Videatives Views Issue #212 Find the Rules that Define the Intelligence

When children are very young, say in the first year of life, we can see patterns in their behavior.  We give these early patterns the status of a routine or a habit.  We say "Boo", and they smile.  They see a string hanging from the hood of their crib, and they pull it to see what happens.  These patterns develop because action and consequence are reliably connected.  The patterns have not yet developed to the level of a rule or script.  


A script has a general pattern with a number of moves, but can vary from one application to the next.  Indeed, some of the joy of play comes from the fact that "this time I will do it a little differently."  There is a repeated motif but a bit of surprise in the form of the next instance of the motif.  We can almost diagram the motif and motif variation of pretend play the way a composer writes out a musical score.  And as one could see in a score by Bach compared to one by Justin Beaver, the different complexities of the compositions are obvious in the code of the written score.  What are the complexities of a pretend play script, the rules that define the structure of the play and therein the intelligence of the child?  Let's take another look at Scarlett and Jack on the playground playing the universal game of toddlers – peek-a-boo.  

We have converted the action in the practice video "A Universal Game for Toddlers" into a set of behavior packets that distill the game into a set of moves that in turn represent the complexity of the game and the intelligence of the children.  As teachers we do not have time or resources to engage in this level of analysis, but we want you to see one such example as a way to impress upon you where and how high-level thinking occurs in spontaneous games on the playground.  Watch the video first and then look at the analysis.  The letters stand for the children's names, and the numbers refer to the order of the moves.  Words written in capital letters are abbreviated for economy of prose. The italicized phrases are our interpretations of the significance of the previous moves.


Key: (YF) Yellow Fabric; (PS) Play Structure; (PP) Plank Panel; (VS) Vacant Space; (GD) Good Distance


(S1) As Scarlett appears from under the Yellow Fabric (YF) on Jack's side she makes a sound, “Ack ack,” pauses, and gazes steadily at Jack (00:03).

(J1)  Jack, on the front side of the Play Structure (PS), holds the vertical Plank Panel (PP) with both hands and looks back at Scarlett (00:05).

Scarlett and Jack, through the sequence of appearance, sound, pause and gaze, will create the basic unit of this game.  Let’s see how this unit is modified during the 90 seconds of play.  

(S2) S notices J is holding the PP with both hands.  She detours around the backside of the PS, and approaches the PP that has Vacant Space (VS) between the planks like a ladder (00:08).

(S3) S looks at J from the other side of the PP through a VS (00:09).

(J3) J looks back at S through the VS of a PP on his side (00:10).

As it turns out, appearing from under the fabric as if coming through a curtain does not generate surprise the way peaking around a corner will.  Peering through the VS before peering around the corner of the PP seems to create the right amount of difference with a discrete (abrupt) change to generate laughter.  It is to the children's credit that they discover this strategy to heighten the spark of the game. 

(J3.5) J bends over and around the PP to look directly at S on her side of the PP, but S is gone (00:11).

(S4) S dashes off, passing under the YF, then stops at a Good Distance (GD) from J (00:13).

(J4)  J follows S’s movement with a head turn but remains at the PS with hands on both sides of the PP (00:19).

(S5) S pauses at a GD from J, looks at J, and moves back to the same spot behind PS as in S3. She makes the “ack” sound as she nears her position behind the PP and again when she is directly behind the PP opposite J (00:21-00:27).

We don't know why S moves so far from the PS, but it is clear in the video that this move is not a statement that she wants to disengage from J.  One might speculate that she is testing the strength of J’s interest in playing with her, or perhaps posing an invitation to J to come away with her.  But J's steadfast hold on the sides of the PP while still looking at S could be taken as his answer, "Lets keep playing together where I am."  S obliges Js.  

(J5)  J stands ready to peek again through the VS.

(J6) J lowers his head a little to look through a VS at a more comfortable level (00:28).

(S6)  S initially looks through a higher VS, but then lowers her head so that she and J are looking at each other through the same slat (00:29).

(S6.5 - J6.5) When they spot each other through the VS they both laugh (00:30).

The adjustments made by the children so that they can look through a VS more opposite than oblique, again suggests that the spark of the game requires a degree of emphasis or explicitness in order to generate the laugh.  The children continue to find ways to heighten the link between them and the discrete breaking of that link, an almost instinctive structure of peek-a-boo worldwide.

(S7) Immediately after their laugh, S dashes off from J again, passes under the YF, and stops a GD away, as she had done in S4 (00:30-00:37).

(J7) As S runs a GD, J turns to the camera and smiles (00:32). 


Does J want to share with the teacher holding the camera,  "I know what she is going to do.  Isn't this fun? We are playing a game."?

(J7.5) Once again J holds his position at the PS and follows the movement of S as he had done in J4.

(S8) This time S stands at a GD a bit longer than she had in S5, looking back at J who is still at the PS (00:37–00:41).

(J8)  J steps off of a box he had been standing on, but does not move toward S at a GD, maintaining his gaze toward her nevertheless (00:35).

