‘Understanding the world’ is one of the four specific areas of learning and development specified in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). This area can be further divided into ‘people and communities’, ‘the world’ and ‘technology’. Their respective goals set for children are as follows:
People and communities
Pupils should: love photos and stories related to themselves and their family; imitate familiar behaviours and activities during play time; begin to make friends; show interest in different occupations and ways of life; recognise and describe special times or events for family or friends; know some of the things that make them unique, and talk about some of the similarities and differences in relation to friends or family; love to obey family routines and rules and fit in.
Pupils should: be interested in observing rooms and the novel objects and things in it; love to observe animals, people and vehicles; try to connect different objects; explore interactions with things in different ways, such as shaking, hitting, watching, feeling, tasting, pulling, spinning and poking; remember how objects are placed; have the ability to match different parts of an object; love to play with small world models; observe the detailed features of objects around them; comment and ask questions about aspects of their familiar world such as the place where they live or the natural environment that they have been to visit; talk about what they observe, such as animals, plants and objects; explain why things happen and talk about various changes they can observe.
Pupils should: be interested in toys with buttons, vibrations and simple mechanics and begin to play with them; try to learn basic skills such as turning on and operating electronic products; know how to operate simple equipment, e.g. turning on a CD player and using a remote control; show skill in making toys work by pressing parts or lifting flaps to achieve effects such as sound, movement or new images; know that information can be retrieved from computers; complete simple operations on a computer.
By teaching pupils how to understand the world, we can develop their following abilities:
- Ability to observe
- Ability to compare
- Ability to find problems
- Ability to solve problems
- Ability to use languages
- Ability to predict
- Ability to listen and understand
- Ability to assess
- Ability to read
- Ability to sequence
- Ability to make decisions
- Ability to search information
What kind of activities that we can conduct at home to promote these abilities
- Rule-based games and role plays
Games play a critical role in children’s learning and growth. Rule-based games focus on rules. For preschool children, these kinds of games will promote the development of their awareness regarding rules. During game time, visualising the rules is one of the most effective methods to help children understand and obey said rules. For example, you can find interesting ways to visualise the rules in simple yet demonstrative pictures and paste them on the wall as helpful reminders.
Adults often find that children are eager to imitate others and find it to be great fun. Some children like to play the role of firefighter, others like to play the role of doctor or mother. Children express their understanding of these social roles through their imitative behaviours. They also take the advantage of role play games to voice their inner sentiment and resolve their potential conflicts with adults. Adults can provide some materials in real life for children which will help them to play different roles, e.g. old cell phones, wallets, jewellery and safe, imitation syringes. Besides role play, we can ask friends to introduce and talk about their occupations or utilise information on the internet to acquaint children with job titles and their corresponding responsibilities they are interested in.
2. Read scientific story books with children and do simple experiments together
Scientific story books are like keys that young children can use to open the door to the wider world of science world as they see its purpose and presence in their daily lives. Adults can make use of common items in their home to do scientific experiments with their children, which will ignite their inquiry desire and train their cognitive and inquisitive capabilities. For example, familiar materials such as salt, water and glasses can be used to carry out a floating egg scientific experiment, exploring how salt affects the state of an egg in water.
3.Discuss phenomena around you with children
Take the COVID-19 epidemic that we are all concerned about, for example. You can talk about various problems with children based on what they already know and what they are curious or concerned about. Ask them whether the face masks that people wear are all the same. The protective face masks have different colours and types. Some are made of soft cloths while others may have a breathing valve. Older children may notice the varying colours in the dynamic map of the national COVID-19 epidemic situation. The dark colour means that this region has a large number of confirmed cases and the light colour indicates fewer cases in the region. Ask children whether they understand this kind of categorisation and its meaning. We also can show our pupils how to obtain information via modern forms of communication, such as social media, TV news and others hands-on experiences. In the meantime, it is important to guide children to judge whether the information they discover is true or false.
4. Become a curious adult
Today’s education is not limited to imparting knowledge. Rather, we want to cultivate children who are grateful and independent thinkers, who are passionate about life and eager to explore the world. Parents, as the first teachers of their children, will have a tremendous impact on their whole life. A curious and knowledge-driven parent who has a lifelong learning attitude will thus become an invaluable asset for their children’s ongoing education. Show children how we cultivate our habits, adhere to the habits of reading, maintain curiosity about new things and keeping a rational attitude towards problems in life. All these will help children to form a healthy outlook on the world and life while developing good moral and social values.
The daily routines in our lives, which are often regarded as undramatic by adults, are keys for children to understand the world and to inspire them to think. All parents have had the experience of being annoyed by endless ‘why?’ questions asked of them by their children. This is because from the age of 0-6, children have high brain plasticity and sensitivity. The neurons in their brains want to connect with each other to create new routes and form a ‘web’ through the information they receive. The density of this web is related to children’s intelligence.
The seemingly common events of everyday life all can stimulate the connection of neurons in the brain, e.g. playing with water, sand and toy cars, walking barefoot, throwing and dismantling things, and role playing. Adults are better off not interrupting their children’s exploration and instead should offer them more opportunities to understand their world. We also need to satisfy their curiosity while allowing them to explore the world with their different sense organs. This plays an active role in developing their brains, which will promote their abilities in all areas, such as language, logic, art, social relationships, space, self-cognition etc.
Cultivating children’s ability to understand the world allows them to gain scientific experiences as well as new approaches to obtaining scientific knowledge. This also enables them to respect and love nature, which will motivate them to protect our living world. All in all, this ability is of great importance in cultivating young children’s scientific attainment at an early stage along with their sense of sustainable development. In the end, this approach represents a promising path ahead, not only for the individual child’s personal and academic growth, but also for the cooperation and betterment of humanity overall.