from age 5 to age 6 where this cognitive linking begins. Last year, I tried to start her on piano lessons and she could not connect the notes on the page to something that her fingers needed to do. This year, she finally got it. So I was really excited that she had finally started to think as Charles Fernyhough explained.
After listening to the podcast, I asked what she thought of the episode, especially the segment on "Left of the Blue Wall". She just looked at me confused and said, "But what does that MEAN???" So close, yet so far. Adam and I just shook our heads. A few days later, I asked her if she understood “left of the blue wall”. She waved her left hand and said, “You mean on this side?” Whew. Still, I won’t be putting her into white rooms with one blue wall any time soon.