Here is a link to Alison Gopnick's website.
I love love love this woman's work. She has turned notions of what young children comprehend and how we learn to see the world, completely on their head.
One of the most interesting findings in 'The Philosophical Baby' to me is the study where really young babies look longer at objects performing feats outside the laws of physics, showing they are surprised.
We have always been told that young children cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality, and I had not questioned that until I had kids. The truth is more complex. Yes, sure, they can get confused. When my girls were in the first 6 months of being four they would still sometimes watch a cartoon they liked and ask me if we could "go there". Now they are closer to five, they know TV is not "real" but they will still sometimes ask about places they see on ads or movies (not cartoons anymore though).
On the other hand, even from a very young age (2, 3), they were well aware of what was funny in cartoons because it is not real, and what can and can't happen in real life. I was often surprised by how much little kids understand of what is going on around them.
Some observations I love to remember:
My cousin's little girl E, is one. At a recent family gathering, my sister was there with her baby. My sister set her baby down in a rocker in a corner and little E was fascinated. She toddled over to look at him at regular intervals. One time when she came over, unknown to her, someone else had picked up the baby and he wasn't in his rocker. Little E looked at the rocker, looked surprised, then immediately turned and reached a hand to my sister for a moment before walking off. She had never met my sister before, but this one instant showed that she expected the baby to be in his rocker, and that she knew the baby was connected to my sister and my sister should know where he is.
My girls are getting a growing knowlege of cause and effect. Very often, to my astonishment, they get cause and effect right, even if I can't remember having told them about how something works. Sometimes they get it wrong of course. Recently one evening it was very windy and the girls were a little uneasy at bedtime hearing the howling outside the house. A hadn't eaten much dinner, and at bedtime she said to me "Mummy when that wind is blowing it makes my tummy so hungry!"
(Yeah the classic rookie mistake - causation vs correlation!)
M loves to classify things. When we started to put a more sensible bedtime routine in place this year (i.e., an actual bedtime routine), we went through a phase where I would sit by her bed and she would ask me the same questions every night, starting with the names of her cousins and aunts and uncles and who was married to whom, who was parent to whom, and who lived with whom. Her current questions go through the days of the week and what routine we follow on each particular day. Obviously these things comfort her, and are also a little bonding bedtime ritual for us, but she also takes a lot of pleasure in learning these things, then moving on to the next phase of questions once she has mastered them. (Though these days, AT LAST, we are able to kiss them good night and leave the room within a few minutes instead of the hour this took at the beginning).
Last weekend I spent some time with my girls at my mum's place babysitting my sister's baby. He is a beautiful laid-back boy, always very happy and very interested in everything around him. As he gazes at various objects you can almost see wheels turning in his head, a slight frown of concentration on his brow. When you hold him and talk to him he gazes right in your eyes and when you sing he errupts into smiles and gurgles. It is definitely a form of communication. M was fascinated with him and spent a lot of time talking and laughing with him, and as she moved around the room he watched her intently, interest and expectation all over his face.
It's a wonderful wonderful world...