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  1. Actions in the world elicit data for learning and do so in a stream of interconnected events. Here, we provide evidence on how toddlers with their parent sample information by acting on toys during exploratory play. We observed 10 min of free-flowing and unconstrained object exploration of by toddlers (mean age 21 months) and parents in a room with many available objects ( n = 32). Borrowing concepts and measures from the study of narratives, we found that the toy selections are not a string of unrelated events but exhibit a suite of what we call coherence statistics: Zipfian distributions, burstiness and a network structure. We discuss the transient memory processes that underlie the moment-to-moment toy selections that create this coherence and the role of these statistics in the development of abstract and generalizable systems of knowledge. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Concepts in interaction: social engagement and inner experiences’. 
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  2. Early object name learning is often conceptualized as a problem of mapping heard names to referents. However, infants do not hear object names as discrete events but rather in extended interactions organized around goal-directed actions on objects. The present study examined the statistical structure of the nonlinguistic events that surround parent naming of objects. Parents and 12-month-old infants were left alone in a room for 10 minutes with 32 objects available for exploration. Parent and infant handling of objects and parent naming of objects were coded. The four measured statistics were from measures used in the study of coherent discourse: (i) a frequency distribution in which actions were frequently directed to a few objects and more rarely to other objects; (ii) repeated returns to the high-frequency objects over the 10- minute play period; (iii) clustered repetitions and continuity of actions on objects; and (iv) structured networks of transitions among objects in play that connected all the played-with objects. Parent naming was infre- quent but related to the statistics of object-directed actions. The impli- cations of the discourse-like stream of actions are discussed in terms of learning mechanisms that could support rapid learning of object names from relatively few name-object co-occurrences. 
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