(J9) While S is still paused at a GD, J moves his hands back to hold each side of the PP (00:43).


Is J indicating to S once again that he wants her to come back to his space and continue to play?

(S9) S begins to move away from a GD, heading back toward the PS.

(J9.5) J steps up on the box in anticipation that he and S will peek at each other again through the VS in the PP (00:44).

(S10) S does not look through the VS on the other side of the PP.  Instead she bends over in an exaggerated manner and looks directly at J, while keeping her feet on the other side of the PP (00:50).

Is S indicating to J, "We need to add something new to our game to keep it interesting."?

(J10) J follows S's cue and bends over toward S on his side of the PS (00:51).

(J11) J makes a head movement toward S while they both laugh. Then J stands upright (00:52).

Looking through the VS of the PP, followed by peering at each other around the corner, becomes a well-defined motif of the children’s play.  

(S10.5) S moves behind the PP opposite J (00:55).

(J11.5) J lifts himself up to a high VS and looks through at S (00:56).

(S11) S decides to move her whole body around to J's side of the PP, looking at J (00:57). She makes the “ack” sound but does not bend in an exaggerated manner.  

(S11.5) S moves back behind the PP (01:00).

The pattern of peek-a-boo begins to take on a more definite shape. Peek through the VS, then bend around the corner to peer at each other.  But the sequence of the “ack” sound is a bit out of place compared to the “boo” sound a mother would make upon her reappearance.  For S, the “ack” sound is more a sound to signal, "I see you now," before the reappearance around the corner.  And sometimes it is timed as a designation that they now will enter the peek-a-boo pattern, peek through the VS, then bend around the corner and laugh.  

(J12) J looks through one of the VS in the PP (01:01).

(S12) S briefly looks through a VS, makes the "ack" sound and then steps around the PP to J's side (01:02).

(S13 - J13) J bends his body toward S, now on his side (01:04). They both laugh as they bend slightly toward each other.

Move S13 and J13 ends in a hearty laugh, something that does not happen at S10, the first instance of this move.  We can speculate that the laughter comes from the joy and recognition that this is a repetition of move S10 and that means they are indeed playing a game that has rules.  This recognition of "we did it again" makes them laugh, and they continue to laugh at moves J15, S - J16, S - J17, and S - J18.  The repetition of a behavior packet in synchrony with each other indicates that both children are thinking about the same thing, and this synchronic behavior implies that they are friends.  Synchronic behavior creates a joy of affiliation and, in this case, laughter.  

(S14) S moves back behind the PP and again only briefly catches J looking at her through a VS (01:06). 

(S15)  S makes her “ack” sound, then quickly moves to J's side of the PP (01:09).

(J15) J bends towards S, and they both have a hearty laugh (01:10).

(S16 - J16) The above three moves (S14, S15, J15) are repeated with another hearty laugh when S appears on J's side of the PP (01:11–01:14).

(S17 - J17)  These three moves are again repeated, but the timing of S's “ack” sound varies, sometimes just as she spies J through the VS from his side, sometimes after that as she initiates her move around to the other side of the PP where they both laugh at the more direct citing of her appearance (01:14–01:17).


Why does S make this “ack” sound?  A mother might say, "Boo" just as she reappears from below the crib or from behind a pillow.  The mother's "boo" accentuates the abrupt reappearance of the mother's face and thereby increases the surprise.  S seems to time her “ack” sound to identify the game in a more general manner.  Does that mean that the peek-a-boo game in this case is more a game of peek-and-look?  The “ack” sound is not designed to accentuate the startle of a reappearance as done by parents.  Nevertheless, the “ack” sound is a signal to J and helps to define and maintain the structure of the play.  We would credit a toddler who goes “Boo” when stepping out from behind a wall with a higher level of understanding of another person’s mind – knowing that his reappearance would not be anticipated by others shows that the toddler has a more developed theory of mind.

(S18 - J18) We see another repetition of the motif of look through VS, say “ack”, then peer at each other when S bends over to J's side and laugh (01:17–01:21).

(S19) S makes a bit more effort to spy J through a VS that is rather high for her, but J is standing on a box and is able to look down at S (01:23).

(J19)  J moves his face closer to the VS and carefully aligns his eyes with it (01:24).

(S20) When S gets a better angle to see J's eyes through the VS she makes a more definitive “ack” sound (01:25). She turns to the camera and says something that sounds like, "He's saw" (01:26).

End of clip as Scarlet walks away from the play structure (01:29).

We look for the salient features of the PS as one way to group behavior packets into game moves.  The PP, the VS, and the GD from the PS seem to define a set of moves.  We could have just lumped these 90 seconds into a title: a boy and a girl play peek-a-boo on the playground.  However, we need more detail to get into the decision-making, social signaling, and inference making of the children.  The game of peek-a-boo has many different degrees of complexity.  We can also speculate how this game will change as the children get older, such as the timing of the “ack” sound to mean "boo" that consistently serves to startle.  We hope you never again say that these games are merely "cute."  These games help children create structures that form the bases for respectful social interactions, as well as forms of logic that children use to understand the physical world.