by Hanna Vock
Here are some remarkable examples of what young children think:
A boy (2;9) witnesses his mother noticing that her backpack has been stolen. She is upset and explains to him that a mean person just took the backpack away and that this is stealing. She explains to him what all was in the backpack and that she misses the things.
After a short time, the boy says, „If we see a man with a backpack, we’ll take it away too.“ The mother replies that they won’t do that because they are not thieves who just take things from others. The boy thinks again and expresses a new thought, „But if we see the man who has our backpack, we’ll take it away from him.“
The next day he asks, „Is the backpack back?“
Anna, just turned four, hears an eight-year-old after-school child say, „But I always want to live. I never want to die.“ – Anna says, „But then we’ll all be dead, all your friends, and then you’ll be all alone.“
The after-school child: „It doesn’t matter, then I’ll just be alone.“ – Anna: „But it’s unfair if we all have to die and you don’t.“
After-school child: „Everyone can go on living forever.“ – Anna: „But there aren’t that many houses … and not that much food.“
A cognitively and linguistically highly gifted child is conspicuous by an early excellent command of language. She uses her language skills to express complex thoughts. Example:
Evelin surprised me at the age of 3;5 in kindergarten with a statement that is very unusual for three-year-olds. I had read the fairy tale „Hansel and Gretel“ to Evelin and three other three-year-old children. Evelin did not know the fairy tale beforehand, which her mother also confirmed when asked. Evelin’s comment after the end of the fairy tale:
„But why do the children go back to their father, there is nothing to eat there. They could stay in the witch’s house, the witch is dead. …The father was evil.“
With this statement, Evelin not only shows that she has grasped the content of the fairy tale right away. She also demonstrates an independent and flexible thinking ability that is astonishing for a three-year-old. She is able to detach herself from the story and form her own thoughts about it, which contradict the message of the story.
In her statement, a concept is already recognizable that trusts children to make independent and autonomous decisions: Hansel and Gretel should not do the traditionally obvious thing (quickly return home to their parents), but the unconventional, but logically obvious thing, namely, stay where there is food and no evil adult is up to mischief.
Evelin clearly judges the father’s behavior as evil. When I ask her, „Why is the father evil?“ she answers, „Because he left his children alone in the wood. He could have said to the mother, ‚No, we won’t do that.'“
Evelin’s fluency is not only sufficient to fully grasp the fairy tale, but also to accurately express her own thoughts.
The other three-year-old (cognitively and linguistically normally developed) children answered the following questions:
Kindergarten teacher: „What kind of animal does the witch have?“
Child 1: „A cat.“ / Child 2: „And birds.“
Kindergarten teacher: „What do the birds do?“
Child 2: „They are with the witch.“
Kindergarten teacher: „And do they eat anything?“
Child 2: „No. Yes, they do! They eat worms.“
Kindergarten teacher asks child 3: „What do you think: do the birds in the story eat anything else?“
Child 3: „Yes.“
Kindergarten teacher: „What is it that they eat?“
Child 3: „I don’t know.“
„They pick up the bread crumbs and that’s why the children can’t find their way. Because the bread crumbs aren’t there anymore. The birds ate them.“
Kindergarten children can also deviate completely from the usual age norms in other areas of development, for example, in the logical-mathematical area:
The Advent calendar hangs on the window of the group room. A bag is tied to it for each child. Every day, a different child is allowed to cut off his or her bag and unwrap it.
The day before, the children draw lots to see who will get their turn. In a box, each child has a card with a picture that also marks his or her coat hook. Every day, a child draws a card from this box without looking. The child whose card is drawn gets his turn the next day and is then allowed to get its bag.
Daniel (3;5) and Leo (3;6) are experiencing this annual procedure for the first time. Leo is a normally developed and well supported child, Daniel is highly gifted, with a preference for quantities, numbers and logical connections, which is always noticeable later in the kindergarten routine. When I now ask, „Well, whose turn is it today?“ the older children know and call out the name. Daniel then remains calm and composed, Leo is deeply disappointed every time and keeps asking me, „Why don’t you take my turn?“
One day I ask the two boys to stay there for a moment and (before the draw for the next day) I first ask Leo the question, „Well, Leo, do you think it will be your turn tomorrow?“ Leo (beaming): „Yessss!“ Question: „Why do you think that?“ Leo: „Because I want to.“
Daniel answers the same question, „May be, may not be.“ And when asked, „What do you mean?“ Daniel: „Well, if I’m drawn afterwards, I’ll get my turn, and if I’m not, I won’t. …But maybe I’ll get my turn last of all.“
Leo shows a completely age-typical reaction: His thinking is dominated by his strong desire to finally get his turn. Every day he is excited and expectant and then disappointed and increasingly angry with me as his teacher. He demands that I take his turn, so I end up cheating to relieve Leo and his relationship with me. The oldest children smile indulgently and understandingly at this.
Leo does not yet understand the principle of coincidence. He also does not understand the older children’s attempts at explanation, but feels partially comforted by their attention. He is also mentally active and tries to explain what is happening. However, since the coincidence principle is not available to him as an explanatory pattern and he also does not yet have a clear overview of the time relationships between the terms „yesterday“, „today“ and „tomorrow“, he can only explain the fact that it is not his turn again in such a way that someone has arbitrarily prevented him from getting his turn just now. Obviously, the kindergarten teacher, as the most powerful person present, is held responsible for this.
Daniel, on the other hand, clearly sees through the system. He, too, shows disappointment again and again (over the next few days), but expresses it differently: „Bad luck again!“ / „Oh no, can’t someone draw my picture?“
Example from kindergarten teacher Beate Kroeger-Müller:
A mother on parenting duty at the kindergarten asks a four-year-old child, „What are you thinking about right now?“ The child is silent. A preschooler (5;6) observes the situation and asks the four-year-old, „Do you actually know what thought means?“ The child asked answers in the negative.
I repeat the question to the eight children sitting at the table sewing with me. „What are thoughts?“ As they weave and sew, a comfortable restlessness arises within the small group. Immediately, associations with this word are voiced. And in less than three minutes, this little conversation emerged:
Boy (5;6): „Thoughts are ideas in my head.“
Girl (6;3): „Thoughts are hopes inside me.“
Girl (5;8): „Thoughts can also be dreams!“
Boy (6;1): „Thoughts are when you worry.“
Boy (5;9): „Thoughts are always there and go away.“
Boy: (5;3): „Thoughts are always there – when you think – otherwise not.“
Boy (5;4) years: „Thoughts consist of 8 letters. First the G then the E and D and A and N and K and E and finally an N. So thoughts are just inside the brain.“
〈Thoughts = Gedanken in German.〉
Boy (5;8): „Thoughts are the ideas in my head, which are actually quite normal for me, because they are always there, even when I dream. I’m of the opinion that you can’t live without having thoughts.“
The preschooler who initiated the exchange of ideas states with satisfaction at the end, „So many answers and all of them are correct, that’s what I like best about the word.“
Everyone turns back to their handiwork and pretends nothing happened.
What I think: Nice explanations from six preschoolers and two middle-aged ones – and only three gifted among them.
These and even more examples can be found in:
Date of publication in German: December 2020
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint.