Monday, March 9, 2009

Fun With Mechanisms, Part 1: Light Switches

It is marvelous to watch the development of a child's mind; each day there seems to be something new and wonderful for them to learn or discover. A specific task Ronan is pursuing with great determination is the actuation of switches. For him the curiosity started with the light switch in our bedroom; as we carried him in or out of the room he would have a prime view of how our actions made fun noises and controlled the overhead lights.

Aside from the obvious feedback that comes from moving the switch up and down, many light switches include auditory and tactile cues as well. The "click" heard and spring actuated snap up or down once the lever passes center are also important sensory inputs that help in the learning process. For Ronan, the "down" position was mastered far sooner than the "up" one (we can't call it "on" or "off" as most of the switches in our house are three or four-way). His initial and moderately effective "full fist whacking on lever" technique has (thankfully) evolved into a repeatable, single finger push-down the lever (see photo above).  

The "up" position was harder for him to grasp with his first attempts involving both hands clasped together and thrust upwards with great force and effort. It really was very cute to watch, especially when he would miss the switch altogether and his stiff, interlaced fingers would swing wildly above his head. The look on his determined yet bewildered face was the perfect compliment to a very awkward and clumsy motion. He's since moved on (now uses his thumb with fingers flush against the plate, and actually grunts like a weightlifter) though it's still less repeatable than his downward actuation.  

The curiosity has turned into routine... Ronan demands at least a few attempts at the light switch before we exit a room. As we typically spend our days in a rush, we often try to blow him off in our hurry from place to place.  This is a big mistake. Not because of a tantrum but because Ronan
extends his unusually long and strong arms out towards the framing of the doorway and grabs hold with full force. More often than not he's able to latch his little vice-grip-strength fingers on the jamb and initiate a great centripetal force creating a direction change for both Ronan and person carrying Ronan, very much like a tetherball swinging around a post (see diagram to the right). 

Next post: fun with hinges! 


Holly said...

How cute! Next it will be fingers in the electrical sockets - the cause and effect relationship with that one will add another dimension to Ronan's understanding of electricity!
Love the photo of R. looking through the bars, too - like he's in jail or something.
And your centripetal force diagram is a work of art, although I totally don't get it! The engineering gene skipped a generation :-)
Keep the posts coming - so great to hear how R. is learning and growing.

archipelago said...

Hillarious stuff...I also do not get the diagram, yet was quite impressed by it. He sounds like a determined little guy.