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Explaining To Mother Helps Problem-Solving

February 2008 - Research from Vanderbilt University published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology has found that children are best able to identify the solution to a problem when they explain it to their mother.

Lead author Bethany Rittle-Johnson, assistant professor of psychology said:

"We knew that children learn well with their moms or with a peer, but we did not know if that was because they were getting feedback and help. In this study, we just had the children's mothers listen, without providing any assistance. We've found that by simply listening, a mother helps her child learn."

The researchers believe this finding offers an effective means for parents to help their children with schoolwork, even if unsure of the answer themselves. The study focused on children and their mothers but researchers predict the same results are likely to hold true whether the person listening is the child's father, grandparent, or other familiar person.

Bethany Rittle-Johnson commented:

"The basic idea is that it is really effective to try to get kids to explain things themselves instead of just telling them the answer. Explaining their reasoning, to a parent or perhaps to other people they know, will help them understand the problem and apply what they have learned to other situations."

Bethany Rittle-Johnson, together with Megan Saylor, assistant professor of psychology, and recent graduate Kathryn Swygert, showed a group of 4- and 5-year-olds a series of plastic bugs, and asked them to say which came next in the sequence based on color and type of bug. The children were asked to explain their solution to their mother, to themselves or to simply repeat the answer. The researchers found that children who explained the answer to themselves or their mother demonstrated increased ability to solve further problems of a similar nature, and that explaining the answer to their mothers helped them solve more difficult problems.

Bethany Rittle-Johnson added:

"We saw that this simple act of listening by mom made a difference in the quality of the child's explanations and how well they could solve more difficult problems later on".

The researchers also found that younger children than previously thought can benefit from explaining their solution.

Bethany Rittle-Johnson concluded:

"This is one of the first studies to examine whether or not explanation is useful in helping children under 8 apply what they've learned to a modification of a task. We found that even 4-year-olds can use explanation to help them learn and to apply what they've learned to other tasks."



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