A while ago we got the kid a set of rubber balls: one basketball, one soccer ball, and one football; each around the same size as a large grapefruit. He can’t really use them as freely as he’d like, yet; in fact, his actions are limited to picking them up, dropping them, and tossing them in a weird upward chuck motion. He says “ball” (or baooo, since the L sound is still a bit difficult for him) several dozen times a day – pretty much every time he sees one.
A couple of days ago he said baooo while I was fanning him off during a diaper change. I thought that perhaps he had simply remembered their existence, or was saying he wanted one to play with, but my wife pointed out that the plastic sheet we use as a fan has… circles on it. Abstract representation!
I also have a DS, a Japanese one, that I picked up exactly one program for: kanji kentei study software. Since the summer I’ve been trying to do at least a little study with it every day, to keep my reading and writing from getting too rusty, and of course this bright yellow box with the buttons and lights and stylus on a stretchy cord are intensely interesting to the kid.
So this evening (actually Tuesday the 17th; I’m scheduling this to post later on to avoid conflicting with the regular Wednesday post) I did a bit of study with him on my lap watching, and after I finished a set it saved the results. When it’s saving, both screens go black and a red box with the phrase 「セーブ中」appears, bounces a couple times across the screen, and then fades away again.
When the red box appeared and bounced, the kid said baooo!
In other words, from limited experience with a handful of rubber balls, he’s been able to abstract at least two important qualities (roundness and bounciness) and recognize them in other phenomena that are otherwise very un-ball like – the circle on the fan is round but immobile; the box on the screen is mobile but square, and both are two-dimensional. Take that, Plato!