October 3, 2011

How to Teach Children to Think

On this blog, I usually write about specific activities, books, or games that make learning fun. After all, that’s the name of the blog. But  sometimes we need to step back and evaluate what we're doing. If all we do is fill children’s minds with facts, even if the children have fun in the process, we aren’t really serving them well. We must help children learn to think for themselves and develop character.

Thinking Child (photo by Vocalities on Flickr)
Barnabas Piper has an interesting post on his blog about teaching children to think. He makes several excellent points and I thought I’d share and expand on a few of them.

He says read to your child, especially  “books that engage imagination and build vocabulary.” I would add this: when you read, make sure your child is engaging with the book. Pause before turning the page to give time for the child to digest what’s been read, ask questions, or comment on the text or picture. Children miss a lot when we are in too big a hurry to finish a book.

Piper says to be curious around your children. I agree with him and his reasons, and would add this reason. It’s good for kids to know that Mom, Dad, and teacher don’t have all the answers--that we are still questioning and learning.

After recommending that parents to be excited about learning and to use big words, Piper exhorts parents to answer their children’s questions, even if it takes time and research. I agree, except when I disagree. I think it can be better not to answer kids’ questions. Next time your child asks a tough question try responding this way: “Hmmmm. That’s interesting. What do you think?” This answer lets children know that we value their opinions and that we respect them as thinkers. Letting a child be the first one to take a stab at answering the child’s own question can lead to deeper thinking and understanding, and of course there’s the joy that comes from figuring something out for oneself.

Finally he suggests sharing the principles behind your rules. “Teach them to think in questions such as “Does this action honor Jesus?” or “Is this loving to my sister?” not just ‘Am I allowed to do this?’

If this topic interests you, please go and read Barnabas Piper’s original article.

Question: How do you make sure that your child is really thinking, and not just memorizing facts?

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