Observational learning (That moment when you realize your kid listens and watches everything you do)

observational learning

Observational learning is exactly what it sounds like — learning through observing. And let me tell you, there’s been so much more of it going on at my house than I ever realized. So my tot’s now not such a “tot” anymore since she turned four a month or so ago, and I’ve been seeing some serious attitude, behavior, growth, development, and all-around-cool stuff happening lately. I wrote this educational post for Funderstanding awhile ago and felt it was a good one to revisit, mainly because I caught my four-going-on-full-grown-year-old testing out a few of my favorite adult sayings the other day.

But there is more to it than that. With the child’s internal motivation to learn and accomplish new things, observational learning is the first way of exploring her abilities. She see’s a sweet smile and reciprocates it. She hears her parents’ voices and mimics the sounds. Observational learning allows the brain to tap into its inner need to excel and advance at the most basic level through watching and doing. And if your child is anything like mine, she’s watching and learning more than you even realize.

Observational Learning and The Brain

Okay, here are the facts: Albert Bandura, a leading researcher in the area of observational learning, is well known for his bobo doll studies dealing with observational learning in the early 1960’s.  He created a movie of a young woman hitting, kicking, and yelling at a blow-up doll.  After showing the film to a group of young kindergartners, they were sent to a playroom filled with bobo dolls. And, of course, the children copied the modeled behavior, aggressively hitting and kicking those adorable bobo dolls. The realization that the children changed  behavior even without reward didn’t fit with traditional behaviorist thinking of the time, and Bandura labeled the learning “observational” or “modeled learning.”

Along with observing and doing, Bandura combined the cognitive and operant view of learning to formulate a four-step pattern seen in observational learning.

Attention: Your child notices something within her environment and  is attentive to it. From the television to your cat to you, anything exciting and new is going to capture your sweet child’s attention.

Retention: As soon as she gloms on to that thing or person or behavior, it’s duly noted in her ever-growing brain.

Reproduction: Guess what? Your little one’s going to try out whatever caught her attention, without concern of repercussion.

Motivation: Depending on if you freak out or overly praise the behavior determines if it happens again. But, guess what? Sometimes even if your little one is treated negatively as a result of her tested-out behavior, she may do it again.

The mirror neuron theory along with observational learning encourages your child’s desire to sympathize and also respond similarly when behavior happens. Mirror neurons are a collection of brain cells that fire when an individual observes someone making the same movements as her own, causing a reaction. For example, when observing someone folding a sheet of paper and receiving a paper cut, one often flinches in sympathy. This plays a role in observational learning. Just as a child learns from observing others, her brain is ready to respond in ways from observing other’s responses from actions. Also, mirror neurons are fired when making faces in response to others, such as smiling when someone else smiles, or frowning in disapproval as someone else does.

Observational learning takes place automatically, and begins at birth, which means it is a powerful learning tool and way to shape a young child’s mind. A parent is the first model to a child, and in later years, friends and other adults offer the child models for establishing learning and behavior. And observational learning can be one of the most powerful strategies for modifying or shaping behavior, which means once your sweet child starts repeating swear words you begin to realize how important observational learning really is.

Behavior and Observational Learning

Now when a child is in a situation where a peer or an adult exposes her to a new behavior, she is attentive to what is new and often tries the behavior for herself, sometimes with not such positive results. As adults, it is our role to jump in and model the behavior desired to assist with promoting appropriate outcomes. But, let’s be honest. We become frustrated when our child misbehaves and forget to look at our own actions. So we start  yelling and carrying on, and then punish our child when she yells in anger.


Modeling behavior is the first step in observational learning and is sometimes hard to remember to follow our own rules and regulations. If you ask your child not to eat in her room, but she sees you enjoying a snack in bed, she’s getting mixed messages. A child often benefits from observing others perform tasks successfully, encouraging her own behaviors and decision-making. Aiding a child in accomplishing a challenging task, like tying her shoes by modeling how it is done, is an example. It is beneficial for the child to be exposed to several models, which helps break stereotypes and preconceptions.

Along with holding attention while modeling behavior, following with proper motivation is key. Setting realistic expectations for children, and explaining them in detail, offers the ability for the child to feel she can succeed along with building self-esteem. Also, clearly defining consequences can aide in increasing positive behaviors.

If you’re feeling heated the next time your tot misbehaves, take a deep breath and think about how you’re expressing your feelings. By modeling a calm put direct way of dealing with the situation, you’re helping your child do the same in the future.

Repurposed artwork thank you cards

Thank you cards

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a drawer that’s always overflowing with my tot’s artwork. I save her creations from preschool, the fun doodles she makes on her own at home, and the exciting artworks we create together. She sometimes selects ones to display on the fridge and I stash others to show her when she’s all grown up. The other day the drawer was so full it wouldn’t close, meaning it was time to go weed through the creations. It’s hard trashing your child’s art, but before making the final cut, we used a stack for creating thank you cards to send to friends and family thanking them for all the wonderful holiday gifts.

