This past spring I attended the Indiana NAEYC (The National Association for the Education of Young Children) Conference.  There was one particular teaching concept that stood out to me!  Sometimes, as educators, we forget what we have done and how powerful it can be.    This  specific teaching strategy struck me as a key element in grabbing children’s interest and attention.

It is essential to know what major factors help children make that leap in learning.   Here is the big idea that I took away.


Once a child has explored these tools, one can show him/her a variety of ways to use tools and affect new learning.

  • First, place manipulative(s) or learning tools out without any directions.
  • Second, rotate them as necessary.
  • Third, when the children do not know what to do with materials, support their play and exploration with some ideas.
  • Finally, when a variety of ways has been exhausted, the child is now ready, and you have his/her full attention to use the materials as teaching concepts!

I find that children are way more creative than I could ever be.  They prove it over and over again with simple cardboard boxes or other unexpected materials.

One specific example I will never forget was during a visit with my niece in Canada.   Her one-year daughter and three-year old son were playing in the living room.  The younger child was balancing a red cup on her head that her brother placed there.  He started following her making siren sounds.  It was hilarious – one paper cup as a tool for learning and imagining!

There is no age limit either to introducing learning tools with play first!  Recently, I ordered a molecular set on line to help my eight-year old grandson see and learn some simple molecules; like water and carbon dioxide.  This particular set can grow with students all the way to organic chemistry.  Well, as you can tell in the post picture, he had fun using all the molecules!  He and his five year old cousin made tons of “alien molecules”!!





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