Recently I put out an activity I've done in past years. We have an alphabet gameboard from old curriculum. We also have two sets of cards, so kids can sort them onto the gameboard.
I added cards with the kids' names...so we could sort those two. Names are powerful learning tools. (And the kids loved the names in the bowl a few weeks ago.) Over the course of the morning I noticed something interesting. The kids only sorted the names. They weren't interested in sorting the other cards. I brought the game to group time. We sorted the names but they lost interest when I tried to use the other cards, too.
Of course, I kept pondering this phenomenon. Other kids in the past had sorted all the cards equally. What was the difference? Why did the kids only want to use the names?
Then it hit me. The kids had a connection with the names - those words represented their friends and themselves. The other cards were just random (at least from the kids' perspective). The names were relevant to the kids' lives.
As I plan things for kids to explore, I need to keep this in mind. Yes, I want to provide experiences that broaden a child's understanding and help him discover new things. But the materials I offer, the activities that lead to learning, must connect with the child's life. The stronger the connection, the more real the learning, the more that learning will stick with him.
This also showed me that homemade or purchased doesn't make any difference. The name cards were just names printed with marker on pieces of index card. They weren't colorful and slick like the other words. But they had a connection to the homemade cards and not the other ones. Relevant trumps fancy any day.
How do you make things relevant - things that connect to your children's lives?