“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” – Albert Einstein

Does your child pick up a block and pretend it is a phone? Do you notice your child use her toys and household items as props to pretending to be a superhero, a princess, a teacher? That is a form of abstract thinking and it is an important part of learning in the early years.

The development of abstract or symbolic thought is an essential element of intellectual development in the Kinderpillar early childhood classrooms. We encourage this kind of thinking because it will lead to reading, writing and math understanding.

You proably see it almost daily, when your child uses objects to represent things, gestures to mime an object when no prop is available, or makes movements to represent a more complex action, such as driving a car. This is how she learns to use symbols and form a mental image of something that’s not there.  Developing this understanding is necessary for learning.

Children begin to think abstractly through pretend play. It helps them visualize and understand past history, characters in books, shapes on a graph, letters on a page, and places on a map. All these advanced uses of abstract thinking really go back to simple pretending—making believe, for example, that blocks are a train, or a banana is a telephone. Likewise, young children learn that numerals “stand” for something: For example, the numeral 6 represents six things. Soon, a child begins to figure out how to add and subtract these symbols. This abstract mathematical skill grows with time.

Building Litearcy Skills

Abstract thinking is essential for learning the symbol system we call the alphabet. It’s amazing how some young children can already read these squiggles and lines and understand their meaning. They’re starting to comprehend that drawings and lines can represent an object, thought, letter, or word, which leads to experimenting with scribbles and shapes to draw and “write.” When children read what they scribble, they’re using their own symbol system to represent their thoughts. The amazing thing is they often can read these scribbles over and over in exactly the same way.

Junior and Senior KG children are becoming more and more verbal. They can explain their thinking and expound on their ideas in great detail. As they share books, they can imagine scenes not even in the story and suggest possible new endings or sequels. It takes a high degree of abstract thought to envision things that are not there and verbalize those thoughts.

Building Problem-Solving Skills

Learning to think abstractly is the key to problem solving. As they progress through Kinderpillar, children become more adept at thinking about a solution to a problem without actually trying it out. Cognitively, they’re able to imagine and think through a problem with less hands-on experience.

You can help your child along by adding “abstract” props to her toy box, and watch what she comes up with. The more abstract the prop, the more symbolic the play. Consider such items as…different sized boxes, plastic piping and joints, scarves, and sheets.

You can also guide your child in creating abstract representations of concrete problems. For example, with a recipe or easy science experiment, she can talk about it, draw it, and write down her findings. Drawing and writing is a form of recording ideas that helps your child develop higher-level thinking.

It’s also a good idea to take day trips to interesting places, such as gardens, theaters and museums.  Encourage your child to reenact what she saw or draw/write a story about it. All of these activities will stimulate your budding and imaginative abstract thinker.

And as the great thinker, Albert Einstein, once said….

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”