One of the best things for brain development in young children, whether at home or at school, is to get them to focus on small details.Children have a built-in radar for small details, but often it is of the irrelevant sort, such as when you spend ten minutes in a serious conversation with a child and at the end you realize that they haven’t heard a word that you said because they have been focusing on the minute speck of lint on your shirt. What I am talking about is training the brain to purposely look for and notice small details, which will pay huge dividends in school later on in many different ways.
As always, the best path for learning in young children can come in the form of games and fun. One way to train for details is the old set up where you have two almost identical pictures side by side, but the second picture has been changed in several slight ways. The child has to scour the picture and circle what is different. They love this.A variation on this is to take a child, or a doll, and have the children stare at their clothing, then everyone close their eyes (good luck with that) and when they reopen them they have to figure out which piece of clothing has changed. Or have a child go into a certain portion of the room and remove something (or add something) and everyone has to guess what it was.
Puzzles are still my go-to favorite for children attending to details. They can look for pieces that match by color, or subject (“Yes, that looks like it is part of the tree”) or shape. The beauty is that the brain has to attend to several details at once to make it work. A child may find a piece that matches the color and subject matter, but still has to deal the shape to make the piece fit right. This multi-dimensional attention to detail plays out everytime a child gets two pieces that they know go together, but then has to keep moving the pieces around and around until they are in place. Puzzles carry the added weight of having the child physically manipulate the details in front of them, as opposed to just looking. It also builds patience because smashing the square peg into the round hole doesn’t ever seem to work.
Loaded wise-guy type of questions work wonders on a child’s ability to articulate detail.Adult: (looking at a picture of a duck) “I think that it is an eagle.” Child: (Incredulous) “What? That’s a duck.” Adult: No it’s not, it’s an eagle.” Child: (Voice rising in pitch, tone and volume) “It’s a duck!!!” Adult: “I think you have gone crazy. What in the world makes you think that this is a duck and not an eagle?” (Now the adult has the child exactly where he wants him – in full tilt lawyer mode.) “That’s a duck – see the webbed feet. Eagles don’t have webbed feet, they have talons. Look at that – the duck has a bill. The eagle doesn’t have a bill, it has a beak, and a sharp one at that. And look at those feathers….” And the details in comparison just keep on rolling out. Bingo. Now, most small children aren’t precocious enough to use the word “talon” but you will catch their drift when they point out that only an idiot would think that an eagle has webbed feet.
What every teacher on this planet loves is when a child kicks into lawyer mode – backing a point of view with a myriad of relevant details. Now we are talking higher level thinking that will pay off in any profession. Attention to detail can be taught in a hundred creative ways. “Let’s go outside and look for a four leaf clover.” Or, when a child only has the word “blue” in her vocabulary, post a chart with twenty different shades of blue. Soon you will get “I believe that blue is too dark – I think I will go with azure for the sky” as she is coloring away and the adult is racing to the bookshelf for the dictionary. It’s all in the details.