Making connections: An essential life skill for young children

Help children learn to make innovative connections to impact brain development.

Providing toys that exist for more than one purpose is one way to help children learn to make connections.

Providing toys that exist for more than one purpose is one way to help children learn to make connections.

One of the seven life skills in the book “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs” is making connections. As parents and caregivers of young children, it is good to pause and think about what this actually means. The Oxford dictionary defines the word connection as “the relationship in which a person or thing is linked or associated with something else.”

Think about all of the connections you have to make as an adult in your daily interactions; one route to work is less congested than another; if I always park near the east entrance of the shopping mall my car is easier to find; if I purchase an item in a larger package I get more.

Infants make connections long before we have the opportunity to teach them. Babies are born to communicate and make connections; babies learn quickly that that the person changing a diaper is mama, or when someone puts heavy clothing on him or her there will soon be a climate change. Young children are constantly putting things in categories; a ball is round, a spoon goes with a fork, snow is cold.

Helping children make connections involves assisting them with what is the same or different in two or more items. Making connections involves the prefrontal cortex of the developing brain where executive function assists in the process of figuring out how things relate to each other.

Michigan State University Extension suggest several ways to assist your child as they learn to make connections.

  • Provide lots of opportunities. Expose your child to a variety of people and places; talk, talk, talk, about everything! An oak leaf is shaped differently than a maple leaf. Clouds in the sky have different shapes and sizes. Strawberries can be big or small. Pieces of clothing can be soft or scratchy.
  • Provide toys that exist for more than one purpose. Blocks can be stacked, sorted by color, placed in piles by size, lined up, represent other things or built into a structure. Bathtub toys can float or sink in varying times depending on size and weight.
  • Let children explore. A caregiver or parent can “provide” tools, materials and opportunities, but the child should be able to “decide” what to use, when to begin and how to explore. Many connections and learning happen through experimentation.
  • Encourage, encourage, encourage. Your job as a role model and teacher is to provide tools, support, feedback and possibilities. Suggestions for options or open ended questions can assist a child in expanding their thought process for how things might work out differently or in a new way.

Help children make connections every day as they grow and learn. You will be providing them with another life skill through daily interactions and your encouragement. Your opportunities are endless.

For more on information caregiving or family issues that affect you, visit eXtension

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