In order to teach using developmentally appropriate practices, a hands-on approach must be taken with young children. How much did you learn and remember as a result of being lectured in school?

Research shows that people demonstrate intelligence in ways that writing cannot always accommodate, and we also know that children learn not only through auditory means, but also visually and kinesthetically.

We know that when students do not come genuinely to understand the information, ideas, and skills to which they are exposed, they are powerless to use or to transfer those ideas—or often even to recall them (National Research Council 1999).

Invitational learning is not opposed to challenging learning. In fact, student self-efficacy stems from accomplishing work that seemed a bit out of reach. Teachers who promote invitational learning use curiosity, humor, objects, variety, student choice, action, puzzlement, stories—whatever it takes—to hook learners so that they find it difficult to resist the challenge. Students remember activities, moments when they experienced success, and assessments that helped them earn positive feedback. As time passes, children remember less and less of what they simply listened to someone say.

In a standards-based academic environment, it is not difficult to begin to utilize drilling and memorization exercises. However, we know that memorizing a string of facts (soon to be forgotten) does not help a child truly learn and deeply understand the material. Children must manipulate concrete objects, write stories centered around a concept, and talk about what it means.

In fact, they cling to the misperceptions they had of how things work because the misperceptions are more useful to the learner in explaining things than is the “correct” information they “learned” (Gardner 1999).

Consider the Virginia Standard of Learning 6.6:
The student will investigate and understand how to classify materials as elements, compounds, or mixtures.

Key concepts include:

  • mixtures can be separated by physical processes;
  • compounds can only be separated by chemical processes;
  • elements cannot be separated by physical or chemical means.

When a ten-year-old child reads this information in a textbook, s/he probably has not had much experience separating mixtures by physical means or separating compounds by chemical processes– or so s/he thinks. Rather than memorizing these facts, students learn best by participating in activities that let them actually perform these processes.

An effective activity could be as simple as mixing Lego blocks together and separating the yellow blocks out of the mixture by removing them by hand. The child now has an actual experience to couple with the knowledge that mixtures can be separated by physical processes. S/he can apply that knowledge more effectively on a test, but more importantly, s/he can better apply the new knowledge in a real world situation.

Many of the Virginia learning standards include words like observe, experiment, and classify. The following chart has been adopted from Teaching Science As Inquiry, Prentice-Hall 2001. As you teach children scientific vocabulary, you may find it beneficial to integrate the Children’s Activities that more fully explain the word.

Science Skill Children’s Activities

  • observe look, listen, smell, taste, listen
  • experiment change something and see what happens
  • collaborate partner with a classmate
  • record keep a journal or score card
  • measure scale, ruler, stopwatch, measuring cup
  • sort and classify color, size, shape, weight
  • compare fastest, largest, farthest
  • analyze what happens most
  • share information at recess, “Guess what I found out!”