How to teach metaphors to children

Written by jasmine haryana
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Metaphors shed light on one noun by drawing a comparison with another noun, usually by way of an equating statement. Usually these comparisons are not immediately apparent until rounder thought occurs, making them a challenge for young children to understand. However, by teaching children how to understand metaphors, adults can help lead children unleash their creativity and imagination. Metaphors can also be effective in training children in abstract thought as well as familiarising them early with literary skills they will need later in their education.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Crayons
  • White paper
  • Children's picture books

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  1. 1

    Ask the child if she knows what a metaphor is. Introduce the term to her so that she can familiarise herself with its sound and repetition. Put the explanation in accessible, simple language. For instance, tell the child that a metaphor is "how things are kind of like other things."

  2. 2

    Start to compare objects in the room by picking them up one by one. Ask the child about the features of the object you pick up, focusing on its function. Use pets as a starting point for comparisons, since children consider them family members with shared traits. For instance, ask the child what his clothes are for and brainstorm ideas like "keeping warm" and "decorating your body." Ask the child what the dog's fur is for, pointing out that fur keeps the dog warm and makes it look more interesting. Draw a comparison between the two concepts; for example, stating that "fur is clothes for dogs."

  3. 3

    Reinforce the concept of metaphors by explaining the concept by name. Explain that the comparisons from Step 2 are called metaphors. Play around with repetition of the word "metaphor," saying it in silly and exaggerated ways to engage the child. Ask your child if she would like to make more metaphors.

  4. 4

    Use your picture book to ask the child to come up with his own metaphors. Point to a picture of an object and ask your child what it does. For instance, point to a picture of a boat and ask your child what a boat does. Ask him what other vehicles or machines take you places in different ways and let your child draw the comparisons. For instance, "boats are cars on water" or "boats are floating cars."

  5. 5

    Take out the crayons and paper and ask your child to draw some places from her life, such as the family house or the playground or a parent's workplace. Use the animal metaphor again to ask the child, "What is a house for birds?," "What do horses use as a playground?," or "Who is the king of the forest?"

  6. 6

    Have the child draw her interpretation of these answers. Review each one and state the metaphor, such as "Yes! A field is a horse's playground!" Reinforce each connection the child makes with an encouraging statement like, "That was a great metaphor!"

Tips and warnings

  • Children in upper elementary school will often grasp the concept of a metaphor more easily than younger children.
  • Point out metaphors as you read to your children. With practice, they will begin to identify them.
  • Encourage your children to use metaphors as they write. Point out the ones they use naturally and call them metaphors by name.
  • Avoid showing frustration towards children who struggle with the concept of metaphors. Many adults have trouble with the concept and pressure can impede understanding in children.
  • Be careful not to mix the concepts of metaphor and simile, remembering that similes--not metaphors--use the words "like" or "as" to draw comparisons.

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