My four year old daughter wanted me to pick up her shoes from the playground and bring them to her. She was standing two meters away from me and the shoes where half way between us.
Since there was no reason she could not pick them up by herself, I pretended I can’t reach the shoes using some exaggerated body language (my hands can’t reach them) and some words. I tried to grab them but my arms were simply too short. She then instructed me to lift one foot: like this… She demonstrated how to lift a foot and then how to put it down. I followed her instructions thoroughly but clearly needed another step to reach the shoes. Again she demonstrated how to do this. She appeared very thoughtful and serious.
Was she honestly thinking I have forgotten how to walk two steps? Or was it just fun to explain something and this is just a game? Or perhaps both?
Is it possible that, in her perceived world, memory and skills appear not very reliable? If so, then of course her father could forget how to walk. Stranger things must have happened to her before.
The longest memory she could have at that time is about four years – her current age. In practice she remembers few things that had happened longer than a year ago. This had not been a long time to test her long term memory. She is just starting to determine which things we tend to remember well and which ones are easy to forget. Naturally my seriously claimed loss of my walking ability is not completely unbelievable with this little life experience.
Independent of that, a few days later she managed for the first time to cycle without support wheels. She was rather proud and was checking every day during the next days if she can still cycle – if she can still remember how to do it.
After about ten days she stopped the checking game. I keep asking her occasionally though, half serious, she understands the joke I think. I feel it is a good thing to encourage thinking and talking about her own memory and skills.
I also remember her one year older brother appeared a little doubtful of his own freshly earned cycling skills after a winter break too. Indeed he was a bit wobbly at first in spring but it became “eezy peezy” soon after.
While it could be that both my memory loss and her checking on her cycling skills were probably just fun games for her and me, this did trigger some interesting questions in my mind:
- At what age develop children a more realistic feel for what kind of memories are reliable and to what extend?
- Adults know that you don’t just forget to cycle or walk – or do we? What does it mean to “know” something?
- What can parents (or teachers) do to facilitate or at least not inhibit learning about children’s own memory?
- Did I make a mistake pretending to forget something so essential and slow down her developing confidence?
- Do/should aging people learn to doubt their memories as their skills deteriorate? Which types of memories fade away first?
It is also interesting how difficult it is to distinguish a game (pretending something) from a serious activity (not pretending). Perhaps we learn to separate these things much later. It probably has to do with responsibility and other higher level skills.
Keywords: observations in a young child, game or not game, childhood games, early games