Constructivism and your child

 - by Sarah Lipoff

Now that the tot is three, so many things have changed. She can talk her way through temper-tantrums explaining to us specifically why she is screaming and ranting, run that much faster away from us while we yell her name (desperately), and determine for herself if she’d like to nap or not (which is not so great for any down time for me). Sure, she’s also developing in amazing ways and exploring all the new things her brain and body can do, but it really seems so many of those things turn into a reason to have a toddler/parent show down.

And, during those moments, I try to take a few deep breaths and remind myself she’s a toddler and her behavior is typical. She’s also learning from the world around her, so setting a positive example is essential. It’s also pretty important to take a step back as the parent and give the child a chance to explore and learn from mistakes.

Through the concept of constructivism, a child is encouraged to learn through determining his own path of knowledge and individual process. Each child is different and special, just like their learning, and constructivism supports the idea that we construct our own understanding of the world we live in through generating rules and ideas based on individual experiences and trail and error. With the learning theory of constructivism, there are no flash cards or standardized tests. Instead, the child is supported to follow her instinct and create her own knowledge and strategies for understanding and learning.

Um, what the heck is constructivism? Don’t worry, it’s nothing to freak out about – and you might find learning about constructivism benefits you and your child. So, here are some facts…

The history of social constructivism leads us back to Lev Vygotsky and his social theories of learning. His studies found that a child often successfully accomplished new tasks while working in collaboration with an adult instead of on his own. This does not mean the adult is teaching the child how to solve problems, but through the act of the adult engaging with the child the learning experience improves and offers the child the ability to refine thinking and perform effectively. It is the idea of “can do” versus “cannot do,” and offering the child opportunities to change to the “can do” attitude with supportive, individual adult input.

By combining the idea of social and cognitive constructivism, the child is able to develop in positive ways. Social constructivism emphasizes the learning a child accomplishes through interaction with others and outside experiences. Cognitive constructivism is based on a child’s developmental stages and individual learning style. As stated before, each child is different and when her specific learning style is determined, her ability to learn is enhanced, especially when adults are able to fine-tune teaching to fit her specific learning.

Teaching with Constructivism

The educational system is not conducive to comfortably support constructivism in the mainstream classroom. But, there are small things educators, and parents, can do to support a child’s learning and development through constructivist theory. It is thought that most educators view learning as an objectivist theory, with the belief that learning exists outside of the bodies of learners residing in books and other educational documents. This leads to curriculum being based on teaching the child through textbooks instead of through experience. Through constructivism, the main way of learning is the senses, causing the brain to build a full understanding of the surrounding world. This leads us back to the understanding that each child is an individual creating separate unique responses and experiences.

With testing being the popular way to determine a child’s knowledge base, constructivism encourages the concept of experience and interaction. The process of learning through doing and engaging is the goal. Also, understanding each individual child’s prior-knowledge is key, used to build and grow adult interactions and teachings. This encourages greater bonds between adult and child and deeper educational experiences resulting in higher knowledge and self-esteem.

Ways to Integrate Constructivism

Introducing constructivist theory may seem like an unattainable goal for the classroom, but educators can make a difference through making simple changes and a bit of extra time. Parents can benefit from doing the same thing, creating a positive environment where the child is encouraged to explore and build his knowledge base through constructive ideals.

Take time to talk: It’s challenging in a bustling classroom to cover topics required by state standards of learning and maintain requirements of the school, but shortening lectures and book study and adding more interaction and discussion is one way to offer each student the opportunity to take part in learning. Including activities that encourage the student to apply their existing knowledge and real-world experiences promotes constructive learning. A healthy class debate is always a wonderful way to talk things out and hypothesis new ideas and problem solving.

At home, take time to talk through problems and encourage conversations at the dinner table, discussing new and exciting topics. And, don’t forget to ask lots of open-ended questions!

Doing is learning: Get out of the classroom and use those senses for learning! This goes for the home environment, too. As a population, we get caught up with the Internet and other social media as ways of entertainment and education. That big, heavy textbook has been replaced with surfing the interwebs. Turn to the great outdoors, along with real-life social interactions for learning and growth. Taking students into the real world to test their ideas and knowledge benefits constructive learning and understanding. Encourage a group discussion to finish the lesson after the out-of-classroom experience. And, parents can do the same by getting out of the house for a simple nature walk.

Ditch your expectations: Constructivism is not about test results and rote learning but about developing the child’s senses and understanding of the world around her. Find ways to encourage that learning through doing activities that are free of set limits and end results. Allowing a child to experiment with open-ended activities encourages creativity and self-esteem. If talking about weather systems, have students create a colorful weather collage. When discussing architecture, brainstorm as a group ways for building better covered bridges. Not only is the child developing her brain in amazing ways, she is pushing her senses to the limits learning more about his strengths and weaknesses and then making adjustments. Offering pre-tests allows for the teacher to gain understanding of student’s existing knowledge, aiding in creating educational lesson plans.

At home, direct open-ended questions without pressure on expectations. Use language focused on learning instead of results, such as grades, to instill confidence.

Introducing constructivist theory into the home or classroom is easier than one might think and offers fantastic benefits for both child and adult. So get out there and do some open-ended activities!

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