Educators generally understand intellectual giftedness in childhood
as advanced capacities for cognitive functioning that are significantly
ahead of age norms, including the early development of a capacity for
abstract and higher order thinking (N. M. Robinson, 2008). Although
heredity is significant in giftedness, environment also plays a role;
and both are necessary and complementary factors in the development of
giftedness (Sternberg, Grigorenko, & Bundy, 2001; Tannenbaum, 2003).
Limited evidence, including evidence on the early childhood years,
indicates that the parents of gifted children provide stimulating home
environments and interactions that can promote gifted development
(Fowler, 1981; Gottfried, Gottfried, Bathurst, & Guerin, 1994;
Perleth, Lehwald, & Browder, 1993; N. M. Robinson, 1993; N. M.
Robinson, Lanzi, Weinberg, Ramey, & Ramey, 2002). Fowler argued that
advanced development that is accompanied by intensive caregiver
stimulation in early childhood can lead to a cognitive "critical
mass," so that by school entry these children "reach a
cognitive threshold ... not ordinarily attained at any age by most
children" (p. 360).
Some authors have proposed a bidirectional process of mutual
responsiveness, whereby young gifted children elicit high levels of
stimulation from their parents (Gottftied et al., 1994; Moss, 1990; N.
M. Robinson, 1993), and some case study research supports that idea
(Harrison, 2004; Lewis & Michalson, 1985). We know little, however,
about the specific nature of parental interactions with their young
gifted children, particularly in the infant and toddler periods, and how
these interactions may promote advanced thinking. This gap in our
knowledge is a significant one, because the first years of life are a
crucial period for laying the foundations of subsequent intellectual
The study reported here was part of a larger longitudinal study
investigating relationships between mother and child play and
interactions, during the infant/toddler period and subsequent child IQ.
The researcher followed a reversed contingency analysis method, similar
to the one used in the Fullerton Longitudinal Study (Gottfried et al.,
1994), which collected data before children were identified as
gifted/high IQ rather than after. The basis for the findings presented
here is an analysis of mothers' verbal scaffolding of analogical
and metacognitive thinking in infant/toddler pretend play. The aim was
to investigate whether the researcher could associate high child IQ at 5
years with earlier and/or more frequent maternal scaffolding of
analogical and metacognitive thinking in the infant/toddler period.
Extensive research evidence exists on the role of caregiver
interactions in the early cognitive development of typically developing
young children, and there is a growing body of literature on
caregiver-child interactions involving children with disabilities. Many
of these studies draw on the sociocultural theory of Vygotsky and in
particular, his concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD;
Vygotsky, 1978). The ZPD represents the difference between what children
can accomplish unaided and what they can achieve with the assistance of
adults or expert peers, thereby providing a lens for studying
development as it unfolds within the context of dyadic interaction. A
related concept is that of scaffolding, a term used to describe the
range of responsive tutoring strategies--such as modeling, simplifying,
maintaining interest and motivation, and marking features and
discrepancies--used by adults to assist children's learning within
the ZPD (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976).
Researchers have shown that adult scaffolding involving the use of
such specific strategies as modeling, the use of referential language,
and both verbal and nonverbal assistance--as well as more-global
authoritative, warm, and responsive interaction styles--have led to
higher child outcomes in areas including play, language, and
problem-solving (Berk & Spuhl, 1995; Conner, Knight, & Cross,
1997; Damast, TamisLeMonda, & Bornstein, 1996; Dilworth-Bart,
Poehlmann, Hi|gendorf, Miller, K., & Lambert, 2009; Pratt, Kerig,
Cowan, & Pape Cowan, 1988; Tamis-LeMonda & Bornstein, 1991;
Tamis-LeMonda, Bornstein, & Baumwell, 2001; Vibbert & Bornstein,
1989). The interactions of both mothers and fathers with their young
children have been the focus of study; and some evidence indicates that
although there may be differences in style and learning outcomes, both
can lead to positive effects (Conner et al., 1997; Pratt et al., 1988).
More extensive research has dealt with the positive effects of
mothers' scaffolding on young children's learning and
development, and this area has developed a solid body of evidence and
well-tested methodologies for investigating the nature of mother-child
interactions (Berk & Spuhl, 1995; Clarke-Stewart & Beck, 1999;
Smith, Landry, & Swank, 2000; Tamis-LeMonda & Bornstein, 1991,
1994; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2001).
Since Bell and colleagues demonstrated that infants influence the
sequence of activity with their caregivers (Bell, 1979; Bell &
Harper, 1977; Kuczynski, 2003), researchers have widely acknowledged the
bidirectional nature of child-caregiver interaction. Many researchers
have recently come to regard informal teaching interactions, such as
that between parent and child, as representing integrated processes of
teaching/learning, in which the dyad forms the unit of analysis and the
actions of dyad members are not independent of one another (Kenny,
Kashy, & Cook, 2006; Scrimsher & Tudge, 2003). According to
these views, the teaching or tutoring behavior of the caregiver within
the dyad shows something about the learning or development of the child
and about the dynamics of the teaching/learning relationship. The
literature on mother-child dyads engaged in play or problem-solving
tasks shows that child characteristics such as age and competence
influence maternal interactions (Heckhausen, 1987; McCune, Dipane,
Fireoved, & Fleck, 1994; J. B. Robinson, Burns, & Davis, 2009).
