A 3 year old remembers…

How much does a 3 year old remember? 

We tend to think they don’t remember very much.  If we ask “What did you do at school today?” it seems that she can hardly remember anything that happened earlier in the day – though this test is misleading, since (a) she can remember much more if prompted (Did you play in the sand today? Yes…) – cognitive scientists call this the distinction between recall and recognition; and (b) she doesn’t fully understand the question, i.e., hasn’t sufficiently grasped the social practices of asking and answering such questions to know what sort of an answer you want. 

Also, we ourselves don’t remember very much from our first few years, so we assume that a three year old doesn’t either.  

Well, last night Lillian showed that she remembers much more than we thought.

She came up and asked “Where’s the hitting thing from when I was a baby?”


“What do you want?  Tell me again.”

“The hitting thing.  From when I was a baby.”

I’m at a loss.  What thing is she talking about?  

Grasping at for any clues, I ask “What colour was it?”

“So many colours.”  (“So many” is her way of saying “lots,” i.e., multicoloured.)

Then I remember – the dangling soft toys she used to whack when lying on her back on the living room floor, or in her cot.  These are certainly very colourful.  We go and dig them out from the basement.  It is what she wanted, even though she hasn’t seen them for almost two years. 

Last night also she pointed at the laundry trough as we walked past, and said

“I used to go in there, when I was a baby.”

True, we used to put her in there for her bath.  When she was much smaller, it was an ideal size and height.  But it is well over a year, I think, since she had a bath there.


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