Monday, August 1, 2011

Favorite Topics: Return to Them After Time for Added Learning

Of course it always happens that after I make a post, I find 5 additional books that would have fit very nicely into the topic of interest.  The purpose of this post is to revisit some of the topics that I've talked about before, and share a few other books and activities that I've recently discovered since my last post on the topic.  Revisiting topics also gives me a lovely opportunity to rant about the spacing effect.

The spacing effect and I go waaaaaay back.  Like to a decade ago.  I wrote my master's thesis and dissertation on this topic, so we have become quite close over the years.  The spacing effect (I'm sure you are wondering what the heck this term means by now) is simply a memory phenomena.  I will explain it by first asking: What do you usually do when you need to remember something? Most likely you repeat the information over and over to yourself (in slightly fancier psychological terms, you rehearse it). If you are over 30, you might recall a cartoon skit from back-in-the-day Sesame Street where a little African American girl repeats "a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butta" over and over so she won't forget what her mom asked her to buy at the store!  That's often one simple strategy we use to remember something.  Now, over one hundred years ago a man by the name of Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that if he spaced out the repetitions of the information that he was trying to learn, he recalled it even better than if studied them repeatedly in a short time frame.  And so, the "spacing effect" was born.  To quote myself from a paper I wrote, the spacing effect occurs when: "memory is superior for to-be-remembered material that is presented in a distributed fashion (i.e., with intervening material between repetitions) as compared to when the material is presented in a massed fashion (i.e., with no intervening material between repetitions)."  Cram studying the night before a big exam (in theory) will not help you learn the information better than if you had been studying it all semester long.

So I hope you are not thinking at this point, "wow, that's 2 minutes of my life I'll never get back" because I promise you that knowledge of the spacing effect IS important stuff with respect to education and learning.  The spacing effect has been researched to death in the field of cognitive psychology and more recently has gotten some attention in the world of educational psychology, although there are not a ton of "practical" applications out there.  

Here's what I think the take home message is from research on the spacing effect in terms of real world activities: 1) Use repetition as much as you can, and 2) revisit topics, activities, books, concepts, and lessons after some time.  I try to do this often with baby bookworm in terms of library books we check out.  For instance, she loved the book Alistair in Outer Space. On the day we checked it out we read it a dozen times I'm sure (toddlers LOVE repetition, so this part is easy). I even checked out the DVD of the Reading Rainbow episode in which this book was featured, and we watched that (more repetition).  When it was time to return the book to the library we did.  Then, about 3 months later, we checked out the same book (hence, the spaced repetition). Like I mentioned, there isn't a ton of controlled research in applied situations like my scenario here, but I like to think that this is a very good attempt at effectively applying this phenomena to the real world (Harvard U. if you would like to hire me to conduct such valuable research, feel free to email me).

Here's our revisited topics/lessons & some more fun books that go along with them:

Topic #1: Science.

Here’s my original “lessons in science” post.  Our new lessons in science come from a book called (shocker): It’s Science! Water by Sally Hewitt. 

The book itself is meant for much older children than my 19-month old baby bookworm, but I thought I could find some fun science projects to do with her in here.  She likes to play with water, and the book is full of real science information and photos.  We didn't read it cover to cover necessarily, but I am certain she learned a few things about water. 

We tried two fun projects based on what we read in the book.

1) Sink or float.

2) Liquid water versus ice.

The book has a few fun ways to teach kids about the water cycle and different forms of water.  What I did with baby bookworm was a simple lesson.  I put water in a plastic container; we talked about how it felt and how it was liquid.  I then stuck the container in the freezer for a few hours.  When it came out as a solid block of ice, I let baby bookworm touch it.  We talked again how about how it felt (cold, hard) and how it had changed from liquid to solid.  I know this isn't a very impressive experiment, but it is a great way to teach  new vocabulary (toddlers don't really need fancy stuff to learn). 

Topic #2: Inner Awesomeness.

Here is my first post on Inner Awesomeness.  Basically, I like to find books that teach baby bookworm about how awesome and unique she is, and that teach about acceptance of others' differences. 

I stumbled upon the book Special People, Special Ways by Arlene Macquire in the library and thought it fit perfectly into this topic.  It gives parents and teachers a great opportunity to talk about how some individuals (young and old) have "special" ways.  That is, while some people may be mentally or physically challenged, they share many similarities.  The book is full of positive images of people with disabilities, and shows that it's OK, and wonderful, to be different. 

Topic #3: Once Upon a Time Books.

I originally posted on once upon a time books just prior to taking a "field trip" with baby bookworm to an amusement park that contained figurines of our favorite fairy tales and nursery rhymes.  Since then, baby bookworm has begun to pretend that she is reading my books (for instance, Tina Fey's Bossypants).  She'll open my book up and say, "Once upon a time" which is sometimes followed by, "there was a little boy."  Not sure why it's never a little girl - I hope this doesn't mean she's getting boy crazy already!  So, we continue to get "once upon a time" books because apparently this phrase has entered her schema of how a story might begin; one that we recently enjoyed was The Little Red Hen by Byron Barton. 

Topic #4: Lessons in Math.

I've written about math a few times, and I feel like every time I turn around there is yet ANOTHER math book that I wished I'd written about.  Our favorite math books these days are "spot the shape" (baby bookworm has a knack for finding hidden things and has recently taken to Where's Waldo? books too). 

There are several spot the shape books, and each shows how shapes are all around us if we look hard enough. I kid you not, baby bookworm has started spotting shapes in hidden places everyday thanks to these books; I'm talking everything from spotting triangles in the floor tile at the mall to small rectangles on our doors at home.  What I love best about these books is the fact that they aren't overtly math books, and they teach children to find the beauty of math in our day to day lives.  Here are the spot the shape books we've read:


  1. I saw your post on Book Blogs and thought I would stop by to check out the blog. I am now a follower on Facebook! Good Luck with your blog.

  2. Thanks Eric for stopping by. Your blog is awesome! What a terrific idea. The book challenge you are doing is very impressive! I'll be checking back with your site, and I hope you continue to check back with mine.


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