Many of you may recognise this song from Sesame Street: One of these things is not like the other.
Finding the one that doesn’t belong sounds like a simple activity, but which one did you choose? And why? Did you choose the rubber boot? I didn’t. I chose the shoe with laces. Does that make me wrong?
The items had some obvious similarities: they were designed for wearing on the feet, and they were similar colours. Differences in size and style were also obvious. Just what made the rubber boot “not belong” any more than any of the others, I’m not sure. Does that mean I am not as smart as a pre-schooler?
Rather than simply providing children with an answer as happens in this video, I would prefer children were provided opportunities to explore and discuss similarities and differences and would invite children to explain why a particular shoe might be selected. I think there are valid reasons for each to not belong, and there are also many reasons for them to be grouped together.
The ability to make connections between new and established information, including by identifying similarities and distinguishing differences, is an important contribution to learning. Adults can aid in the learning process by making explicit the ways in which objects are similar and by discussing ways in which they are dissimilar.
Young children very quickly learn to notice obvious similarities between e.g. different breeds of dogs, a variety of drinking glasses and cups, or construction items. However adults can assist and challenge children to think creatively and in new and innovative ways by encouraging them to make connections between seemingly disparate objects.
Many innovations have been developed as a result of creative thinkers making links that didn’t previously exist between apparently dissimilar objects or situations. George de Mestral’s invention of Velcro, involving the application of an observed phenomena to a very different situation, is perhaps one such example.
Playing games is a good way of encouraging children to think creatively. It is not necessary to purchase pre-packaged games. Many games can be played with items from around the house or in the toy box, or using picture cards from early childhood games like ‘snap’, printed clipart, or cut from magazines. Here are just a few suggestions around which you can construct your own ways of taking turns, playing and having fun:
What’s the same?
Display two pictures e.g. a duck and dog, a bus and a boat. How many ways are they the same?
How are they different?
Display two pictures and explain how the items are different. The differences could be obvious e.g. a duck and a dog, or more subtle e.g. two different breeds of dogs, or a male and female bird.
Which one does not belong?
Display three or four pictures. Discuss similarities and differences, and then decide which one doesn’t belong, providing reasons.
Provide children with a larger number of items e.g. construction blocks in different sizes, styles and colours or pictures of a variety of objects or animals. In the beginning it is easiest to sort by one feature e.g. is yellow/is not yellow. Encourage children to look for similarities between particular items e.g. colour or shape and ask them to group all items with that characteristic. They will then have two groups, one with the feature and one without.
Once children can confidently sort in this way they may be able to sort by two characteristics e.g. size and colour. They may even begin to make decision about how to deal with items that fit into two groups.
Show children a common everyday object and discuss its use. Encourage them to think of alternate uses for the same object e.g. a pencil could be used as a flagstick, a mast on a toy boat or to identify where seeds were planted in a garden.
Link the story
Display pictures of any two items e.g. a beach ball and a pencil. Ask children to create a story that involves both items. I immediately think of a family making plans for a holiday at the beach. The child wants a ball to play with at the beach and uses a pencil to add “beach ball” to the list of items to take. Your thoughts are probably very different. I’m sure someone will have the beach ball impaled on the pencil!
Making up stories like this can be just as much fun for adults as it is for children. Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch has challenged us to make it so this week with her flash fiction prompt to: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using two objects, people or ideas that don’t go together. Charli allowed us to choose the two items. I decided to explore a little more of my tormented Marnie and her unicorn. I’d be pleased to know what you think.
Unicorns and coffee
People crammed in, around and in front of the small sidewalk cafe, reminding her of the fairy-tale pageant that had bypassed her radar. She couldn’t move now. Her coffee fix, too hot to sip, had just been served. So, as always, she retreated within.
Cocooned in thoughts flittering across years and experiences, she barely noticed the cacophony of the crowd or passing parade.
The sudden shout of “Unicorn!” penetrated, startling her.
She was six again, cowering with her unicorn, avoiding mocking stares.
But this time pitying and unbelieving stares watched the spreading stain of scalding coffee.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.