A Clear Purpose Supports Persistence

Delivery Method: 

In this video clip, Sohum, 20 months old, attempts to stand three thin square blocks in a row, like dominoes, an arrangement he has just finished building with ease, announcing loudly as he stands (00:22) with words to the effect, "I did that!" At 00:48, Sohum’s legs tire of squatting, so he continues his building in the sitting position. From this point forward, Sohum’s legs become an impediment. Each time he moves to reach for a new block, he knocks the standing blocks down. We are amazed at his persistence and speculate on why he keeps going for a full eight minutes, in spite of repeated failures. Most likely he solidly remembers that what he is trying to do has the same form as what he successfully achieved some minutes earlier. However, he does not focus on his body position, only the blocks. Think about this difference. To think, "My legs are in the way" while he thinks, "I want this block to stand" would require a sort of meta-cognition or parallel processing. Technically meta-cognition refers to thinking about thinking, such as, "I thought she would come, but I was wrong." For Sohum to think about his legs while working on the blocks would sound something like, "I am working on the blocks but my way of working is not working."

Nevertheless, he persists and eventually achieves his goal of three flat blocks standing in a row on their narrow sides. Once again he announces the status of this structure as just what he has been trying to do all along. Note, he is not perseverating on some ill-fated set of actions repeated without thinking of their form. He is persisting with actions that have recently led to success. The latter requires some high level thinking about the form of his actions.

You will also delight in the many strategies that Sohum invents when his legs add complexity to his task. Here are a few. See if you can find more strategies that reveal what Sohum knows.

• When the block is flat on the floor, pull up on one end while pressing on the other end to prevent it from sliding; otherwise the block will not tilt up off the floor.

• To build a row of three blocks, place the first block out a way so that I will have room for the next two blocks that I will place between the first block and me.

• If the two blocks are touching when I place them on their narrow edges, use my thumbs to separate them so they will rest with some vacant space in between.

• When placing the second block on end, be sure it does not wobble and knock over the first block. Keep some distance between the two standing blocks.

• When attempting to stand two blocks at once, be sure that their edges are aligned.

• To assure the blocks do not fall over, use the left hand to hold the top edges of two standing blocks sandwiched together, then reach for a third block with the right hand.

• If I can't get the third block with my right hand alone, let go of the two blocks and bring my left hand into play to provide backpressure to lift the third block.

• If half of the block is trapped under my leg and I cannot press down on it and drag it out with my right hand, reach under my leg and push it out with my left hand.

There are many more action patterns that reveal how Sohum thinks and at the same time reveal the educational value of block play.

Run time 6 minutes, 38 seconds