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Infant Observation was given the opportunity to observe a female infant in a rather unique setting. "Herself" is the name that the child's mother, a modern-day flower child named Aloe, has given to the baby until the child is old enough to chose her own name. Aloe runs a small cruelty-free bakery and vegan ice cream shop in a rural community several hours from my home. I first met Aloe and her then unborn child on a road trip with friends, and I have stayed in e-mail contact with her on occasion since then because she was such an interesting person. When given the assignment to observe an infant, I decided it would be nice to catch up with Aloe and meet her now one-year-old child. Aloe's shop is located on a small plot of farmland which is used for animal rescue, and since it is also her home, she is able to care for Herself throughout the day while working. A corner of the shop near the counter is surrounded by a beautifully carved child-safe border, and within it is a full nursery setup. However, the majority of the time Aloe carries the child close to her body in a sling, because she believes very strongly in the importance of loving touch and maternal bonding for healthy child development. I spent about eight hours with Aloe and Herself, however I will focus the majority of this study on the time Herself spent in her nursery corner while Aloe tended to some farm work, within earshot of the child and myself. The two domains of development on which I focused while observing Herself were her language and motor skills.
Herself showed slightly different language patterns than I have previously observed in infants her age, largely, I am guessing, due to the rather unconventional way in which she is being raised. Herself was extremely vocal, and seemed to be very content to experiment with different sounds and pitches while left alone. She spent several minutes singing what almost sounded like scales from music lessons, though not as formed and planned. The child seemed to express a lot of happiness through sound, like cooing and giggling and contented sighs. Herself did not have any angry or harsh tones in her voice at all, even when she was frustrated because she could not reach something she wanted. From observing Aloe, it seems that the child has never been exposed to yelling or grunting or angry vocalizations, and Herself has picked up on the very positive and pleasant tone of voice that Aloe always uses.
Herself enjoyed the phrase, "AEIOU" and would repeat the names of the vowels many times over in slurred excitement. The child also spent a lot of time making random barnyard animal sounds, which were interspersed with her regular speech. For example, she would be babbling and singing, and then begin to moo like a cow, gobble like a turkey, and oink like a pig. However, these were not the "moos" and "oinks" that one expects from a small child, these were very close imitations of the actual sounds the animals make, as opposed to the regular onomatopoeia that is inserted into children's songs. I must assume that this difference is because the child is actually exposed to real barnyard animals on a daily basis, due to the animal rescue her mother does. Herself had a rather sizable vocabulary for her age group, and she used them regularly. Some of the words she knew were "dog," "cat," "hug," "god," and "Aloe," though her pronunciation was still developing. Another noticeable uniqueness in Herself's speech was that she also knew several words in other languages. I had mistakenly assumed that some of Herself's speech was still babble and sound experimentation, until later I observed her interacting with Aloe, who was attempting to teach Herself to say basic words in Spanish, French, Latin, Japanese, and Hebrew. Aloe told me that it is important that Herself be exposed to other languages while she is young enough to fully learn them so that she can best communicate when she is older. Herself also made a very unique "click" sound, which I had assumed was picked up from clucking chickens on the farm, but in actuality turned out to be a sound used in some African languages, that most Westerners cannot imitate because a child must learn to make it at a young age or forever lose the ability to create the sound. Aloe has specifically taught Herself to make this sound at a young age.
Herself also gleefully repeated sounds made in the shop around her, for example attempting to repeat the ding of the oven bell, and the whoosh of the ice cream blender.
Additionally, Herself was very physically active in her speech, because Aloe is also exposing her to sign language. Herself would flail her arms around and motion a great deal with her hands, more so than in other children of her age, and while I am not certain if any of the motions she was making actually meant anything or if they were a form of sign-language-babble, but there was a definite "speech" pattern to her movements.
Herself responded very positively to Aloe's speech, and was very active in attempting to imitate and understand what her mother was saying to her. Herself had very definite response words to various things; for example Aloe asked her if she would like to be ticked, Herself giggled and cooed and pulled up her shirt to show her tummy, and when Aloe asked if she was hungry, Herself answered, "yum" and motioned to her mouth. The child responded with great speed to Aloe's request that she put down her toys and come over to her for a hug. The child obviously understood the word "hug" and responded with open arms and by also saying the word "hug." Amusingly, Aloe also used the words "sit" and "stay" with Herself, and she did respond with appropriate actions, and Herself seemed to love that word-related game. After Herself would follow the directions, she would say a slightly slurred "Good girl!" And clap her hands. (Aloe informed me later that Herself just picked up on it from being around while she was training dogs, and that she had never intentionally taught Herself those commands.) Herself also responded to Aloe's requests for blocks of various colors with the correct color of block on several occasions, signifying that Herself did in fact understand the names for the various colors at least sometimes, or at least associated the words with those particular blocks, which struck me as a very special feat at her age.
Herself had quite mastered crawling and during her time in free play in the nursery corner she did a lot of it, chasing around a wooden block car toy very quickly. Herself was still trying to get the hang of unassisted walking, and her preferred form of crawling was actually a morph between the two, where her feet planted flatly on the ground, and her hands did as well. She did not crawl on her knees, but rather walked using her legs, and planted her hands down onto the ground for support. When she was able to grab hold of the railing or other sturdy objects for support, she was quite able to stand upright completely, and even take a few steps, but she would become bored and frustrated with having to remain by the railing, and she would quickly return to her unique walking/crawling. She was very good at moving from her mobile position to a seated position and returning again, and so she could peruse the nursery corner until she found something she wanted to play with, sit down, and then get back up and moving again unaided. During her crawling, she would carry toys around in her mouth, and did a lot of biting/shaking objects in play, similar to the play of puppies. She would also toss toys into the air with her mouth, and then retrieve them, and toss them again. She was quite skilled at this, and was able to toss the toys much further than I would have expected her to. Herself did seem to favor her left hand over her right hand for certain actions, though it was difficult to say for certain. Herself was able to drink from both a bottle and from a sippycup without assistance, and was able to set the cup down correctly on her small table when she was not drinking from it. Herself was able to grip the oversized crayons and doodle on paper, and she also liked to draw on the walls with the crayons which was apparently permitted. She was also able to dip the large paint brushes into the paint cups and paint on paper, though there was a lot of paint on other surfaces as well.
Herself was very excited about dance time, which she apparently had every day, and Aloe…[continue]
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