Sunday, March 9, 2008

Boy, In His Natural Environment - Observe!

Today I took Patrick to his annual visit at the Child Development Lab at the University of Maryland. Since he was two, he's been part of a study on child interaction.

I enjoy taking him to these things as much as I loved taking personality tests when I was a kid - which is to say, a lot. It's a chance to see kids in their natural environment, as they would be (and, I assume, are) when there are no adults around, because their play takes place in a two-way-mirrored room that is also shown on a closed-circuit TV that the other mom and I watch from next door. I'm always nervous, although less so this year than when he was going through his Running Man Tantrum phase at around two, that he'll behave in a way that will expose me as a slovenly, overly permissive fraud of a mother who shouldn't even be allowed to take her child home.

Until this year, the kids always did the same thing: free play, restraint testing (to see whether they would hold off on doing something until the student came back into the room, haha), following directions, snack, and individual interviews to see how they described their time there.

Today, they had a little bit of free play, during which the other mom and I had to fill out a mountain of questionnaire paperwork. I had to rate Patrick's levels of spontaneousness, nervousness, outgoingness, etc. Just when I got to the one about whether or not he was concerned about engaging in play where he might get hurt, he and his little friend Tom began that Run At the Wall and Bounce game, where each child in turn hurtles at the wall (which in this case was made of glass - mental note - discuss the unwiseness of throwing oneself at glass with Boy at later date) to see who can bounce off it farther and with the most outrageous death-noise. Um.... that would be a negative five on the 'concern regarding safety during play' scale.

After free play, the kids were instructed to pick up their toys (further mental note - reflect on why Boy tidies up for stranger but not for me), and one of the students brought in a K'nex toy. They were supposed to follow directions to build some creature or other. I can't say how far they got, since I was STILL filling out paperwork, but it couldn't have been far, because as soon as the girl left the room, the two of them got into a Who Can Barf The Loudest contest. I have to say, the ability of a five year-old boy to fake vomit while simultaneously laughing hard enough to make himself ACTUALLY vomit is impressive.

Once that debacle was over, the boys again picked up the stuff, and the Girl brought in snack, which was graham crackers and juice in these little juicebox holding containers which were very cute and clever, and which the boys promptly removed. The Girl Student went back in almost immediately to show them how to keep the boxes in and still drink, which they dutifully did, exclaiming over how cool it was, right up until she turned her back, at which point the containers found their way right back off. (HA!)

After snack, it was computer time. The boys had to listen to directions, and then use the mouse to blow up a balloon on the computer, earning points. They were told that the more points they got, the bigger prize they would get, and they were shown the prizes they were playing for - crayons, pencils, etc. I was expecting some fighting over this, since they had to take turns, but they did really well! They screamed and laughed over Tom blowing up the balloons too much so they popped, and cheered over his doing well. Tom got three stars from the game, so he got a three-star prize. Patrick's turn was quieter, I think because they were starting to get a little tired from all the excitement, and he only got two stars in the end, probably because he never uses a mouse with my laptop. I was expecting him to be upset about not getting as big of a prize, but he didn't say a word about it! Phew!

Then they had to share a Leapster, which was funny because the other boy had no idea how to use it, and rather than taking it from him Patrick told him what to do, hovered around him for a minute, and then went back to miming barfing in front of the mirror. I suppose that's sharing, sort of.

At the end, Patrick had to go through his individual interview, during which Girl Student got a lot more information out of him than I am usually able to do after he does something (What did you do today? Um, I forgot. What did you have for lunch? Um, huh? Who did you play with today? Dunno.) and he got to pick out a big prize, which today was an Imaginext gorilla thing.

The Students today were a lot better than they have been in the past. I remember being in college and feeling like my studies had obviously made me smarter than regular people, so I know that their age and inexperience were what made some of them be a little...urm...obnoxious in the past. They were never overtly rude, but for instance, one year one girl had an obvious Idea of what a SAHM was, and it was somewhere between Betty Rubble and Lucille Ball. I put up with her condescending tone for almost the entire time, and then on our way out we talked about the research and when it would be published, and whether she would get any credit. I told her that she should make sure that she did, because I was credited in a book one of my professors wrote that I helped him with even though I had graduated before it was completed. I wish I'd had a picture of her face! Today the girls were very sweet and respectful, or at least had the sense to appear to be!

Today was the last visit for a few years; we don't go back until he's seven. I think it's fun, though, and I believe that there have been a few things published based on their findings so far, and that there's a website. When I find it, I'll post a link.


desperate housewife said...

Oh, this sounds like something that would induce the ole Nervous Tummy big time! Yet would also be really cool at the same time.

Kelsey said...

Oh I would find that really interesting too! I think I'd even like to watch if it was other people's kids. . . which is maybe a thought I ought not put on the Internet, but look, I did.