Method 1 of 2: Helping Babies and Toddlers Discover Cause and Effect Download Article
Method 2 of 2: Helping Preschoolers and Older Children Master Cause and Effect Download Article
- As your child gets older, add additional vocabulary. Words like “influence,” “results,” and “factors,” for example, as well as words that will help with cause and effect sentence construction: “therefore,” “consequently,” “thus,” and others.
- Once your child starts school, it’s important to emphasize the academic uses of cause and effect. Scientists use it all the time (What is causing global warming? Why did these plants die? What will happen if we mix vinegar and baking soda?), and so do historians (Why did the American colonies revolt? What happened after Cortes conquered the Aztecs?).
Make a T map. A T map is a simple table with two columns. On one side, you can write causes; on the other, you can write effects. For example, on the left side, write “It is raining.” Have your child brainstorm possible consequences: it gets muddy, flowers grow, the school has indoor recess, there are traffic jams. Write those on the right side of the table.
- You can also use T maps for individual cause and effect relationships to illustrate language. So, in this case, you would write “It is raining” at the top, instead of on the left. Then, on the left, you’d write, “It gets muddy because it is raining.” On the right, you’d write, “It is raining, so it gets muddy.” This method teaches the two main forms of stating cause and effect: the “because” form and the “so” form. It also reinforces the concept.
Play cause and effect games. One example is the cause and effect chain. Choose a consequence (say, “pants are dirty”). Then have your child think of a potential cause (for example, “I fell in the mud”). Then you (or another child), follows up by saying the cause of that consequence (“it was raining and slippery”). Continue as long as you can. This game will help your child develop his or her understanding of cause and effect.
- You can also play a simpler game where you offer an imaginary effect (say, “the dog barked loudly”) and have your child think of as many possible causes as he or she can. Examples might include “the dog barked loudly because the mailman came,” “the dog barked loudly because someone pulled on its tail,” or “the dog barked loudly because it saw another dog.”
Read books. Look for themed picture books designed to tackle causes and consequences. Read them with your child, and talk about the situations presented in them.
Create a timeline. For older children, draw a timeline on paper. Choose a historic event, like a war, and mark its important moments on the timeline. Connect those moments based on cause and effect.
Teach analytical thinking. As your child grows, his or her understanding of cause and effect will get better and better, and you can begin pushing for deeper, more analytical thinking. Ask why something occurred, and then follow up with “How do you know?” or “What’s your evidence?” Try asking “What if?” questions to engage your child’s imagination: “What if we accidentally used sugar instead of salt in this recipe?,” “What if the American colonies didn’t revolt?”
- Introduce the idea that correlation is not causation. If there is no evidence for a particular cause making a particular event happen, then it may be a random occurrence rather than a causal relationship.