The time between 6 and 7 is one of many academic changes for young children. Advancing in learning at this age means discovering how to map signs and symbols (letters and numbers) onto concepts (to know that + means to add, or that -th is pronounced /th/). The more able children are to understand how the symbol systems work, the more they are able to use math and reading to advance learning, thinking, and problem solving. One tool for advancing learning in each of these areas is the ability to (independently) form inferences, a skill that is beginning to come online by the end of this period. Children create inferences when they combine previous knowledge and information available from the text or situation (e.g., using picture cues or other non-stated “hints”) to draw conclusions. Doing so allows children to move beyond memorization. While even preschoolers can make inferences, they do not know how to use this ability as a tool for learning, an imperative academic skill moving forward. One fun way to support this development is with these online inference riddles or take advantage of the incredible Into the Book site. Get a “key” and click on the book, then drag the magnifying glass into the book and enjoy! Don’t forget to also check out Blue Ribbon Interactives.
As children fully enter school, they experience exponential growth across all subjects, most notably math and reading. In addition, their fine motor and thinking skills converge and their writing abilities improve substantially as they advance in their use of both upper and lower case letters, and in their ability to predict and describe what happens next in a sequence or story. Somewhere between 6 and 8, children transform into true readers. They can give and follow directions for moving around a room or on a map. They begin to discern shades of meaning and therefore can more easily discern fact from opinion. To support this development, try out this online facts and opinions game or Evelyn's Exhibition, where kids advance in the game by answering questions correctly.
The development of math skills, like skills in reading, involves understanding the system of written symbols (e.g., that ‘+’ means addition). Children use their conceptual and linguistic developments in math in other ways as well, being able to apply terms like “the number after” or “ten before.” Estimation skills come online, as does skip counting (counting by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s), which is the prelude to learning multiplication. By the time they are 8, a number of children move from the ability to use single-digit to the ability to manipulate double-digit numbers. Most also learn to use tallies, read an analog clock, and identify and count coins—all uses of the symbolic representation of numbers. In addition, by the time they are 8, many children become able to apply these skills to solve more complicated math problems, such as multi-step problems. They understand the concept of "odd" and "even" numbers and can represent numbers on a number line or with written words. Children this age benefit from playing games that require thinking about numbers, shapes, and problem solving skills, so try out some fun activities, such as online addition games, making pasta necklace patterns, or playing games such as memory or concentration.
Children’s scientific thinking continues to be influenced by their cognitive capabilities. For example, as a result of their animistic thinking (believing that animals think and feel like humans), they may suggest a worm has eyelashes. While children will outgrow this type of thinking on their own, parents can provide experiences that will support their child’s foundation knowledge about animals. Instead of simply answering your child’s questions or explaining why his thinking is wrong, allow your child to discover discrepancies on his own.
Most six- and seven-year-old children begin to apply scientific thinking while formulating rudimentary hypotheses to try and answer questions about their world. For instance, he may suggest having a snowball race down the hill to see if smaller or bigger snowballs are faster. Children are also beginning to better understand cause and effect. For a more challenging experience with these skills, try out the mechanical thinking involved in this kinetic sculpture.
As children settle into school, their individual learning style becomes more apparent. As put forth by Howard Gardener, intelligence is not a static, fixed notion. Rather, he posits there are Multiple Intelligences, eight learning domains including verbal-linguistic, mathematical-logical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and naturalist. Thus, different learning strengths and weaknesses allow children to learn different kinds of tasks with relative ease or struggle. You can determine your child’s learning profile here or here.
Learning style may not be the only factor in how easy or hard something is for a child to learn. According to Russian theorist Lev Vygotsky, social interaction with a skillful tutor (what he calls the More Knowledgable Other, which can be an adult or a skilled peer) is central to child advancement. In fact, he claims that children can most easily learn if supported within what he terms the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Providing this support is called scaffolding, which refers to the changing level of guidance/structure given to lead the child in learning, without taking over. Understanding this concept allows us to understand the difference between what a child can achieve independently and what he can achieve with support from a more skilled partner. Working within a child’s ZPD allows her to develop advanced abilities she can then use independently or during discovery learning.