Research shows, for example, that mothers of younger children provide
more physical assistance (Heckhausen, 1987), whereas mothers of children
with disabilities use more concrete and simple language and are more
directive and active within the dyad (McCune et al., 1994; Power, Wood,
Wood, & McDougall, 1990). A study that looked at maternal
scaffolding of preschoolers living in poverty found that the mothers of
children with poor attention-regulation skills were more likely to
engage in intensive verbal scaffolding during a puzzle task (J. B.
Robinson et al., 2009). Some researchers have interpreted such
strategies as mothers' adaptive responses to children's
specific needs (Jamieson, 1994; McCune et al., 1987; Power et al.,
Mothers of gifted children, however, appear to offer higher levels
of challenge in response to their children's advanced development.
For example, Moss (1990, 1992a) found that mothers of gifted
preschoolers were more likely to model metacognitive strategies than
mothers of nongifted children. Morrissey and Brown (2009) found that
toddlers subsequently identified with high IQ showed faster learning and
earlier independence within the ZPD for pretend play. Their mothers
responded by reducing the frequency of their own play modeling and
increasingly transferring responsibility for dyadic play to the child.
Similarly, Moss and Strayer (1990) found that mothers of gifted children
responded to their children's higher level of metacognitive
verbalizations by decreasing support to encourage autonomy. These
findings indicate that mothers of gifted children engage them in
stimulating and challenging interactions, possibly on the basis of cues
that they are receiving about their children's advanced development
(Moss, 1990, 1992a).
The aim of the present study was to investigate whether mothers of
very young gifted children were more likely to engage them in
intellectually stimulating interactions by scaffoling advanced forms of
higher order thinking than mothers of more typically developing
children. The researcher chose analogical and metacognitive thinking as
the scaffolding variables for study. Both are core components of
intelligence and have been linked to giftedness in older children (Brown
& Kane, 1988; Gentner & Toupin, 1986; Holyoak, Junn, &
Billman, 1984; Kanevsky, 1992; Klavir & Gorodestky, 2001; Sternberg,
1985; Vosniadou, 1989).
Traditional measures of giftedness, such as standardized IQ tests,
draw directly on analogical reasoning (Fagan, 1984; Holyoak et al.,
1984; Sattler, 1992, 2001); and gifted children demonstrate advancement
in this area (Davidson, 1986; Davidson & Sternberg, 1984; Klavir
& Gorodestky, 2001). Since the 1980s, researchers have developed
age-appropriate methods for assessing analogical thinking in even very
young children, including infants and toddlers (DeLoache, Simcock, &
Marzolf, 2004; Goswami, 1992; Holyoak & Thasgard, 1997; Schafer,
2005); and Goswami argues that the ability to recognize relational or
structural similarity, the basis of analogical reasoning, is present
from the first months of life. Some research has also suggested links
between mothers' analogical verbalizations and young
children's cognitive development. Morelock, Brown, and Morrissey
(2003) found that mothers of toddlers showing advanced development in
pretend play engaged in more verbalizations containing analogies and
world links involving connections between past and current experiences
and knowledge. Higher levels of maternal use of world links with
2-year-olds have been linked to more extensive pretend play and advanced
deductive reasoning in children (Mills & Funnell, 1983).
We know less about the early development of metacognition and to
what extent this form of thinking develops differently in gifted
children. Some evidence indicates that older gifted children and
adolescents show advanced metacognitive thinking in comparison with
age-typical peers (Borkowski & Peck, 1986; Cho & Ahn, 2003; Hoh,
2008; Jackson & Butterfield, 1986; Kanevsky, 1992; Moss, 1992a;
Schwanenflugel, Stevens, & Carr, 1997; Steiner, 2006). Despite the
lack of evidence on metacognitive development in the earliest years,
some argue that development in metacognition is present during the first
5 years; or as Flavell (1987) states "probably ... almost from the
beginning" (p. 25). Flavell regards a child's developing sense
of self as an "active cognitive agent" (p. 26), along with
parental modeling or teaching of metacognitive activity, as potentially
important factors in the promotion of metacognitive thinking.
Other authors also propose that the early years are a period during
which basic processes essential for metacognitive development are being
laid down (Borkowski & Peck, 1986; Moss, 1992b; Schwanenflugel et
al., 1997). These processes include conceptual and strategic knowledge,
self-regulation, and evaluative functions. A number of authors point to
the role of interactions with caregivers in promoting higher levels of
metacognition in young gifted children. In particular, they argue that
caregivers notice their gifted preschooler's advanced
information-processing abilities and respond by supporting and
encouraging higher level executive functions (Borkowski & Peck,
1986; Moss, 1992a, 1992b; Perleth et al., 1993; Schwanenflugel et al.,
In a study on mother-child interactions involving infants,
toddlers, and preschoolers, Moss (1992b) found that dyadic interactions
in the first 3 years focused on such basic skills as labeling and joint
task orientation. It was not until the fourth year that mothers began
working to help children acquire simple metacognitive skills, including
predicting consequences, checking results, reality testing, and activity
monitoring. She argues that the beginning of metacognitive activity
within the dyads depends on the establishment of the earlier, more basic
skills in the first 3 years. Interestingly though, Moss found that 20%
of mothers in her research verbalized and modeled metacognitive
strategies when their children were as young as 24 months old,
suggesting that some mothers of even very young children may engage in
scaffolding metacognitive thinking.
