Little Learners, Big Ideas

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When we think of helping young children become innovators, we often imagine them exploring, investigating, and creating. We envision them designing buildings, exploring bubbling science experiments, or writing the next great novel. We know our little learners are full of BIG ideas, but we also know they cannot do it alone. As educators and parents, how do we help our children become the next great innovators? The truth is the foundation for great thinking starts long before a child steps foot inside a school. The first years of a child’s life are a magical time full of curiosity and wonder. It can be a daunting task for parents and teachers to think about how to harness all of that wonder and turn it into an opportunity for learning.

The Center for Gifted Studies at Western Kentucky University and Innovate Kentucky received a $150,000 grant from the PNC Foundation. This PNC Grow Up Great grant was used to create a six-part video series to help educators and parents learn practical, easy-to-implement strategies to support young children in the development of critical thinking skills. Filming occurred throughout the spring of 2014 at a wide variety of locations including a Winter Super Saturdays class in February for a group of kindergarten learners with BIG ideas, a fun-filled day of science investigation with twenty-three parents and children at the Kentucky Science Center in Louisville, an afternoon of reading at the Warren County Public Library, and an outdoor adventure at Lost River Cave.

Click on each title to access the video and an infographic summarizing the main points.

[message type=”simple”]THE VIDEOS[/message]

A Thinker's Toolbox

Can you imagine trying to build a house without wood or nails? Or to bake a cake without flour and sugar? You couldn’t do either of those things without the proper tools. The same is true of critical thinking. If we want our little learners to be able to explore, investigate, and create, he or she will need specific tools to do so. This video explores ideas to help children investigate ideas. Noticing patterns, making choices, and hands-on, minds-on learning opportunities provide children with the skills they need to fill their Thinker’s Toolbox.

An Environment for Exploring

Think back to the best classroom you were a part of when you were in school. What made it the best? Sometimes it’s hard to pin down just one reason. Maybe it was what the room looked like. Maybe it was how the teacher made you feel. Maybe it was because you got to explore something you were interested in. Really though, it was probably a combination of all of those things. The video An Environment for Exploring helps parents and teachers understand how to create an environment that supports thinking.

Growing Young Minds

Like a tree, a young mind is constantly growing and changing. It needs challenge, reassurance, and modeling to reach its full potential. If we expect children to learn and innovate, we should also expect them to make mistakes. Working through failure is difficult, even as adults. However, if a person is really working to her full potential, she will make mistakes. It is a natural part of learning, but it is not always easy. Oftentimes children do not know how to react to failure and challenge. They will sometimes want to shut down which, in turn, stops learning. Children need an opportunity to be challenged in order to experience this type of learning. They also need adults to help them learn to persevere when things are difficult. This video gives parents and educators quick and easy tips to help ensure that children are challenged and strategies to help children learn from their mistakes. After all, mistakes are just proof you are learning!

Learning on the go

Learning doesn’t have to always take place in school or the home. As a matter of fact, it shouldn’t always occur in those places. Authentic learning can happen anywhere: the museum, the library, the backyard, the grocery. John Holt, author of How Children Learn, says, “There is no difference in living and learning…. It is harmful and misleading to think of them as being separate.” Learning in the real world provides children the opportunity to be curious about the world around them, to understand that they can learn anywhere at any time, to use new vocabulary, and to solve problems as they make sense of the world around them. It is also very engaging. Engagement is the key to learning. Learning on the Go gives parents and educators simple but powerful ideas to help their young child learn.

Little Learners and Literacy

When we hear the word literacy, we often think it means reading. However, the truth is literacy begins long before a child identifies her first letter or reads his first word. Literacy is speaking. Literacy is listening. Literacy is writing. Literacy is connected to everything we do. If we expect our little learners to explore their great ideas, they need to be able to share them through listening and speaking. As children get older, they will communicate through reading and writing. All areas of literacy are connected; therefore, it is important that we give them many opportunities as young thinkers to practice these skills. This video focuses on helping parents and educators take advantage of opportunities to promote literacy skills in their little learner.

Wonder and Curiosity

Why does the rain fall down? How did my paint water turn green? What makes flowers grow in spring? Children are naturally curious. They question everything around them. One recent survey suggested that preschool aged children ask between 200-400 questions per day. Children are born to be little learners. We know that questioning is a critical part of thinking and problem solving. However, as parents and teachers, these curious minds provide us with a fragile opportunity. Our reactions to their questions give us a chance to either encourage or stifle learning. The same survey found that by the time children are nine, they are asking only about 140 questions per day. Often that number will continue to drop as they go through school. This video focuses on helping parents and teachers understand how to respond to questions and kindle the fire of wonder and curiosity.