TEACHABLE MOMENTS: Building background knowledge

Tommy Fairweather
Tommy Fairweather

Recently, I overheard some teachers discussing that children today do not have the same amount of background knowledge as in years past. These teacher all had more than 20 years teaching young children. The unique ability of connecting background knowledge in an unusual way is the hallmark of creativity. All children should be building their own data base. The focus of this article is to provide suggested ways parents can help build their children’s background knowledge.

There is a post going around the internet that reading is the most effective way to add data to the brain. Reading aloud to your child and providing the child with appropriate books so he or she develops the love of reading is a key component to developing your children’s data bank. Parents can pay close attention to a child’s interest and then provide books that will stimulate the child to learn a topic much deeper than can happen in classrooms. Many children in elementary school become interested in either history or science. As I have stated before, librarians either at the child’s school or public library can help you find appropriate books on topics of your child’s interest. Online sources include National Science Teachers Association, National Council of Teachers of English, National Council of Social Studies, and The Newbery Award books (fiction and non-fiction). Remember, your child can also learn about history from an historical novel.

Visiting historical sites and science museums encourages children to develop an interest in a specific topic. Historical and science museums abound and road trips to these historical sites also can enhance your child’s knowledge of geography. A recent result of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test revealed that only 24 percent of U.S. eighth graders are proficient in geography. A wonderful summer trip at the end of fourth grade is a trip to Virginia to include Williamsburg, Jamestown and Monticello. Information learned visiting these three sites will improve a child’s engagement in fifth grade social studies. While traveling through New Mexico, my husband and I stopped at a small dinosaur museum. The director, who teaches paleontology at local junior college, provided us with a private tour. We learned about paleontology, geology and geography of that part of New Mexico.

Using the media wisely can build background knowledge. PBS would be the first go-to source. I would suggest viewing on the computer or tablet because you can pause the show and discuss what is said. PBS provides content on science and history. YouTube has many videos available like Bill Nye the Science Guy. As always, you should watch the video first and then watch the video with your child so you can have a discussion about it later. Brainpop.com and Renzullilearning.com can offer excellent resources.

Experiencing nature, experimentation and building can build background knowledge. If you have a fourth grader, you are in luck. Currently, National Parks are allowing families with fourth grade children to enter National Parks free. Check E. O. Wilson Biophilia website for activities for children. For children six and up and highly recommended is the Seacrest Wolf Preserve near Chipley, Fla. Many books and YouTube videos provide information about experimenting that can be fun. This experimenting can eventually lead to science fairs and scholarships. Lego’s, little bits, and erector sets can lead to a real interest in inventing, building and architecture.

Considering your child’s interest is important. If your child is interested in the arts, get him/her lessons, materials or supplies. Fortunately, the local area has many venues for lessons in the arts to include drama. Drama Kids offers classes in several locations. Art teachers abound and there are currently two art supply stores in Destin. Music is available as well via schools, churches and private teachers. Many bands began in garages with kids just playing around.

From birth to age 18, you have 1,872 weekend days plus vacation days to help your child build a strong background knowledge. If you have set the example for learning new information, your child will most likely continue that behavior when he/she has flown the nest. Remember, if you don’t help your child develop this background information, you are limiting his/her intellectual potential.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.