Age Appropriate Teaching
“Just as a berry ripens in its own good time…so does a child’s readiness.” Fred Rogers
A child’s capacity to learn depends on their developmental level. This means that their ability to understand is influenced by their age and stage of development. Children can become frustrated when new information is not consistent with what they already know. Sometimes this challenge makes them accommodate for the new information and they learn something new. Difficulty assimilating or accommodating information is evidenced by the statements, “this doesn’t make any sense” or “I don’t understand any of this.” When this happens it is important to go back to what they know and build on that.
If a child is excited about something they will be motivated to learn about it; link new information to things they enjoy. Reading is a fundamental skill that builds on the child’s understanding of letters and letter sounds. Continue to review letter sounds even after the child begins to read words; this will strengthen their reading skills.
When a child is reading books that are too difficult they lose interest in reading. As they struggle to sound out words, they lose the meaning and start to think that reading doesn’t make sense. Reading becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. Surprisingly, books that are “too easy” are still beneficial to the child. It improves their fluency and builds their confidence. They are able to enjoy the book without too much effort. They have a better grasp of the meaning and it builds their rapid word recognition. Easy reading is enjoyable and makes the child like to read.
It is important to find books that are “just right.” These books stretch the reader, build on their skills, and learn new strategies. The child is able to make predictions about what will happen next and form opinions about the nature of the characters in the story. If a book is just right, the child can read it at a good rate and it sounds like oral expression, but they occasionally slow down to figure out an unfamiliar word or understand the sentence structure. The reader has to engage in the process of “working out” the text. They may need to look back in the story to gain understanding.
Consider Piaget’s 4 stages of cognitive development:
- Ages 0-2 years: Sensorimotor stage (children learn through their senses and movement; knowledge is based on actual experiences and interactions; they are forming language; children begin to recognize letters and numbers; they have a sense of object permanence and they engage in purposeful behavior; they begin trial-and-error problem solving)
- Children at this stage benefit most from hands-on learning activities that involve the senses and movement (wooden knob puzzles, child-friendly musical instruments, wooden activity cube, shape sorting cube, stacking cups, bubbles). Help children learn language by using correct speech and sentence structure. Age appropriate teaching at this stage involves getting their attention, letting them explore with their senses, and providing a language rich environment. Nursery rhymes and songs help develop phonemic awareness (Twinkle, Twinkle; Itsy-Bitsy Spider; Humpty Dumpty; Baa, Baa, Black Sheep).
- Book suggestions for this stage: Hop on Pop; We’re Going on a Bear Hunt; Fox in Socks; Pat the Bunny; Chicka Chicka Boom Boom; The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Global Babies; Goodnight Moon; Brown Bear, Brown Bear
- Ages 2-7 years: Preoperational stage (egocentric; difficulty in reverse thinking; greatest language growth is during this stage; trial-and-error problem solving increases; they begin to classify objects in multiple ways; children at this stage prefer to learn in ascending order; they can use mental images and symbolic thought; can understand simple rules)
- Introduce new vocabulary words to your child in everyday speech and use synonyms. Age appropriate teaching at this stage involves giving clear and simple directions, providing examples, relating information to what they already know, and using manipulatives. Children at this stage have difficulty understanding another person’s point of view. It is a good time to work on empathy and concern for others. Read to your child often and have them read to you.
- Book suggestions for this stage: Frog and Toad are Friends; Little Bear; Mr. Putter and Tabby; Strega Nona; Henry and Mudge; Go Away, Dog; See Me Dig; See Me Run; Mouse Soup; Fancy Nancy; Mo Willems books; Dr. Seuss books; books by Beatrix Potter; books by A.A. Milne
- Ages 7-11 years: Concrete operational stage (children begin to think logically and can reverse thinking; can express thoughts in writing; less egocentric; better communication skills; difficulty with abstract reasoning; can distinguish between reality and fantasy; greater capacity for memory, attention, and concentration)
- Age appropriate teaching at this stage utilizes concrete learning aids and gives explicit directions and examples. Children at this stage are able to inverse math operations. Reading aloud to children is beneficial to children of all ages.
- Book suggestions for this stage include: Judy Moody, The Little Prince, Mary Poppins, Chronicles of Narnia, books by Roald Dahl, books by Beverly Cleary, books by E.B. White; Hank the Cowdog series
- Ages 11+ years: Formal operational stage (children can understand concepts, ideas, and theories; abstract thought and scientific experimentation; ethical and moral principals; they no longer need to manipulate objects to solve problems; self-reflective thought)
- Book suggestions for this stage include: The Borrowers, The Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, Wayside School, books by J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Little Men, Harry Potter, Eragon, Wonder, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Bridge to Terabithia, Coraline, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, A Series of Unfortunate Events
“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild
to pick up a book and read to a child.”