Research on maternal scaffolding of very young children's
learning and development has largely been located in informal or
play-based contexts, sometimes involving measures of pretend play
development (Damast et al., 1996; Fiese, 1990; Jamieson, 1994; McCune et
al., 1994; Rome-Flanders, Cronk, & Gourde, 1995; Tamis-LeMonda &
Bornstein, 1991, 1994; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2001; Vandermaas-Peeler et
al., 2002). During the time that pretend play develops, it demands
higher forms of thinking in the child, including early forms of
analogical and metacognitive thinking. For example, the creation of
pretend scenarios requires recognizing and creating relational
similarities--the structural mapping that underlies analogical reasoning
(Goswami, 1991; Harris, 2000; Lillard, 2001). While their pretend play
abilities develop, young children also demonstrate increasing skills in
planning their play. These skills represent emerging forms of
metacognitive thinking. They include identifying play goals and
subgoals; selecting appropriate strategies and materials for use in
pretense; predicting consequences of play actions; and performing such
evaluative functions as checking results, reality testing, and activity
monitoring (Moss, 1992b). Mother-child interactions involving pretend
play can thus provide opportunities for maternal scaffolding of
analogical and metacognitive thinking.
This study reports findings produced by an analysis of data from a
larger longitudinal study investigating the early development of
high-ability children and the role of mother-child interactions in
supporting that development. The basis of the analysis was data on
mothers' verbal scaffolding of analogical and metacognitive
thinking during pretend play interactions with their very young
children. This study investigated potential relationships between
mothers' use of verbal scaffolding with their children during the
infant/toddler period and measures of the children's IQ taken when
they were approximately 5 years old. The researcher expected that she
would be able to associate higher child IQ at 5 years old with earlier
and/or more frequent use of analogical and metacognitive verbalizations
by mothers during the infant/toddler period.
The participants were 21 mother-child dyads, involving 12 male
children and nine female children. Recruitment procedures attempted to
maximize the chances that at least half the child participants would
achieve high levels on an IQ assessment when they were approximately 5
years old. Drawing on findings in the literature, initial recruitment
procedures focused on the younger siblings of children formally or
informally identified as gifted (Silverman, 1988). This study recruited
14 children on that basis and recruited another two children because
they showed unusual alertness and responsiveness (Dalzell, 1998; Gross,
1993; N. M. Robinson, 1993). The study recruited the remaining five
dyads through leaflets distributed through Maternal and Child Health
Centres in suburban Melbourne. Child participants were all second- or
later-born children, except for two first-born girls. Family backgrounds
were largely professional and middle-class, and the families were
predominantly of Anglo-Celtic or European cultural background. All
families were English-speaking. One child was part Indonesian, one was
part Mauritian, and one was an adopted Korean child. One child came from
a sole-parent family. The children's parents generally had high
levels of education, with 27 holding university degrees. They included
13 parents with postgraduate qualifications and five enrolled in
doctoral programs or with completed doctoral degrees. The education
levels of five of the fathers were unknown. At the time of taping, two
mothers worked full-time, with the remainder either full-time homemakers
or working or studying part-time. The parents' occupational
backgrounds were largely professional or managerial, with other
occupations including a builder, a carpenter, and a laborer. One father
was unemployed at the time of the study.
The researcher coded the content of mothers' utterances
according to categories for scaffolding children's analogical and
metacognitive thinking. Utterances did not need to be a complete
sentence, and the researcher coded them according to all elements
present. They could therefore code one utterance as both analogical and
metacognitive thinking (see Table 1). As noted in Moss and Strayer
(1990), interpreting utterances within a dyadic context requires
situational evidence. Coding for this study required interpreting
maternal intentions by using such contextual evidence as the sequence of
events, verbal inflection, gesture and facial expression, and references
to play materials. Table 1 presents examples that illustrate how the
categorization of utterances could vary according to their purpose or
focus, as well as the type of play materials to which the mother was
referring. Following are the definitions and criteria used for coding
the analogical and metacognitive categories.
Analogical The basis for this category was a broad definition of
analogical reference and included verbalizations that focused on pretend
play transformations and world links. Examples included maternal
references to analogical similarity, such as pointing to a small basket
and remarking "That looks like a bowl," as well as world links
to the child's previous experiences such as "It's like
the truck we saw this morning." Also coded as analogical were
verbal transformations that were associated with pretend play
substitutions (Morelock et al., 2003). A typical example involved a
mother announcing "Here's Teddy's bed" while
indicating a box and then acting out a sequence of pretend
transformations by putting the teddy bear to bed in the box and covering
it with a piece of fabric substituted for a blanket. The researcher also
coded verbal transformations involving imaginary substances as
analogical, such as asking a child to wipe up an imaginary spill or
asking him or her whether a pretend cup of tea was hot.
