Concept Development in Infants and Toddlers

“The formation of concepts in infants and toddlers usually occurs naturally through play and an interest in their environment,” says Linda Gerra, EdD, Director of Children’s Vision Programs at Lighthouse Guild. Vision plays a dominant role in how young children organize and make sense of the environment. Eighty percent of learning is through vision and therefore vision (or the lack of it), has a major impact on concept development in young children.

What is Concept Development?

Concept development is understanding the characteristics, qualities, and functionality of people, places and objects. As information is gathered, concepts become clearer. These structures are formed from social interactions, language development, and experiences.

Mental images of individuals born blind are less accurate than those of persons with sight. The incidental learning acquired through use of vision is missing. Visual information is constantly available for children with sight, providing them with immediate data on all kinds of concepts (size, color, shape, position, quality, etc.).

Children with blindness interact with their environment by integrating touch or sound to develop a view of the world. They receive the most information through objects that are near to them, that can be obtained easily or through objects that are presented to them. As children develop language skills, information, can, of course, be provided through explanation, description, and comparisons.

Concepts through Engagement

Beginning concepts are systematically taught through structured experiences. Children must be guided to engage and explore consistently available objects and activities. If a child only has the experience of sitting in a chair in his classroom, the kitchen in his home, or his family’s living room, he will form an incorrect concept of “chairness”. In reality, there are hundreds of styles of chairs; they look and feel different, but they are all chairs.

Dr. Gerra emphasizes that when working with children with blindness, a person should use real objects, not replicas or models. She suggests building concepts into children’s daily routines, such as a cooking activity, where they can learn about individual ingredients, measuring and creating something. Exploring concepts through role play, such as pretending to take a bus or a train, further enhances concept development. Finally, expanding concepts by providing choices. Which do you want, the big truck or the little truck? All help to complete concept formation.