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May 22, 2020 Friday 01:54:38 PM IST

Enrichment programmes help children build knowledge

Parent Interventions

How we organize information plays an integral role in memory, reasoning, and the ability to acquire new knowledge. In the absence of routine education programs, the pandemic is exacerbating the disparities in educational opportunities available for children to develop new skills. While children of higher socio-economic means often benefit from enrichment programs, these opportunities are unfortunately not available to every child. New research at Carnegie Mellon University presents the first direct evidence that experiential programs increase a child's ability to lock away new information as well as generalize the knowledge to new situations. These findings suggest that enrichment programs folded into a normal academic curriculum could strengthen knowledge acquisition and increase academic success.

Researchers believe that children acquire new knowledge by building bridges to pools of information from previous experiences. Prior research has focused on theoretical modeling with computer simulations to evaluate how learning creates those bridges. In this study, CMU researchers coordinated with educators at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh to develop two programs -- one about bugs and one about plants ¬-- to understand how children generalize knowledge gained through summer programs to new situations.

In the study, 29 pre-school, and kindergarten age children (19 girls, median age = 4.5 years) were enrolled in one of the programs, which included hands-on learning activities. The same programs were run over two consecutive summers and led by the same instructor. Before and after each program, the children were challenged to use their knowledge to position cards with pictures of bugs and plants onto a grid-based on similarity. The goal was to place cards with similar images closer together. For example, the cards for ladybug and a butterfly (both insects) are placed closer together than the cards for a ladybug and a spider (an arachnid). Whereas the card for a butterfly and pumpkin are placed the farthest apart.

The researchers examined the pre- and post-test results. While the children could differentiate bugs and plants successfully even during the pre-test, their ability to differentiate within the domain that they studied, like bugs, was only evident at the post-test. Importantly, children differentiated among items that were not part of the program activities, suggesting that they were able to generalize what they had learned at camp to new bugs or plants.

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