How Children Learn: Making Connections
If I measure this yardstick, how long do you think it will be?
I asked the above question while I was introducing measurement to my second grade class. I was greatly anticipating my students’ answers.
Several children raised their hands, I picked one, he answered, “45 inches?” Letting his tone announce that he was guessing. I smiled, not at all surprised, but answered him and moved to someone else. The guessing went on until a light bulb went on with such force that the student could not keep the words contained under a raised hand, “36-inches!” he shouted. The room was suddenly abuzz with the incredulous voices of seven- and eight-year-olds realizing the importance of the connection just made. I quietly asked the shouter why he thought I would get 36-inches if I measured the yardstick. He explained proudly, and correctly, what I had just finished explaining to the class: that inches were the same whether on a ruler, tape measure, or yardstick. The 36 inches on the yardstick would turn out to be 36 inches on a tape measure as well. We measured just in case, he was right.
Young children often have misconceptions because they think concretely. Measuring with a yardstick is different from measuring with a tape measure, yet they yield the same results. This “blending” of two different things into one result is often hard for young children to do. Children learn to do this more naturally when they begin conserving, usually around age seven or eight. As parents and teachers, we can help our children see the connections in the world if we understand their misconceptions.
Adults quickly make connections because their minds have been trained to do so. We can see that reading, writing, and speaking are all interconnected; and that addition is the complement of subtraction. When we read the word “truck” we make the connection that this word is pronounced /truk/, spelled t-r-u-c-k, and refers to most vehicles with carrying capacity. Likewise, when we add 34+17 and get 51, we know that 51-17=34, there is no need to actually subtract to find this relationship.
Children learn to think like this only with practice, it is not automatic. Children as old as 8 often read the word “truck”, and know that it is a vehicle, but when they are speaking and writing the word it comes out as “chruck”! It is very difficult to hear this mispronunciation because even adults often pronounce a tr- blend as chr- (go ahead, try it!). The same goes for the above math problem, many children will start subtracting 51-17 even if they just did the problem “34+17=51”! They just do not see the relationship!
There is no reason to worry or get upset if your children are not making these connections, it is natural. Instead, we should recognize and even anticipate these problems and help children make connections. If you can learn to recognize when two things are connected and then explain them to your child, you will go a long way in furthering your child’s education!
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