Expanding and Extending Firsthand Experiences
Children’s experiences with their world enable them to develop spontaneous, everyday concepts. This everyday, personal knowledge, however, does not automatically lead to a deeper understanding or more conventional ways of knowing. Rather, these concepts act like Velcro, hooking onto whatever new information, facts, and experiences children are given. The richer the new information, the greater the possibility for children to see the relationship of one fact to others and to form generalizations.
Vygotsky (1986) pointed out that at different developmental stages, children learn different things as they independently act on and interpret their environment, but other people also interact with children, affecting the course of their development and learning. He thought children operated at two levels of thought. One was the stage at which they could solve problems and think without the guidance of an adult or a more skilled peer. The second level was the stage at which the child could do the same task with adult help or guidance. He called this the potential developmental level. The distance between the two levels was termed the “zone of proximal development” (Vygotsky, 1986).
This means that by understanding children’s existing ideas and social studies content, teachers can extend and expand children’s knowledge by doing the following:
- Providing children with all kinds of books—poetry, literature, single-concept, picture, and reference books—that pertain to concepts children are studying. These may be openly displayed on a shelf or table, inviting children to extend and expand their ideas of a given concept. Children can use some of the books independently; others can be read to the entire group or to an individual child or two.
- Looking at pictures and other print media with children. Videos, photographs, movies, and slides, as well as pictures of places and things in, or not in, their environment can be examined and discussed to extend and expand children’s knowledge.
- Showing children how they can do something. Teachers, working collaboratively with children, can demonstrate how to join two pieces of wood, use a tool, or play a game.
- Telling children a fact or piece of information that will enable them to make sense of their world. Social knowledge is different from abstract knowledge (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). Social knowledge, such as “The name of this is chair” or “This is what we will do when we ride on the bus,” is simply told to children. There is no way for them to construct it for themselves.
- Questioning children. Ask children what a thing is, why it is this way, and how it got this way to spur their thinking in a new or different way.
- Asking children to observe and listen to authorities show or tell about their field: A police officer can show children how the siren in her car works; a veterinarian can show how to care for a dog.
- Children use the computer to find information and communicate with others.
- Having children use the computer to learn a new skill or fact, find information, or communicate with others.
- Using language to extend and expand children’s ideas. Supplying the names of things, describing them, and giving children words to describe their actions enable children to build new concepts.
- Adding another experience. Based on an understanding of children’s ideas and concepts in a given discipline, add another real-life experience that will expand and extend these.
- Providing multiple opportunities for children to learn from one another. Children should be able to revisit their existing ideas of the subject matter by freely sharing their view of the world with others and arguing their point of view. Only through interactions with others can children critically consider their existing ideas and revise these to form more complex and conventional concepts of their world.
By respecting the children, how they learn, and the subject matter, teachers extend and expand children’s existing knowledge. Teachers teach. Bredekamp and Rosegrant (1995) ask teachers “not to water down the learning experience even for the youngest child” (p. 22), but rather to build on children’s existing knowledge and experience by assessing and supporting learning.
© ______ 2006, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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