Metacognitive. The researcher designed the measures for
metacognitive utterances to capture maternal verbalizations of planning
and self-regulatory processes. She largely based these measures on a
coding scheme developed by Moss (1990, 1992a) and Moss and Strayer
(1990) but also drew on the wider literature on metacognition. Moss
(1990, 1992a) categorized mother and child verbalizations in relation to
problem-solving tasks according to level of cognitive distancing. The
relevant categories for this study were Moss's two highest levels
of structuring and metacognitive regulatory tactics. Structuring tactics
include planning references such as identifying goals and subgoals and
statements of rules. Metacognitive regulatory tactics include predicting
consequences, checking results, monitoring activity, and reality
Although both categories involved components of planning,
monitoring, and evaluation, Moss considered only the processes in the
metacognitive regulatory category to be truly metacognitive. Unlike the
preschoolers in the Moss study (1992a), however, the researcher expected
the infants and toddlers in the current study to demonstrate, at most,
only an emergent metacognitive awareness. Therefore, the researcher
decided to adapt Moss's coding categories to capture the ways in
which a mother might introduce metacognitive ideas and scaffold any
emerging capacities in a very young child, including through
verbalization of both structuring and metacognitive regulatory tactics.
In addition, the wider literature offers justification for a broader
definition of metacognition that includes such planning activities as
deciding on use of actions, space, or materials (Borkowski & Peck,
1986; Flavell, 1987; Schraw & Graham, 1997; Schwanenflugel et al.,
1997). For this study, therefore, the researcher decided to regard
subgoal identification as maternal scaffolding of metacognitive
activity; for example, when a mother said that she needed to make a bed
before she could put a doll to sleep. Thus, the researcher coded
maternal utterances as metacognitive if they contained any of the
* Predicting the effectiveness or consequences of future actions or
use of materials ("This would make a good bed"; "Will
* Planning that involved verbalizing strategies or steps for
achieving a goal, including identifying subgoals ("We could use
this as a table for our tea party"; "First, we need to mix the
* Monitoring the effectiveness or appropriateness of maternal or
child actions ("We don't drink tea from a teapot--we use a
cup"; "Yes, that's how you do it"; "We built a
* Reflection on the self's capacities and/or experiences in
relation to the task ("I don't think I can make an elephant
noise"; "Do you know how to ...?"; "We used that as
a hat last time").
The researcher defined metacognitive statements as being about the
play but made outside it (Hacker, n.d.; Livingstone, 1997). These
statements therefore needed to consider the relationship of the
utterance to the play context. For example, if a child pretended to make
a cup of tea and his or her mother pointed out that the child also
needed to provide (pretend) milk and sugar, the researcher coded this
utterance as metacognitive. If, however, the mother took on the play
role of recipient of the cup of tea and within that role requested milk
("I need some milk"), the researcher considered this response
to be maternal participation in the play and did not code it. The
researcher coded maternal questions or statements such as "Can you
brush Dolly's hair?" or "Can you balance it., as
metacognitive when they referred to a specific challenge or capacity
required of the child. They did not usually code general positive
comments--such as "good," "good boy," or
"clever girl"--as metacognitive. They considered positive
statements that involved explicit evaluation of child or maternal
actions--such as "That's right," "Yes, that's
it," or "Almost"--as metacognitive,
Child IQ. The psychologist assessed 20 of the children by using the
Stanford-Binet IV (Thorndike, 1986). This test is appropriate for
assessing higher levels of intellectual ability in young children (Davis
& Rimm, 1998; Sattler, 1992). The parents of one child chose to have
him tested privately using the Stanford-Binet LM (Terman, 1973).
The play materials consisted of four rotating sets, with three
age-based levels; each set dealt with one of three themes: tea party,
dolls, or farm. The sets included realistic and replica materials, such
as a teddy bear, a doll, plastic cups and plates, a hairbrush, a toy
truck, and animal figures. They also included more abstract materials,
for example, wooden blocks, wooden Popsicle sticks, squares of material,
and aerosol lids, with an increasing proportion of abstract materials as
children got older. For further details of the play sets, see Morrissey
and Brown (2009).
Most of the participating mother-child dyads entered the study by
the time the children were 8 months old. Thirteen of the children
commenced videotaped play sessions "early," between the ages
of 5 and 7 months; and six commenced videotaping at 8 months. Two of the
dyads entered late: one when the child was 10 months old, and one when
the child was 11 months old. To investigate any possible effects of
these variations in starting age, the researcher conducted a
Spearman's correlation (two-way) between starting age and all
relevant variables and found no significant correlations.
The participants came to a university laboratory for monthly play
sessions until children were 17 months old. The researcher drew data for
this study from 10 videotaped sessions when children were 8 to 17 months
old, although some data were missing. One dyad left the study when the
child reached 14 months of age because of family relocation, and this
dyad had also missed one previous session. In addition to the two dyads
that started late, four dyads missed one session each, one dyad missed
two sessions, and one dyad missed four sessions.
The researcher videotaped the play sessions in a special-purpose
two-room suite. One room had two cameras, mats on which mothers and
children could sit, and a box containing the relevant set of play
materials for that session. The re searcher sat in the other room,
behind one-way glass, controlling the videotaping equipment. The
researcher informed the mothers that she was investigating
children's play and language development and asked the mothers to
play with the child as they normally would at home. They received no
other instructions. The researcher videotaped the dyads for 15 min,
except for occasions when a child was distracted or unwell. Three
children had one shorter taping (ranging from 10.32 to 13.06 min), one
child had two shorter tapings (11.48 and 14.12 min), and four children
had three shorter tapings (ranging from 10.19 to 13.57 min). All but
three of these shorter tapings occurred when children were between 8 and
14 months old.
