It’s always fascinating to watch small children pretend to be doing the same thing we adults do. A young child will happily pick up the television remote, hold it to their ear and hold a happy, but meaningless, conversation with some imaginary voice. Similarly, if given a cloth, most young children will happily start cleaning, as again, it – what they see us adults do. In fact, watching the way children mimic us can be quite revealing about our habits.
Children are programmed to mimic. From the day they are born, or even before, a child’s brain is wired with a range of instructions and basic patterns of behaviour, the vast majority of which are to encourage the child to watch, observe, learn and copy. This is how they learn about the world around them, the myriad range of objects within the world with which they will be required to interact, and their own part in the world as an individual. Even as adults, most of us learn better by being shown how to do something, and then copying it as closely as we can – it’s a human way of developing and improving.
For this reason it is important for a child to have access to the sorts of toys which give them the opportunities to do exactly this. Toy telephones, toy cleaning or cooking sets, their own steering wheel. All these allow the child to mimic what they have seen adults doing. They may well not understand, at least to begin with, what they are actually supposed to be doing. A young toddler will lift a rectangular shaped object to its head in order to talk, not because they understand the scientific methods by which voice signals can be transmitted across distances using copper cables or networks of satellites, but because they see adults doing it. They don’t even realise to begin with that the adults are talking to someone. Even when they are old enough to listen to a real telephone and hear a voice speaking to them, they are highly unlikely to appreciate that the voice really does belong to someone they know, and that it is that same person. How could they? It – a very advanced concept, that a voice can be disestablished from a person.
If you have ever read the book ‘Lord of the Flies’ you will remember the rule that the boys developed of being allowed to speak only when in possession of the conch. To a toddler this idea is very much the same. In order to talk, sometimes it is necessary to hold something to your ear. One day, they suspect they may understand why, but to them, it makes as much sense as stopping the car in the middle of the road just because you have seen a pretty red light.