Travelling with the truffler

Posted on Wed 24 April 2013 by alex in general

We're are about halfway through our family holiday to the remote ends of the earth. It has been the first time we've taken Ursula on a plane so we thought we'd make it a big journey while we are at it.

To her credit she was mostly fine with the 24 hours on a plane required to get to the other side of the world. Most of the tears were during take-off and landing when it was hard to explain pressurisation to a 16 month old child. There were a few other snatches of complaint due to tiredness but otherwise it went well. It helps that she is a very cute child who instantly won over the cabin crew who were keen to help keeping her amused. She even had a freshly prepared meal of Salmon Fried Rice cooked for her by the First Class cabin crew.

Before we left the UK I had left Ursula playing in the kitchen while I sorted something out in the living room. When I came back into the suspiciously quiet kitchen I found the following example of toddler OCD:

OCD much?

An interesting aspect of having psychologist for a mother-in-law is the wonderful insight she gives me on how the mind works. It had only been few weeks earlier that we had been talking about a common behaviour that often precedes a spurt in language development. It seems as children start getting their heads around the concept of things belonging to categories they will start sorting their toys (or anything else) into organised piles. Obviously an understanding of the fact things can exist in categories is a prerequisite for understanding a lot of things about language.

I make the distinction between language and speech because the two are very different skills. Language is primarily a cognitive ability to map communicated ideas to abstract concepts. Speech is the vocalisation of that communication and involves fairly precise control of a dizzying array of muscles in our mouth and vocal chords. The mastery of this physical skill takes a lot longer so often the distinction between words is only recognisable to parents and others who spend a lot of time with the child.

Ursula has been understanding basic instructions for some time now and it's now possible to send her off to fetch or carry things with a reasonable degree of success. Combined with her deistic pointing there has been genuine two way communication for some time. However perhaps due to fluke or stimulated by the new environment she's in on holiday we are starting to see an explosion in words. She's had the basic "Dadadada" and "Momamama" for sometime although it's hard to distinguish from the baby babbling she's been doing for a long time. We have long joked about her generic use of "dat/cat" for the cat and then pretty much any other object she was pointing at. Just before we left she had started associating "NaNa" with bananas (a favourite food of hers). We now have distinct sounds for birds, cats, dogs and my favourite "papa" for the Nexus 7 which we call the PadPad so as to avoid confusing it with the Apple brand product ;-)

My mum found my description of all this behaviour very amusing as I swing between proud Dad and scientific curiosity. I will put on the record that I'm not treating my daughter as a lab experiment but I do find the whole development of language and mind fascinating. I understand now why watching your kids grow and develop is so often cited by parents as one of the main joys of parenthood.