On the back of a pretty weak article in Newsweek that almost everyone with babies read called Reading Your Baby's Mind, I was reminded of the Onion parody, 'Study Reveals: Babies Are Stupid', in which scientists give intelligence tests to 3,500 babies and conclude that the infants are "so stupid, it's not even funny."
Anyway, searching for it led me to an article that is actually worth reading, because it is so counter-intuitive. Judy S. DeLoache's totally Scientific American article talks about her insights into the lack of a children's ability to do "symbolic thinking." Basically, kids can't tell fake things from real things, they don't understand symbols.
Why is this important? Well, it can be amusing to watch your child try to reach inside a picture to pick up an apple. Or perhaps you'll use this information to play a game where you replace a real-sized chair with a little tiny 12" one and then watch the kid still try to get into it. But once your done with the shenanigans, there is the very new realization that kids learn worse when you use symbols.
Okay okay, I hear again -- why should I care? Think of the common method of holding up three apples, and then taking away two of them to try and teach about subtraction. Turns out it takes a kid twice as long to learn that way versus just using a pencil and paper. Kids have a hard time getting past the fact that the apples are just symbols for something. It's delightfully counterintuitive and really interesting to consider the implications.
Think of that the next time you're playing with alphabet blocks. (thanks Collision Detection)