How do you connect?

 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.

Sorting

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.

What else?

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

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

13 thoughts on “How do you connect?

  1. lorilschafer

    Love your approach to this, Norah. My experiences with children have led me to believe that they are naturally creative in spotting similarities and differences between objects, and not in ways that we as adults expect. I’ve often found myself surprised by their insights – out of the mouths of babes, as it were. It makes one wonder where along the line we get conditioned to view such analyses in terms of right and wrong – with the most obvious suspect being our educational system.

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    1. Norah Post author

      So true Lori! Children do come out with the most creative and insightful things if given the opportunity! Like you, I think some educational systems may actively work in opposition to that! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  2. Sarah Brentyn

    I have a love/hate relationship with your flash. They are so good but it’s heartbreaking to read about this character. I don’t care if she’s a little girl or a grown-up (as in the first one when she’s cleaning out her room and in this one). 😦 Poor Marnie.

    I agree with the one thing that doesn’t go. I adore philosophy and such but one of my kids has a definite affinity for questions with “right” answers. Rigidity. My other one loves to process and think in all directions. It’s all good.

    P.S. I had the beach ball impaled on the pencil. Just saying. 😉

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Sarah,
      Thanks for your comment re the flash. I know what you mean about Marnie’s story. I feel a bit the same way. I want to be able to give her a bit hug and make it okay for her, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
      It’s interesting to see the different ways children (people) think, isn’t it? Even when they have probably been given the same encouragement to think divergently, they still think in the ways that come most naturally to them.
      I knew someone would be impaling that beach ball! Couldn’t have been a nicer person! 🙂

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  3. TanGental

    comment eaten again! Darn it. I was saying that I’m pleased there’s another flashiste prepared to run with their story. Poor Marnie is haunted, isn’t she? And your lessons are a great reminder how both my kids but esp the daughter craved a single right answer. Even today she loves the science but loathes things like ethics for their ‘could be this, could be that..’

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Geoff. I’m so sorry about your comment, as much for me as for you. (I didn’t get to read it!)
      Flashiste – I like that. Yes I am enjoying exploring Marnie’s story, but so far it’s been disjointed and without intent; unlike your story of Mary which I really enjoy. I don’t think I’m quite ready to follow you down that path yet, but I’ll have to wait and see what comes from Charli’s prompts!
      Interesting how your daughter craved the single right answer and dislikes ethics. I love ethical and philosophical discussions, but am hopeless at forming the correct answer! Just as well we are not all the same – could get a bit monochromatic! (I was going to say ‘boring’ but that’s a word I definitely do not like!)
      Thanks for being persistent with your comment. I always enjoy your comments. 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Not Meant for Each Other « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. writersideup

    I’ve always enjoyed these “games,” Norah 🙂 When I was a kid and even now, though I don’t typically do things like this now lol I’m not a teacher, but I do write for children so, to me, they’re closely related in many ways for preschoolers. Great stuff here 🙂

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  6. Charli Mills

    As I watched the video, I couldn’t decide which shoe was different and kept expecting a frog or something to show up! What a good point you demonstrate about the rigidity of such lessons if there must be only one correct answer. The freedom of letting the mind resolve a puzzle through creativity is exhilarating to me. Yet I also understand that some want there to be only one answer. Or is that because of schooling we come out believing so? Either we are a convert to “the right way” or we are a rebel. I much prefer your open-ended games that foster discussion. What we are doing as a literary group is similar!

    Your flash has taken on much complexity as a larger story. Each one is an intact scene, standing on its own. But thinking that the little girl who once sought solace in her unicorn is now so startled by the image or reminder. It’s a very realistic, heartbreaking scene to realize the child’s scars are deep within the grown woman. Beautifully portrayed, Norah.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your generous comment and encouragement, Charli. I see now reading your comment that I should have responded to you and Anne at the same time.
      I started Marnie’s story (she had no name at the time) when she was an adult, in response to the first unicorn prompt. Since then I have written some scenes about a child and a unicorn when the prompt made it seem appropriate. There was no intentional connection initially. I hadn’t created a definite character and the scenes had occurred randomly and without pre-meditation in response to your prompts. However I am beginning to see a thread running through them and a sense of character and story developing. I don’t intend to write the story the way Geoff has done with Mary’s story. I am happy exploring random snippets from time to time. I am also realizing that some other scenes I wrote may fit nicely into Marnie’s story also. One day I may develop her story into a longer work. But it’s not high on list of priorities – yet! I have you and your prompts to thank for my even thinking about it! See what you’ve created!
      Which leads me back to the first part of your comment. Our responses to your open-ended prompts are always fun (and often challenging) to write but the variety that ensues always makes for an enjoyable and interesting read. Thank you for it. 🙂

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  7. Annecdotist

    I love your take on these prompts, Norah, always so different to mine but nevertheless compatible. Your thoughts on how children learn to categorise and how to much category rigidity can stifle creativity were a joy to read.
    And so to your lovely flash – Marnie has grown up, but she still having flashbacks – so THAT’S how unicorns link to coffee!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your encouragement, Anne. I’m pleased you find our responses to Charli’s flash fiction prompts compatible. I know I always enjoy reading yours. I guess, through Marnie, I am exploring a few psychological issues, which is more your field than mine as I don’t have the depth of knowledge that you do; but I do have a lot of personal experience in this area and am always interested in what motivates people and how childhood experiences help shape the adults.
      The first time I introduced the unicorn and Marnie (though she didn’t have a name and I had no real interest in developing the character at the time), Marnie was an adult returning to her childhood home after the death of her parents. She found the unicorn still on the night-table, and tossed it in the bin as she told the estate agent to sell. I explored other bits and pieces with a unicorn in response to Charli’s prompts and found that I was developing a sense of character and story (but not in sequence) around this girl and her unicorn. It wasn’t really intentional, it just happened that way. Looking back over other of my flash fiction responses, I see the theme recurring. I might just have to think more about telling this story (when I make the time!) I do appreciate your interest and comments.
      Thank you! 🙂

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