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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Concept-based learning - Useful Techniques to Boost Learning in Children

By Andrew Loh

Learning though concepts is an elaborate process because it tries to change the way children think, process, and organize available information. Several useful techniques help children master concept based learning. Here are some of them:

Using concepts as tools: Concepts are very powerful because they provide an excellent and productive way of organizing learning experience. Children are known bloom in their early age with their thousands of ideas, concepts and expressions. However, they do not know how to organize and index them for maximum learning experience. William James, a noted authority on cognitive learning, termed this as “blooming but buzzing with plenty of confusions.” Children are just like their parents because they think just like adults although it occurs in a rudimentary way. Concept acquisition starts crystallizing when children reach their third year and it goes on enhancing until they become adult.

However, concepts are not merely tools of indexing information. They also become an important functional elements for streamlining a diverse range of cognitive tasks including object identification in the real world, creating useful meaning from useless ones, learning to deduce meaning and making inferences, and thinking in a critical manner. All these in combination will make children smarter and intelligent.

Induction is a process of learning in what manner concepts would extend and categorize inferences about the unknown. Children are known to possess basic knowledge and skill of using different categories to extend available knowledge beyond what is obvious or known to them. In other words, they are more likely to expand on what is already known to them. This stage is quite important as they should know how to categorize available information and extend it beyond to add other useful information.


Let us assume that children are told a new fact such as a particular butterfly has colored pigments inside their body and in wings. Now, children are more likely to conclude that all butterflies in the world have colored pigments inside their body and in wings. Children are capable enough to form an opinion on such similar facts and make a generalization out of it. In another example, let your children see a cactus plant bearing red flower, two Hibiscus plants bearing red and white colors respectively. Now, when you ask children to categorize and identify them and they may definitely get confused while answering. In fact, what they see are three different plants bearing three differently colored flowers. Some children who can absorb primary concepts may say that they can see three different flowers and nothing else.

Two Hibiscus flowers usually look similar and they are the members of the same family while cactus belongs to a different category. Outward appearances of two hibiscus flowers are similar while that of cactus looks entirely different. If you explain your children about these basic concepts and they would start extending their reasoning and thinking to understand basic concepts of learning. Similarly, it is easy to extend the appearance of each flower and try to infer that two flowers belong to one family while the other belongs to another.

Useful points

  • Children always use concepts although the ability to use it at an early age is rudimentary.

  • Children can extend their thinking to understand concepts related to unknown domains.

  • Children should know how to name different elements of a concept. With proper training, they can easily learn concept based lessons.

In another exemplar, children also possess a significant ability to use different strategies to understand concepts. This can be fine tuned by parents by asking probing and open ended questions. Here are some simple examples:

Show them different sets of pictures and ask them different open ended questions like:

  • Can you see this picture?

  • Could you find another one that is similar to the one that you just saw now?

  • Show me some similarities.

  • Are there any other similar looking pictures in the entire set?

  • Why some pictures are different?

Show them different words and ask the following questions:

  • Can you see the word “pen?”

  • If you see it, could you pick up the picture that says it is a pen?

  • Could you pick up different pictures that say pen?

  • Now, do they look similar?

  • If pen is used to write words, what are the other words that could be considered as writing tools?

These could be repeated with any different types of concepts. The main goals are to make your children understand them by relating to previous experience and extend it to other types. Learning concepts is relative and by understanding concepts, children will start thinking at a conceptual level. Concepts are easy to learn by connecting different dots by asking questions and replying with suitable answers. It also involves giving justification and indexing ideas. With all these approaches curiosity level for learning gets a boost eventually leading to wholesome learning.

Featured Resource

Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential
By Peg Dawson, EdD and Richard Guare, PhD

The latest research in child development shows that many kids who have the brain and heart to succeed lack or lag behind in crucial “executive skills”--the fundamental habits of mind required for getting organized, staying focused, and controlling impulses and emotions. Learn easy-to-follow steps to identify your child's strengths and weaknesses, use activities and techniques proven to boost specific skills, and problem-solve daily routines.

There's nothing more frustrating than watching your bright, talented son or daughter struggle with everyday tasks like finishing homework, putting away toys, or following instructions at school. Your “smart but scattered” child might also have trouble coping with disappointment or managing anger. Drs. Peg Dawson and Richard Guare have great news: there's a lot you can do to help.


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