When children turned 4 1/2 to 5 years old, the researcher again
contacted the mothers and gave them the name of the psychologist who
would conduct the IQ assessment of their child. A university
psychologist tested 14 of the children and supervised the testing of
another four children by postgraduate psychology students. The remaining
three children received testing through arrangements with private
psychologists. Because of unavoidable circumstances, only seven of the
children received testing within the target age range of 4 to 5 years.
Of the remainder, 10 received testing when they were 5 to 6 years old,
and four of the children were not assessed until they were 6 years old.
Although this age range was not ideal, the literature indicates that IQ
scores are fairly stable within individuals during development
(Sternberg et al., 2001). Sternberg and colleagues point out that the
"best predictor of IQ in a given year is the IQ from the previous
year" (p. 15). They point to long-term data showing, for example,
Stanford-Binet scores at age 5 correlating (r = .87) with scores at age
6. Scores across a 3-year age range from ages 3 to 6 years also
correlated (r = .73; Sternberg et al., 2001). On the basis of that
evidence, the researcher decided to use all the child IQ assessments for
The researcher based data for this study on three 5-min samples
containing the child's highest play levels for each of three age
ranges. The researcher had selected these 5-min samples as the database
for a previous analysis of child and mother play as part of the larger
longitudinal study. She used the samples from the available sessions
within three age ranges: 8 to 9 months (Session 1), 11 to 13 months
(Session 2), and 16 to 17 months (Session 3). These age ranges
represented discrete periods in which the child-participant group
demonstrated clear developmental progression through one or more play
levels. In the other periods--at the 10-, 15-, and 16-months
sessions--children appeared to plateau in their pretend play
development. The selection of samples from within three age ranges also
minimized the amount of missing data. The researcher digitally
transferred these samples to CD and coded them by using the Observer
(1996) by Noldus behavior recording program supplemented with the
support package for video analysis.
Informal observation had indicated that the rates of maternal
verbal scaffolding tended to increase around children's play
activity. This verbal scaffolding also tended to be more challenging
when mothers were scaffolding their children to higher levels of play.
This study explored the potential for maternal scaffolding of
children's analogical and metacognitive thinking during play. The
researcher believed that sampling maternal utterances around
children's highest play levels, rather than a random sampling
across sessions, would be most likely to pick up the sort of maternal
utterances that were of interest. Because of practical considerations
and methodological requirements, the researcher based the analysis on
mothers' verbal scaffolding on the first 3 min of these 5-min
samples from the larger study. The video-coding process was long and
time-consuming, particularly in regard to the verbal scaffolding. The
researcher examined each maternal scaffolding utterance for the presence
of elements of analogical and/or metacognitive scaffolding. The rate of
mother-and-child play actions required three 5-min samples to provide
sufficient data for the proposed analyses. The rate of maternal verbal
utterances was higher, and the three 3-min samples yielded 582 codings
of maternal verbal scaffolding, which provided sufficient representative
data for the proposed analyses.
The researcher calculated intercoder agreement for a representative
one third of the sample and initially coded the 3-min samples that made
up the verbal scaffolding data. To establish interobserver reliability,
the researcher and a second coder went through one third of the sample
together, discussing the researcher's codings and establishing
whether the second coder agreed or disagreed with each one. Intercoder
agreement was therefore based on the level of agreement and disagreement
between the researcher and the second coder as to the occurrence or
nonoccurrence of analogical and metacognitive elements in maternal
verbalizations. Percentage agreement was 99% (Cohen's [kappa] =
.94) for analogical utterances and 98% (Cohen's [kappa] = .91) for
The results of the IQ assessments showed that the children's
IQ scores represented an average to high range of 96 to 150 (M = 122.62,
SD = 13.37). Coding of maternal utterances for the whole group across
the three sessions yielded totals of 328 analogical codings and 254
metacognitive codings. Analysis of the frequency of the two types of
maternal utterance demonstrated that mothers increased their use of
analogical and metacognitive verbal scaffolding across the sessions,
particularly between Sessions 1 and 2. The frequency of analogical
utterances increased from 33 in Session 1 (Mdn = 0.00, range = 0-8), to
132 in Session 2 (Mdn = 4.00, range = 0-31), and 170 in Session 3 (Mdn =
4.50, range = 0-22). Metacognitive utterances increased from 34 in
Session 1 (Mdn = 0.00, range = 0-10), to 100 in Session 2 (Mdn = 2.00,
range = 0-14), and 120 (Mdn = 2.50, range = 0-24) in Session 3.