This is a great activity to do with tots just starting to figure out how to cut, which results in funky shapes and designs. Children as little as two can wield scissors with adult supervision, and cutting boosts your child’s budding fine motor skills. Older kids can enjoy cutting shapes for creating cards with patterns or representational forms. Right now my daughter is still figuring out the whole “cutting” thing, but has mastered the open-mouthed concentration while working…

thank you cards1

After you have a nice stack of shapes and funky forms, offer your child some glue to coat the cut paper and press onto the front of blank cards, which you can find at your local craft store.

thank you cards2

To personalize the cards, offer your child a thank you stamp to press on the front of cards. Older kids can use letter stamps to press “thank you” on the cards or even write the letters themselves.

thank you cards3

We had a few other fun graphic stamps that my tot pressed around her cards, along with in the inside as her signature. We sat together and talked about the gifts she had received, and who they had come from, while I wrote short notes from what she shared in the cards.

thank you card4

After addressing the cards and sticking on stamps, we popped them in the mailbox and waited for our mail lady to come and whisk them away. At first my daughter was a little sad they were being taken but then we talked about how the mail works and how everyone was going to love opening her special thank you cards.

Along with being a great art activity, this is a really fun way of introducing the mail system to your child. Since creating her cards, we’ve set up our own post office and she’s wonderfully busy making cards, folding them into envelopes, and addressing and stamping them herself.

Slow Cooker Chicken Florentine


The other day I was hanging out with a good friend and we were chatting about how she’s not super excited about getting in the kitchen. I love to cook so am always a little befuddled when I discover someone who just isn’t into it. While we were having a lovely time hanging out, and watching out tots playing, I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a spontaneous “How to Use Your Slow Cooker”  creation. We tossed a few things together that she had hiding in her fridge and freezer, I added a bit of seasoning, and hoped it would be delicious.

Yeah, I guess the final result was a bit spicy.

I own a slow cooker but have to admit to not using it very often. I love slowly braise big cuts of meat in Dutch ovens, baking chicken until it has a crispy skin, and quickly searing tasty meats. The slow cooker seems like a gooey-ooey mess of shredded and over cooked ingredients. But I was determined to figure it out and put together a wonderfully delicious recipe for my friend.

Chicken Florentine.

This is seriously easy, takes only a few minutes of morning prep, which makes things wonderfully simple.


1 pound chicken breasts

1 garlic clove

1 small onion

2 cups whole mushrooms

1 10-ounce can of cream of mushroom soup

1 1/2 cup chicken stock

1 cup frozen spinach

Parmesan cheese

Cooked pasta


Slice the onion and mushrooms, and chop the garlic, adding them to the slow cooker. Doesn’t matter how you chop or slice the ingredients — the way you do it totally fine.

slow cooker 1

Now you can add the chicken and cover with the soup and chicken stock. That’s really it. Cover and set on low for eight hours. Go to work or do whatever you do.

slow cooker 2

After several hours of simmering away, you’ll have something that looks like this. Give things a stir and let simmer while you relax after your long day until you’re ready to eat dinner.

slow cooker 3

Boil some pasta and add the frozen spinach to the chicken Florentine.

slow cooker 4

By the time your pasta is ready, the spinach will be nice and hot. Place some pasta in the bottom of a bowl, cover with a big ladle of the yummy chicken, and cover with a grating of fresh Parmesan cheese. Dinner is served!

Share this...
Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

Fisher Price 4x Digital Zoom Digital Camera

Fisher Price 4x Zoom Digital Camera

Now that the holidays are over and everything is getting back to normal after all the crazed present opening, it’s interesting to see which items hold the tot’s interest. She still loves all the plastic animals and dinosaurs, and playing the matching game in her own special way, but the one thing that she’s still reaching for is her new camera. A few months ago I did a post for LilSugar sharing cameras fit for little hands and had focused on suggestions from friends and good reviews when I put the collection together. So when I decided to get one for the tot as a special birthday gift (her special day is right after the holidays), I already had one in mind.

And then I went with something totally different.

The Fisher Price 4x digital zoom digital camera.

It was pink, I liked the square shape, and although it didn’t get great reviews on image quality, the camera sounded like it was indestructible. Hey, I’m not looking for museum-quality prints, I want a camera that isn’t going to break the first time it gets dropped.

And it was on sale.

Today I wrangled the camera out of my daughter’s hands and downloaded the pictures (SIDE NOTE – the camera does NOT come with a USB cable, but does work with a standard siz. If you’re not PC (like me) you can’t download the funky photo editing stuff, but, hey, my tot wouldn’t have a clue how to use it.) and was surprised and impressed with what she’d taken pictures of and the quality of the camera. My daughter loved seeing her pictures and helped me select a few favorites:

Here’s a picture of the hubs and I,

Fisher Price 1

her new tent,

Fisher Price 2

the decorations from her birthday party,

Fisher Price 3

Sid the Science Kid,

Fisher Price 4

our cat by the fire,

Fisher Price 6

her spot on the couch,

Fisher Price 7

and a self portrait.

