Comprehension is the discovery and awareness of information in its many forms. In order for children to comprehend something, they need to have the ability to mentally access relevant background knowledge. In other words, they need to relate what they are trying to comprehend to what they already know.
Comprehension skills are often associated with reading skills. Before children can read, they need to comprehend that letters represent sounds, that arranging letters make words, that the words make sentences, and so on.
Rather than being a single skill to be mastered, comprehension is a group of skills. There are four levels of comprehension:
Literal - This is the ability to recognize and remember things just as they are.
Interpretive - This is the ability to infer and elicit information that is not immediately obvious.
Critical - This is the ability to evaluate and make judgements about something.
Creative - This is the ability to appreciate and respond emotionally to something.
Children need good comprehension skills not just for reading, but also for listening. Children who are able to properly comprehend what is said to them (such as during school lessons) are more likely to succeed (such as on tests).
Making predictions is another aspect of comprehension - specifically, critical thinking. Children with critical thinking skills can distinguish fact from fiction, understand cause and effect, and successfully make predictions about the world around them.
Examples of Comprehension at various ages:
A baby who shakes a rattle begins to comprehend that his action (waving the rattle) causes noise.
A toddler who puts together a puzzle of shapes that are cut in half comprehends that two halves make a whole.
A preschooler who puts her hand in a bag filled with shapes she can't see, and who correctly identifies the shapes based on what she touches comprehends how the outlines equal certain shapes.
A high school student who is offered drugs or alcohol declines them because she understands the implications of underage consumption and the negative effects they will have on her body. She is exhibiting comprehensive critical thinking.