To investigate whether mothers' use of analogical and
metacognitive scaffolding linked with children's subsequently
tested IQ level, the researcher divided dyads into higher and lower IQ
groups on the basis of a natural split in child IQ scores. The higher IQ
group (HIQ) comprised 11 children and their mothers, with scores ranging
from 123 to 150; whereas the lower IQ group (LIQ) comprised 10 children
and their mothers, with scores in an average to high-average range of 96
to 119. Recent definitions of giftedness allow the children in the HIQ
group to be designated as gifted (with the lowest score of 123
considered borderline; Porter, 1999). The child who had received testing
on the Stanford-Binet LM (Terman, 1973) had an IQ score of 150. To
compensate for the out-of-date norms of the LM, the researcher deducted
10 points from this child's IQ score (Silverman & Kearney,
1992); and he and his mother remained in the HIQ group.
Because two children started in the study late and one child moved
overseas before completing all sessions, the actual numbers of dyads
varied across the sessions, with 19 dyads in Session 1 (HIQ = 9, LIQ =
10); 21 in Session 2 (HIQ = 11, LIQ = 10); and 20 in Session 3 (HIQ =
10, LIQ = 10). Table 2 gives the median frequencies and the ranges of
each type of maternal utterance for the two groups across the three
sessions. Although both groups showed low frequencies of both types of
utterance in Session 1, the median and upper range scores for
mothers' use of analogical utterances is marginally higher in the
HIQ group in this first session. Inspection of data on individual dyads
confirmed that mothers in the HIQ group were more likely to use
analogical utterances in that session. Two mothers in the HIQ group used
no analogical utterances, and three of the mothers used this type of
utterance once. The remaining four mothers in the HIQ group used
analogical utterances five to eight times. In the LIQ group, however,
seven of the mothers used no analogical utterances in this session; and
the remaining three mothers used one to two utterances.
Table 2 also shows that although mothers in both groups increased
their use of analogical and metacognitive utterances from Session 1 to
Session 2, median scores were higher for mothers in the HIQ group in
Session 2. In the HIQ group, two of the mothers used no analogical
utterances, two used between 2 and 4, six used between 7 and 14, and one
used 31. In the LIQgroup, three of the mothers used no analogical
utterances, two mothers used 1, three mothers used 3 to 5, and two
mothers used 10. Also in that session, two mothers in the HIQ group used
0 to 1 metacognitive utterances, one used 2 utterances, three used 6 to
9, and five used 10 to 14. In the LIQ group, seven mothers used 0 to 1
metacognitive utterances, one used 2 utterances, and two used 5 to 7.
In Session 3, mothers in the LIQ group continued to increase their
use of these utterances. Although the use of both types of utterance was
still more frequent in the HIQ group in Session 3, these mothers'
use of analogical utterances declined slightly from the level of Session
2, but their median score for metacognitive utterances halved.
To test whether these group differences were statistically
significant, the researcher conducted a Mann-Whitney U Test (Tabachnik,
each measure, using an alpha level of .05. Because the researcher
expected mothers in the HIQ group to be more likely to use analogical
and metacognitive utterances with their children, she used a one-tailed
test of significance. Table 2 presents the results. Mothers in the HIQ
group used significantly more analogical utterances with their children
in Session 1, as well as significantly more analogical and metacognitive
utterances in Session 2. No significant differences occurred between the
groups in maternal use of utterances in Session 3.
The findings of this study show that mothers of children assessed
as having a high IQ at 5 years old commenced scaffolding analogical and
metacognitive thinking earlier in the infant/toddler period than mothers
of children subsequently assessed as having an IQ that was closer to
average. The results suggest that children subsequently identified as
gifted were more likely to experience maternal scaffolding of analogical
and metacognitive thinking from a younger age--and consequently for a
longer period--than children subsequently identified with more typical
In interpreting these results, examining the findings from the
larger longitudinal study on mother and child play (Morrissey &
Brown, 2009) is helpful. The results from that study indicated no
differences between the two IQ groups in levels of child play in any of
the three sessions, with children in both groups demonstrating emerging
pretend play behaviors from 8 to 9 months. Children in the HIQ group did
not attain higher levels of play earlier than children in the LIQ group,
but they did demonstrate earlier independence in their play by Session
2, indicating faster learning of pretend play skills within the ZPD. The
mothers of the children in the HIQ group responded to this independence
by transferring joint responsibility for play to their children in that
same session. This outcome compared with mothers in the LIQ group, who
transferred joint responsibility to their children by Session 3.
Those findings, in conjunction with the present findings on
mothers' verbal scaffolding, show that by the time that the
children subsequently assessed as having high IQ reached 16 to 17 months
of age, their experience of the play sessions with their mothers had
differed in several ways from that of children subsequently assessed as
having an IQ that was closer to average. Not only did the children in
the higher IQ group experience scaffolding of analogical thinking for
longer, but they were also more likely to experience it during the
period of the earliest emergence of their pretend play development.
Almost from the very beginning, then, abstract verbal commentary around
analogical thinking accompanied their development of pretense. Children
in the lower IQ group, however, did not experience equivalent levels of
analogical scaffolding until 16 to 17 months of age, at a time when
their pretend play was well established. The findings suggest that by
introducing verbal elements of abstraction, complexity, and challenge
into their play interactions, the mothers of the high IQ children were
providing a qualitatively different play experience for their children
from an early age. This outcome is in accord with Fowler's (1981)
proposition that intensive caregiver stimulation from an early age plays
a significant role in the development of giftedness.
