The importance of making connections

Children can expand their thinking by making connections.

Children sort and categorize objects as one way of learning how things are connected.

Children sort and categorize objects as one way of learning how things are connected.

Making connections is just another way to describe learning how things are related to each other and how the physical world works. Babies make connections from the minute they’re born, like knowing that when they see a bottle it is feeding time. As young children grow and develop, they learn to make connections in order to understand and master their worlds. We continue to make these connections all the way into adulthood, and these connections are what allow us to understand and be successful in the world we live in. This can be as simple as recognizing the need to bring your umbrella to work when the sky is dark and cloudy, to making smart financial decisions because you understand interest rates and debt accumulation.

Making connections

In “Mind in the Making: The seven essential life skills every child needs,” author Ellen Galinsky explains that making connections actually involves developing an understanding of how things are connected, including:

  • Similarities. Children naturally learn to sort and categorize objects. They classify by shape, size, color and type.
  • Differences. Classifying objects requires understanding how they are different, just as much as it does understanding how they are the same. For example, understanding that penguins and ostriches are birds, but unlike other birds they do not fly.
  • Relationships. Plates, spoons and forks are all different objects. They may not be similar in shape, size or even color, but they are related because they are all objects used to eat. Children build connections by gaining an understanding of how things are related.
  • Unusual connections. When children are able to make connections that are unusual or that go against the norm, they have the basis for true creative thinking. As they develop their own unique perspective, they can think of new and interesting ways to understand and interact in the world. For example, taking a game they understand, like baseball, and then making new an innovate connections to change it into a new game.

Supporting the development of communicating

  • Make mistakes OK. Making mistakes is a necessary part of learning, and when children make mistakes they also make connections. In fact, those lessons are often the easiest to remember because children have experienced a real-life consequence.
  • Encourage exploration in play. Help children make a treasure map or hunt for buried treasures. This will give them a fun and entertaining opportunity to explore and make connections in their environment.
  • Play games. Help children learn about connections by playing sorting games. You could go on a “shape hunt” and search for objects of different shapes.
  • Point out new connections. Promote making new connections by giving children feedback on their thinking. Help them see connections they may not have noticed on their own and ask questions like: what do you notice, why do you think that happened, what does it mean, etc.
  • Encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Help children see things in different ways. Ask them to imagine what life would be like if we only walked backwards, or if we could only run places, and never walk. Help them think in new and creative ways.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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