Play can be serious business, and Jackson goes quiet for awhile, adding schools of clownfish to his finger painting. When we are young and our brain is a series of islands, minds adrift in the sea of our skull, we play to make sense of the world.
But do children even remember these experiences as we place more digital devices in front of them. In Slate this week, Nicholas Day explores the world of infant and toddler memory and exactly why we do and don’t remember things from our earliest ages:
Think of memory as like orzo, Bauer says. “It’s not like one big piece of lasagna noodle. Memories are made up of these little tiny bits of information that are coming in literally across the entire cortex. Parts of the brain are taking those little bits of information and knitting them together into something that’s going to endure and be a memory.” Adults have a fine-mesh net to catch the orzo. Babies have a big-holed colander: The orzo slips through. “What’s happening with the baby is that a lot of the information is escaping even as the baby is trying to get it organized and stabilized.” In early infancy, a lot of experiences never become memories—they slip away before they can be preserved.
Babies remember far more than anyone thought, in other words, but far less than any adult. It’s only around 24 months that children seem to get better colanders: They get better at catching the orzo—at organizing and processing information in a way that makes a memory out of an experience.
It turns out that the things we do remember come via a familiar mode: stories! They help us make meaning and retain information that’s learned each day. So perhaps we should be plopping our kids in front of adventure games instead of Cut the Rope.