The more independent play skills of children in the HIQ group in
Session 2 (Morrissey & Brown, 2009) could also have elicited the
maternal metacognitive scaffolding that appeared in that same session.
The mothers in the higher IQ group may have considered that their
children had grasped the basics of engaging in pretend play and no
longer needed basic modeling support. They may have seen their children
as ready to move to the next level, in which they could begin to learn
how to plan and organize their own pretend play activity. This process
is similar to the process in which children progress from coming to
understand the basics of pretense per se and move to the level of
understanding that allows them to become active collaborators in
pretense (Walker-Andrews & Kahana-Kalman, 1999).
The introduction of metacognitive scaffolding in Session 2 by
mothers in the HIQ group suggests that the HIQ dyads had moved from
acting within a ZPD for learning to engage in various forms of pretend
play to a new ZPD that was based on the children's emerging higher
order skills such as planning, organizing, monitoring, and evaluating
their own play activity. Findings both from the previous analysis on
mother and child play (Morrissey & Brown, 2009) and the present
analysis support this interpretation. Morrissey and Brown found that by
Session 3, children in the LIQ group had caught up with children in the
HIQ group in their play skills and that LIQ dyads also demonstrated
maternal transfer of responsibility for play activity to the children.
This outcome parallels the findings in the current analysis that no
significant difference existed between the two groups in the frequency
of maternal metacognitive scaffolding by Session 3. Taken together,
these findings support the contention that mothers' introduction of
metacognitive scaffolding links with their children's development
of independent play skills. The findings also provide support for those
who argue that metacognitive development has its roots in the first
years of life and that it is essentially a social skill originating in
interaction, particularly interaction between parents and children
Although both groups of mothers promoted analogical and
metacognitive thinking at what appears to be an early age, the
interactions of the mothers of children with higher IQ seem particularly
challenging, especially with regard to metacognitive thinking. As
previously noted, Moss's (1992b) research indicated that mothers do
not typically engage in scaffolding metacognitive thinking until their
children are 4 years old. Moss did find that one fifth of her mothers
introduced metacognition to their children at 24 months; however, this
age is still 11 to 13 months later than the age at which mothers in the
HIQ group introduced metacognition to their children and 7 to 8 months
later than mothers in the LIQ group. The developmentally appropriate
context of play may have provided unusually good opportunities for
mothers in both groups in this study to introduce and promote these
forms of thinking in their children. This possibility suggests that
pretend play can be a useful context for investigating the ways in which
caregivers can promote higher order thinking in toddlers.
The small sample size and the range of ages at which children were
assessed for IQ are obvious limitations to this study. A small sample
relates to low power and can lead to Type II errors. Therefore, a larger
sample size may have led to the discovery of continued group differences
in maternal scaffolding at Session 3. The study may have also found
group differences in Session 3 if the coding scheme had retained more of
Moss's distinctions in the metacognitive coding category. The basis
for the metacognitive coding category for this study was the literature,
but it represented a less rigorous adaptation of Moss's
metacognitive category (1990, 1992a). The criteria used in the current
study produced findings that distinguished between the IQ groups in
Session 2 but not in Session 3. The less rigorous version of the
category may have created a ceiling that some dyads reached by Session
3. In devising the category for this study, the researcher expected that
only a few dyads involving such young children would exhibit
metacognitive activity. This theory was the reason for the less rigorous
adaptation, and the resulting prevalence of metacognitive verbalizations
by Session 3 in both groups was surprising. Discrimination of levels
within this category could be useful, in a manner closer to Moss's
original formulation, as illustrated by the following example involving
a dyad from the HIQ group.
The mother of C1 (M1) was the study's most frequent user of
metacognitive verbalizations. A comparison of interactions between C1
and his mother at Session 2 and Session 3 provides an illustration of
how metacognitive interactions can evolve over time. The first example
is from Session 2, when C1 (designated as J.), was 12 months old. He had
picked up a baby's hairbrush and brushed the floor with it, as if
using a dustpan and a small floor brush. His mother acknowledged this
use of the brush ("Oh, a 'brush-and-shovelly-brush.' Yes,
might be a 'brush-and-shovelly-brush.'") and then asked
whether it was a hairbrush. She then made the following suggestion:
"J., might be a toothbrush. Is it a toothbrush (laughs)? Is it a
great big toothbrush?" The researcher coded these utterances as
metacognitive on the basis that they represented planning and
considering possible ways of using the brush in pretend activity (the
child appeared to take up his mother's suggestion, later making a
brushing motion with the hairbrush across his mouth).
The second example comes from Session 3, when C1 was 16 months of
age. At one point in this session, M1 demonstrated to C1 how to set out
a number of Popsicle sticks on the floor so that they could count them
one by one. This process involved C1 pointing to each stick while his
mother verbalized the appropriate numeral in the sequence. After C 1 had
successfully accomplished this activity once, he attempted it again but
this time missed pointing to one of the sticks. His mother responded
with the following comments:
"One, two, three, four ... missed one ... missed the middle
one. Yeah, where was the middle one? Let's try again. Shall we try
again? Here we go" (arranges the sticks in a row). "OK, J.,
count" (C1 points in turn to three sticks while his mother counts
them, and then he stops. M1 then completes the count.). "One, two,
three ... four, five, mister! ... It's easier if we start at one
end and move through."
