Opening a file, I’ve heard it called. Imagine your child’s mind like a computer hard drive. They are sponges for information, and ask a million questions, storing away the answers. Even when it’s a concept they cannot possibly grasp completely, there is no harm in explaining it simply, opening a file on that subject so they have somewhere to put supplemental information down the road as they learn more.
As one article says, “The National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) emphasized the importance of introducing science concepts early on and providing opportunities for students to build on these ideas in deeper ways across the grades.” (from Reading Rockets) Not just in school, but in life, this is important. Start small, keep it simple, but don’t shy away from big concepts because it’s important for kids to have context and a place to put new information as it comes their way whether in school, books, movies, conversation, classes, observations…you name it!
There are some great books out there doing just this! Here’s one of our favorites:
Variables are turned into characters in a “story” (it’s not the most epic story line, but it works) introducing quite a few calculus concepts. While the equations are included, they’re mostly for the adults, but in general it’s sparked several conversations about math symbols.
The funniest part is how, because f and x are the main characters, as in f(x), Eddie picked those letters out of our magnetic alphabet and carried them around like little playmates. For awhile there, f had to go everywhere with us, and when we left her at someone’s house, arrangements had to be made to retrieve her the very next day! (Insert eye-roll emoji. Just kidding, I find this nurturing instinct absolutely adorable, truth be told, although it is at times inconvenient!)
It can be challenging to even think where to begin when my preschooler asks what gravity is or how cars work, and it feels like he’s bitten off more than he can chew in terms of information overload or processing ability. I often don’t know where to start (or should I say, I have to start with Wikipedia) or how to simplify it enough to make it understandable, at least enough to satisfy his present curiosity. But if I picture his little brain like a computer, I want this high-curiosity season to result in a mind teeming with open files, ready to be added to over the coming years with interest and experience as his guide.