Practice Makes Perfect, But How?

Early Childhood Interventions June 13, 2014

How should young children practice new skills?  How much practice is enough?  How long should children practice?  Karen Adolph, PhD, a developmental psychologist at New York University,  has conducted numerous studies examining the development of locomotion in infants, how much practice is needed to become a competent walker, and what other factors influence the development of locomotion.  Recently, Dr. Adolph and her team observed infants as they played freely under caregivers’ supervision in a laboratory playroom.  The researchers compared the movement patterns of experienced crawlers and new walkers to gain insight into the development of locomotion.   The authors found that, as expected, walking patterns improve with age.  They also found that infants took about 14,000 steps a day, traveled the length of 46 football fields, and fell 100 times.  That’s a lot of practice and butt bumps!

They also found that the infants were not in constant motion.  Rather, they walked in short bursts that were separated by longer, stationary periods.  This short burst of movement finding is consistent with motor learning research in older children and adults.  Motor learning research has long suggested that effective practice conditions t allow for short practice periods with longer rest intervals.  Intermittent rest periods allow for the body to recover from fatigue, renew motivation, and to consolidate learning.

As early interventionists, we know that children need a lot of practice in order to learn new skills. BUT—–14, 000 steps a day are A LOT!  Does that surprise you?  How do you coach families to increase practice opportunities?  What questions do you ask families to find out how much a child is currently practicing a skill?  What strategies have you used to help families increase a child’s opportunities to practice a skill?

Adolph, K.E., Cole, W.G., Komati, M., et al. (2012). How do you learn to walk? Thousands of steps and dozens of falls per day, Psychological Science, 23, pp 1387-1394.

For more information on Dr. Adolph’s work visit her website:

http://psych.nyu.edu/adolph/index.php?page=home

–Jamie Holloway