This latter example of metacognitive interaction between C1 and his
mother represents more complexity and challenge than the previous
example from Session 2. In addition to the relatively simple
considerations of planning demonstrated in the example from Session 2,
the example from Session 3 also contains elements of evaluation and
monitoring, tactics that belong to Moss's highest category of
metacognition (Moss, 1990, 1992a). Thus, a limitation of the
metacognitive coding category used in this study was that although it
could measure the sheer quantity of metacognitive utterances, it was not
able to distinguish the sort of qualitative differences exemplified by
the two interactions described.
Although the present study focused on the role of maternal
scaffolding in the cognitive development of young gifted children, the
findings also have implications for future research into the development
of higher order thinking in the wider population of young children.
Research using play contexts and involving larger samples could further
explore the ways in which caregivers respond to promote infant and
toddler thinking, including analogical and metacognitive thought.
Because the early development of metacognitive thinking is little
understood, the topic calls for further investigation. Further
longitudinal research could also contribute to our understanding of
potential mechanisms through which early caregiver interactions may
influence children's long-term intellectual development. The
implications of the findings on maternal scaffolding by mothers in both
groups also add weight to the argument that research into the influences
on early gifted development can also contribute to our understanding of
influences on early intellectual development in general.
The results of this analysis support other findings that parents of
young gifted children engage them in stimulating and challenging
interactions that are likely to support their advanced development from
the first years of life. Together with findings from the larger
longitudinal study, the results reported here also support the
proposition that in providing these sorts of interaction, parents are
responding to cues about their children's advanced development, an
outcome that supports the bidirectional model of gifted development
proposed by researchers (Gottfried et al., 1994; Moss, 1990; N. M.
These findings have several implications for professionals. First,
the findings suggest that pretend play may provide a favorable context
for interactions that can promote young children's thinking.
Further investigation of the possible advantages of naturalistic and
formal interventions through pretend play could potentially affect the
practice of both early childhood education and early intervention
professionals. Second, the findings suggest that professionals need to
become aware of the individual development and needs of infants and
toddlers in their care and ensure that they provide sufficient
stimulation and challenge for those children who have the potential for
more advanced development. Third, the findings can guide professional
attitudes toward the important role of parents in responding to and
promoting gifted potential in their children, thereby helping to
counteract negative stereotypes of pushy parents who
"hothouse" their children. As N. M. Robinson states:
When parents of [gifted children] behave differently from other
parents, should one attribute the children's giftedness to those
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University of Melbourne
ANNE-MARIE MORRISSEY, Lecturer, School of Education, Deakin
University (Burwood), Victoria 3217, Australia (formerly, Lecturer,
Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne).
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Anne-Marie Morrissey, School of Education, Deakin University, Victoria
3217, Australia. (e-mail: email@example.com).
This research was supported by a Postgraduate Scholarship for Women
With Career Interruptions, awarded to the author by the School of
Postgraduate Studies at the University of Melbourne.
The author would particularly like to thank the mothers and
children who volunteered to participate in this study and my supervisor,
Associate Professor Margaret Brown. I am also grateful to Romana Morda,
who undertook most of the IQ assessments, and to Mary Lawson, Vicki
McKenzie, Stuart Dansinger, Fiona Marcum, Rebecca Rossi, and Linda
Silverman for additional support with assessments. The CHIP Foundation,
Glen Alsop, and Melbourne Municipal Maternal and Child Health Centre
staff assisted with recruitment. I would also like to thank staff at the
Statistical Consulting Centre at the University of Melbourne for support
in data coding and analysis and Helen Skouteris for her valuable
suggestions for revisions.
This research draws on data from a longitudinal study, portions of
which were presented in a paper at the 17th Annual Conference of the
European Early Childhood Education and Research Association on Exploring
Vygotksy's Ideas: Crossing Borders, held in Prague,
Manuscript received October 2009; accepted July 2010.
Examples of Categories of Maternal Analogical and Metacognitive Verbal
Scaffolding as Applied to a Plastic Cup or Aerosol Lid
Scaffolding Plastic Cup Aerosol Lid
Analogical Is the tea hot? Pour some tea in my cup.
"This upside-down cup "You're drinking the tea."
looks like a rocket."
"This is just like the "This is like a cup."
cups we had on our
"It's like the lid on
Daddy's shaving cream."
Metacognitive "We will need a cup." "We could use this cup" *
"Yes, that's the right "What a good idea to use
place for the cup." this as a cup"*
Note. * These utterances are also codable as analogical.
Mann-Whitney Table With Comparisons forAnalogical and Metacognitive
Verbal Scaffolding Frequencies in Sessions 1, 2, and 3
HIQ Group LIQ Group
Scaffolding Median Range Median Range U p
Analogical 1 0-8 0 0-2 19.00 0.01
Metacognitive 0 0-10 0 0-5 39.00 0.29
Analogical 8 0-31 2 0-10 31.50 0.05
Metacognitive 9 0-11 0.5 0-7 15.00 0.00
Analogical 7.5 0-22 5 0-22 43.00 0.31
Metacognitive 4.5 0-16 2.5 0-16 39.50 0.21
Note. Tabachnik, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2001). Using multivariate
statistics (4th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.