Fisher Price 5

So, yeah, she’s not great on standing still while snapping, but she’s dropped the camera, bashed it into walls, been walking while taking a picture and fallen down with it, and I think it even took a tumble down the stairs the other day.

Still works wonderfully.

The picture files aren’t big (640 by 480 pixels), but prints good quality 4 by 6-inch pictures. The camera also makes slightly annoying noises when in use but does turn off on it’s own so you don’t burn through batteries. Equipped with an easy to use zoom (which my daughter totally doesn’t get) my husband enjoys taking pictures with it too.

I love that she is still excited about taking pictures and is learning to look at things in a new and interesting way. I’m planning on printing out her favorites and creating a gallery wall in her room. I’ll keep you posted…



Fine art for kids: Cardboard creations with Victor Vasarely


After the holidays there always seems to be a large amount of cardboard hanging around my house. From packages sent, to boxes that held toys, I never want to just toss it in the recycling. So the other day I decided to have a little fun with the tot and get creative. There’s nothing like presenting your child with various materials and letting her explore, but I decided to offer a bit of assistance.

Victor Vasarely is recognized as one of the foremost artists of the Op Art movement of the 20th century. With his pulsating geometric designs that move the eye, his artworks are vibrant and fun — perfect for introducing to little ones. I figured we could create our own unique creation based on Vasarely’s style, with the help of all that cardboard. Instead of creating a flat artwork that looked like it was jumping out at you, we could use the cardboard to layer and build a three-dimensional  project. And this art activity is wonderful for encouraging shape and color recognition.

We took a closer look at one of Vasarely’s artworks (Pal-Ket 1973-4), talking about the shapes and colors we saw…


I helped by cutting the larger pieces into smaller interesting shapes and then offered my daughter the pieces. Before I had even offered her the glue, she was busy arranging her shapes.


Now your child can glue the shapes onto the cardboard base in an interesting unique design or use one of Vasarely’s artworks as inspiration. Encourage your child to use the whole area of the cardboard base and to overlap shapes, building a really fun creation.


Once the glue was dry, we got out the paints and had a great time finishing the creation using the colors from the original artwork.


Display your child’s finished creation in a special spot for everyone to enjoy.

Roasted celery root soup with fresh cracked black pepper

Roasted celery root soup

It’s been really cold here. Yeah, I live in California, but it’s been really, really cold, which just isn’t right. I moved here so many years ago after a stint of teaching in Duluth, and a childhood in Wisconsin, for the warmer weather. Yes, it rains here during the winter, but it’s usually in the mid 50s to 60’s. The last couple of mornings I’ve woken to frost so thick the tot and I could make snowballs in the morning.


When it’s cold I think of soup. Rich, creamy, nourishing soup. Full of flavor and comforting food love, a hearty soup is just the right thing on a winter’s afternoon. I’m all about healthy recipes right now so got out one of my new Calphalon pans and started simmering.

I dug up a celery root the other day at the farm and had a few other ingredients that were perfect for a healthy, cream-free version of a delicious soup that would be perfect for a simple lunch or first dinner course. And you’ll love how versatile this soup is. Toss in cubed leftover chicken, stir in spinach leaves, or top with a slice of toast melted with cheese — just like I did.


1 celery root

1 medium onion

3 cloves garlic

4 small red potatoes

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon oil

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning

4+ cups water

Fresh cracked black pepper


If you’re shopping for celery root at your grocery store, you’ll find them tucked around the beets and cabbages. And they aren’t the prettiest things…

celery root

Preheat your oven to 400F and trim the outer skin from the celery root, revealing what looks like an extra large, and roundish, potato. Chop into chunks and place on a sheet pan. Cut the onion into large slices and add to the celery root. Peel the red potatoes, chop, and add to the mix too. Give the garlic cloves a bash, remove the skins, and add along with the vegetable oil and salt. Pop into the oven for 10-minutes.

celery root 2

After 10-minutes things will just be starting to brown on the edges, creating the really lovely roasted flavor that makes this soup delicious. Give things a toss and then pop back into the oven for an additional seven minutes of roasting.

celery root 3

Place the butter and tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large pan and melt together over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and mix together, creating a roux base for the soup.

celery root 4

Keep a close eye on the butter mixture, continually stirring until things have turned a light brown. Now slowly add the water while whisking.

celery root 6

Sprinkle in the salt and Italian seasoning and then let come to a simmer…

celery root 7

Ladle a scoop of bubbling water over the sheet pan and give the celery root, onion, garlic, and potato chunks a stir, releasing any caramelized goodness on the bottom of the pan. Now carefully add the vegetables to the broth and cover, letting the soup simmer for 20-minutes.

celery root 8

Sure, you could enjoy this soup nice and chunky, but I love a wonderfully smooth soup. In small batches, puree in a blender. Thin with additional water as needed. Season to taste.

celery root 9

Ladle your soup into a bowl, top with fresh cracked black pepper, and enjoy! This recipes makes just enough for four big bowls of warming winter goodness.

Share this...
Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn