Developmentalists have made remarkable progress over the last several decades in detailing what children know at various points in development. Less progress has been made, however, in detailing the processes through which knowledge is realized in real-time tasks, or in detailing the processes of developmental change. We argue that the operating characteristics of perceiving and remembering provide a foundation for making progress on these issues in the next century. We include three examples applying these ideas to specific phenomena in early word learning. These examples illustrate how forming developmental hypotheses in terms of perceiving and remembering may bring new insights into specific phenomena as well as into how the ordinary operating characteristics of perceiving and remembering serve as bootstraps to more specialized and more abstract kinds of knowledge.