Between approximately eighteen months and three years of age, nearly everything assumes meaning to the child. Wolf and Gardner (1980) referred to this as a stage of meaning-making, because much of the learning that takes place consists of constructing meaning through interaction with others, and through the exploration of objects and events. The dominant activity of the very young child involves emotional contact, the manipulation of objects, the development of basic forms of communication, and a simple knowledge of the world. Gradually the child's "egocentric" view is replaced by an increased ability to distinguish between self, others, and objects. Their actions become the basis for beginning forms of aesthetic judging and performing, and their artistic products reflect direct, physical communication; generally these products are spirited, original, and aesthetically appealing.
Toddlers can relate personal experiences to others, such as telling Grandma about learning how to float a "leaf boat" in the puddle in the backyard. As language becomes more fluent and articulate, young children will enthusiastically include gesture as they speak. Listening to stories becomes an enjoyable pastime for toddlers, they enjoy humming simple melodies, and the expressiveness of dance is explored with delight. In drawing, young children will attempt to depict a person or an object, but many of the salient features may not be recognizable to an adult. In music, they will have a notion of whether a song gets louder or softer, faster or slower, or higher or lower, but may not always capture the exact pitch or dynamic features. When building with blocks, they may be aware of the general size and volume ratios of the blocks, but not be concerned about precise quantities.
This is a period of symbolic play, where objects are treated representationally. A clump of mud may be used as a cookie, a block of wood as a horse, or a pillow as a doll. The symbolic play of toddlers, like their language, often is related to specific events and includes statements such as "go swimming," or "want ice cream." They will use dramatic props such as bottles, blankets, and tea sets to play with their teddy bears or with others. For many, favorite events and situations often are replayed over and over again, such as suppertime, building a road in the sand, or bathing a baby. In addition, their use of language to structure events can be activated by other intellectual domains, such as spatial, musical, or bodily-kinesthetic forms of expression. For example, a child involved in block play may be reminded of a gas station by the shape of the structure. Soon, toys nearby might be incorporated into imaginary play built around a gas station, and the child's body and voice will represent the movements and sounds of cars and trucks, and include song or sound effects, accompanied with action.
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