I just read an article about meta-cognition in young children. Meta-cognition means to think about thinking, or have an awareness of one’s thinking. When we come across new materials, we will file away that information, but we will only remember it better if we make connections with existing knowledge. Highlight the similarities to what young children already know, and then state the differences. The next time they come across something similar, they can apply their knowledge. Even if it is something that is a new concept, if they can see the link to their pre-existing knowledge, they will be able to understand better.
Recently, there was a huge uproar over the riots in Little India, that was sparked off after a bus ran over a drunk foreign worker and killed him instantly. Fuelled by alcohol, the people who were congregating there started pelting the bus with stones, hurling concrete slabs at the police cars, smashing the windows, then attacking the paramedics and the police officers. Images of overturned burning police cars were extremely shocking, and explosions were heard.
I did not want to mollycoddle my elder son, so I decided to let him know about what was happening. It was of interest as the scene of the riots was just a few streets away from his preschool. I showed him pictures of the overturned burning police vehicles, and told him that they were rioting. I linked it to him and Gar fighting, but this was on a larger scale because the men were very angry, and they were not behaving well. Hence, the police arrested them. I explained the concept of arrest to him.I also added that we should behave properly and not do the wrong things, infusing some values into this conversation.
I was worried that he might become fearful, but surprisingly he took it as a matter-of-fact, and even showed the pictures to his grandmother and explained to her in his limited Mandarin, saying the rioters had been ‘naughty’. Telling other people about what you have just learnt will reinforce the knowledge, and this helps with retention of information.
A week later, I was picking him up from school. I saw a large group of people gathering in front of a few cars, talking. It was a little ironic as that gathering they have might be considered as illegal gathering, but they might be law enforcers, based on my assumptions. I should not be too far wrong, as there was a police car parked pretty near them, and there was a police station 50 metres away. Perhaps they had been there to conduct more investigations, or another crime might have taken place.
I pointed them out to El, and said they could be police officers. Why were they there, he asked. I supposed that crime had been committed and they were investigating that. What was a crime, he wondered. I said a crime is something that is illegal, not right. Some examples included stealing, which meant taking things without permission, robbing, fighting, killing, and so on. They could also be rioting, and I proceeded to talk about what had happened last week again. He immediately said he knew what rioting was. He remembered the overturned burning police cars that he saw the week before.
What I had done was to activate his schema, and build on existing knowledge. Young children can understand difficult concepts, as long as you take your time to explain, and help them to make links. This helps them to remember things better.