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Importance of Concept Development

By Gloria Sultan, Senior Early Childhood Consultant and Trainer

We continue to talk about what a quality early childhood program strives for.  We know that during a child’s first five years, their brains develop faster and more significantly than during any other time in their life.  We also know that every aspect of life depends on problem-solving skills.  It is the foundation to success in school, personal relationships and throughout life.  Early educators need to teach and stretch children’s problem-solving skills on a daily basis.

Research-based curricula, such as Creative Curriculum, guides our teaching staff to help children develop thinking skills and gain a deeper understanding of concepts.  Concepts are the ”big ideas” that children learn as they engage in a range of experiences.  Teachers need to challenge children to think about the “how and why” of learning.  We want children to learn to problem solve rather than just getting the right answer.  For example, a baby drinks milk.  As the baby grows older, the baby drinks water as well. The concept of ‘liquids that can be drunk’ expands as the child drinks different liquids.

When we think about concept development, we are focusing on the following areas:

  • Analysis and reasoning: Asking children open-ended questions that have more than one right answer.
  • Creating: Engaging children in planning, brainstorming, and generating ideas.
  • Integration: Helping children connect new information to past knowledge.
  • Connections to the real world: Helping children connect learning experiences.

How can the teaching staff set up the environment to promote concept development?

  • Establish a daily schedule that allows time for children to make choices and engage in open-ended exploration.
  • Establish indoor and outdoor environments that promote active hands-on exploration.
  • Encourage children to come up with their own ideas such as “What are you building with the blocks?  How might we use these materials?”
  • Provide opportunities for children to plan how they might investigate a concept and carry out that investigation such that the children are interested in the different styles of buildings they see. Together, you create a web and then plan how to learn more about architecture.
  • When beginning a new study, such as trees or insects, asks children to share what they already know about the topic.
  • During routines, help children make connections to past experiences such as during snack time, the teacher asks children to think about what fruit they have eaten before that comes from a tree.
  • Connect themes to the lives of the children in their settings such as in the gardening study, focus on plants that children have seen in their homes and communities.
  • During a read-aloud, help children make connections between the story and their lives such as when reading “The Three Little Pigs”, ask children what their houses are built with.
  • Make predictions with interactive stories such as “What do you think will happen next? Why?”

Hands-on, open-ended math and science activities include prompts for children to predict, hypothesize, test and reason.  Let’s look at an example for teaching children the concept of more and less:

  • Provide 2 dice and ask the child to roll them.
  • Check the number on both dice and ask the child to explain it using the words more and less.
  • For example, if they get 5 and 3, they can say that 5 is greater than 3 or 3 is smaller than 5.
  • Repeat the activity by rolling the dice again.

Many children learn best when they can visualize a concept.  For each number, write the number itself and a drawing that represents it.  If you teach the number 2, for example, draw two eyes, two apples, or two flowers.  Ask the child to show you 2 small cubes or 2 fingers.

Children learning to ask questions, express their feelings and convey their needs are most important for their success socially and academically during their early childhood years.  We must continue to set up our learning environment to promote children to problem solve.

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