This is the fourth article in the series about the Seven Essential Life Skills that children need to do better in school and in life, from the book Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky, PhD. Decades of research into early learning and child brain development has been extensively reviewed and distilled into the book, which outlines the developmental and neurological premise behind each skill and pairs them with real-world practices. The skills are based in the science of executive functions, a set of cognitive abilities that reside in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (the goal-driven area of the brain which manages attention, emotions, and behavior).
Dr. Galinsky reveals that building social and emotional skills along with intellectual competencies in the preschool years gives children the tools to grow into their full potential and become compassionate, capable and adaptable young adults.
Why Making Connections is Important
Making connections involves categorizing information as well as recognizing how one thing can represent or relate to another. These connections are at the core of learning and help promote creativity.
A child’s ability to categorize emerges at a much earlier age than was previously thought. In the first few months of life, babies show basic cognitive capacities with numbers, objects, and space. As a child grows, the abilities with math, identifying object characteristics, and the geography of space need to be cultivated. Children are forming connections as they learn to communicate: sounds stand for words, words stand for people, places, or things they know, and later, stand for words they hear and say. By late in preschool years, children begin to find more unusual connections, i.e., something related in a different way than what they are used to. These are skills that enable children to be prepared for school and to be successful throughout their lives.
Tools for parents
- Support children to see connections by building on interests and passions in fun and playful ways.
- Reinforce that making mistakes is part of the learning process.
- Provide toys and tools that can be used in multiple ways and encourage experimentation.
- Offer alternative ways of viewing pictures such as illusions.
- Guide child’s exploration/play by following their lead and talking about things they are interested in, rather than telling them what to do.
- Promote connections with use of language that describes space (e.g., inside/outside, up/down, etc.)
- Talk about math concepts in everyday, real-life conversations and situations involving shapes, numbers, quantities and approximations (e.g., “give your friend three crackers” and hold up three fingers).
- Play games without pushing child beyond their developmental capabilities (e.g., sorting games for ages 2 and up, increasing challenge level when ready). Play at clean-up time for added bonus!
- Make DIY playing cards, using pictures of things that are of interest to child (e.g., dogs).
- Ask child to sort pictures on the cards by color, shape, or size.
- Try an item selection card game – show child 3 cards (e.g., a red dog, a black dog, and a black cat) and ask a variety of questions such as “pick out 2 cards that go together in one way” (e.g., 2 dogs), then “pick out 2 cards that go together in another way” (e.g., 2 are black) or “pick out things that are the same in all 3 cards” (e.g., all have fur, eyes, etc.)
The ability to connect information that we already know, then separate and build again in new ways is becoming increasing important to today’s employers. Let’s prepare our children (and ourselves) for the future! Also be aware that while Mind in the Making (MITM) focuses on supporting the emergence of making connections in early childhood, this skill applies to brain building at all stages of life. Life-long learning is an exemplary goal!
In the next post in the Mind in the Making series discusses Life Skill #5: Critical Thinking, the continual search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide our beliefs, decisions, and actions.
ABOUT MIND IN THE MAKING: Decades of research into early learning and child brain development has been extensively reviewed and distilled into the Seven Essential Life Skills children need in order to thrive in school and in life. In her book, Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky, PhD, outlines the developmental and neurological premise behind each of the skills and pairs them with real-world practices to help children grow into their full potential. These seven life skills are based in the science of executive functions, a set of cognitive skills that reside in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (the goal-driven area of the brain which manages attention, emotions, and behavior).