Familial Roles in Cognitive Development (page 2)
Families are children’s first and best teachers. They play crucial roles in cognitive development. Families need to support early learning in three important ways: (a) encourage the importance of intellectual growth, (b) assist in classroom learning, and (c) engage children at home in cognitive tasks.
For families of children with special needs, another significant support opportunity is through their involvement in creating an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their children.
Supporting the Importance of Cognitive Development
Families, teachers, and community members generally agree about the importance of learning mathematics, science, and social studies concepts and readily concede the values of cognitive development. Achievement in these areas is a major factor needed for success in work and life.
The content and process of this learning, however, are less often agreed upon. Many of these differences of opinion come from the family members’ own schooling experiences as children. If social studies learning, for example, focused on the memorization of names, dates, and significant historical events, these families typically feel that this approach to learning is appropriate for their own children. “It worked for me,” they think, “so why shouldn’t it work for my kids?”
Approaches focusing on rote learning, however, have proven to be ineffective for many children. The constructivist approach described earlier in this chapter is a much more positive technique for encouraging cognitive development (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987; Kamii & DeVries, 1978). Because it is new to many families, teachers and caregivers need to spend time helping them understand this approach. As families see constructivist learning in action, discuss the approach with others, read about its benefits, and observe the results of these efforts, they can become strong advocates of this alternative to memorization and rote learning.
Assisting with Classroom Learning
Families who can spend time helping out in the classroom are assisting with cognitive development. Reading to children, helping individual children with integrated learning projects, and going on class field trips are examples of this support. More mundane tasks like preparing materials for an art project or constructing a game help free up teachers’ and caregivers’ time for more direct assistance in cognitive learning. The family members’ presence in the classroom also sends children the message that their own work is important and motivates them to do their best.
Families who are unavailable during the school day can help out at home by gathering the ingredients for the upcoming science project, saving materials for mathematics manipulatives, or making telephone calls for the field trip next week. These kinds of tasks give families important roles to play when they cannot come into the classroom.
Home Learning Tasks
Families have many unique opportunities to promote cognitive understanding outside the school environment. Often, however, they do not take advantage of them because family members fail to recognize the value of the many informal learning experiences that exist around them. Setting the table for dinner, for example, gives young children the chance to count and practice one-to-one correspondence (one fork, spoon, and knife for each person) as they assist with a household chore. Likewise, a trip to the grocery store can be a great opportunity to practice money concepts and discuss the rationale for buying some foods but not others.
Many teachers and caregivers send parents lists of simple activities that can be built into daily life to promote cognitive development. These home learning tasks should be easy to prepare for and fun to do. Berger (2004) suggests many good ideas for home learning activities, including:
- Cooking activities. Have Children help with cooking. It can teach number concepts, fractions, measurement, and much more.
- Backyard science. Encourage exploration outdoors for insects, leaves, and rocks. Plant seeds and bulbs in the garden. Children engaged in these kinds of activities are classifying, observing, and experimenting with variables as they play with the materials outdoors.
- Play games with children. Children, for example, can learn to discriminate between size, shape, and color as they play simple card-matching games. Parents often need suggestions for making competitive games more cooperative.
- Visit museums. Take time to explore the resources within the community, including museums of interest to children. When these experiences include things children can touch and manipulate, the interest will be greater. While providing many opportunities for learning, museums are wonderful opportunities for children to have meaningful experiences learning about history.
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