I have a five year old son, who has a better fundamental understanding of evolution, than I did when I was twenty. I took a picture book, Our Family Tree and built a narrative from the perspective of a single cell and it’s journey from being a free single cell to joining with others to become a trilobite, on through to human forms. I told the story as though that single cell knew and could “see” the various forms and creatures it was a part of on it’s journey and what it “thought” about those various stages, as the creatures it was a part of adapted and evolved – we continued it with the picture book When Whales Walked into the Sea. Both books were great in their own right, but when the new narative was added, he felt like he had an investment in this cell that was telling the story of it’s experience.
We have also used fictional stories to help him understand the rudimentaries of math, something that he just had no interest in, when left to boring numbers.
It is a matter of making the facts more interesting. it is also a matter of providing an emotional investment into the facts that they learn, thus making it easier for them to really retain the information and integrate it with other things they have learned – something that is especialy hard for younger children to do. a good example is my childs understanding of why dinosaurs and other great reptiliads dies off and extrapolating that to an understanding of why different animal species die off. instead of assuming that some massive change in the weather kills off every species that dies – he has come to understand that there are many different environmental factors, besides weather that can kill off different species.
With the various problem places my son has (mostly social at this stage) we have found that “immersion” or more accurately, sticking with them is a huge help. I think that endless repitition would be incredibly boring, if that’s all it is. Rather, what we do, is find all sorts of different contexts for addressing the same issue.
Take whining, rather than just addressing it when he is doing it, we address it when he isn’t as well. when we see another child, or even adults doing it, we point it out and talk about it. On the flip, we talk about it when we see someone who could be dealing with a particular situation by whining but doesn’t – especialy when he’s the kid in question and we talk about why that’s such a great thing. we also make up stories about it – not just his mom and I, he has to make up stories too, if he wants one from us, he has to tell us one.
We have also done this with learning about letters, numbers, reading, sharing and many other things he has learned about. the more problems he has in an area – and especialy the more boring he finds something, the more we address it and try to make it interesting. this doesn’t mean that we ignore the places he does well or things he finds interesting, it’s just that in those things, he doesn’t need nearly as much help getting interested and/or undertanding them.
Good or bad is very subjective. But my son has been reading since he was three – reads at a second grade level, w/ comprehension. he has a host of things that he understands and is able to corralate different things he has learned about with eachother, something that a lot of psychologists will say is flat out impossible for kids to do until they are at least seven or eight. a lot of this is due in part to a lot of fictionalising and a lot of immersion with problem areas. of course, this is also the result of his mom and I spending immense amounts of time focusing on him.