BOX 4.3 Remembering Where Big Bird Is

For a group of 18- and 24-month-old children, an attractive toy, Big Bird, was hidden in a variety of locations in a playroom, such as behind a pillow, on a couch, or under a chair. The children were told that “Big Bird is going to hide, and when the bell rings, you can find him.” While waiting to retrieve the toy, even though they were engaged by an adult in play and conversation, the children did not wait passively. Instead, they often interrupted their play with a variety of activities that showed they were still preoccupied with the memory task. They talked about the toy, saying, “Big Bird”; the fact that it was hidden, “Big Bird hiding”; where it was hidden, “Big Bird, chair”; or about their plan to retrieve it later, “Me find Big Bird.” Other rehearsal-like behaviors included looking or pointing at the hiding place, hovering near it, and attempting to peek at the toy. Although less systematic and well formed than an older person’s rehearsal strategies, the young children’s activities similarly function to keep alive the information to be remembered, the hidden toy and its location (DeLoache et al., 1985a).

counting from the larger number (“5, then 6, 7, 8,”), and that from 9 years on, children retrieve answers from memory because they know the answer (Ashcraft, 1985; Resnick and Ford, 1981). More recently, however, a more complex and interesting picture has emerged (Siegler, 1996). On a problem-by-problem basis, children of the same age often use a wide variety of strategies. This finding has emerged in domains as diverse as arithmetic (Cooney et al., 1988; Geary and Burlingham-Dubree, 1989; Goldman et al., 1988; Siegler and Robinson, 1982), causal and scientific reasoning (Lehrer and Schauble, 1996; Kuhn, 1995; Schauble, 1990; Shultz, 1982), spatial reasoning (Ohlsson, 1991); referential communications (Kahan and Richards, 1986), recall from memory (Coyle and Bjorklund, 1997), reading and spelling (Jorm and Share, 1983), and judgments of plausibility (Kuhara-Kojima and Hatano, 1989). Even the same child presented the same problem on two successive days often uses different strategies (Siegler and McGilly, 1989). For example, when 5-year-olds add numbers, they sometimes count from 1, as noted above, but they also sometimes retrieve answers from memory, and sometimes they count from the larger number (Siegler, 1988).

The fact that children use diverse strategies is not a mere idiosyncrasy of human cognition. Good reasons exist for people to know and use multiple strategies. Strategies differ in their accuracy, in the amounts of time their execution requires, in their processing demands, and in the range of problems to which they apply. Strategy choices involve tradeoffs among these

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