Ideas for Helping Children Learn Deep Thinking Skills – At Home

– Encourage children to self-evaluate their skills and progress they are making, whether at studies, sports or even a video game

– Have discussions where they can justify their self-beliefs. Give alternate perspectives to facilitate deeper thinking. Explain possible downstream consequences of different options.

– For these discussions think of topics that are topical, fun and interesting for your child.

– At my son’s school 10 year olds were given the topic, “Should would-be parents be asked to take an exam before they have kids – to qualify for parenthood?” We followed this with an interesting discussion at home!

– Other topics could be, “Should games be played face-to-face or against a computer”, or “How much screen time should a 12 year old be entitled to and should such screen time only include TV or also include time spent playing video games” (a topic often discussed at our home!).

– Parents should also observe if their children are only focusing on searching for information (say surfing the web for a school assignment) and regurgitating information OR are they evaluating the information, synthesizing some insights from their research and applying these insights.

– For example, are they just memorizing Newton’s laws or can they tell which law they are being subject to when they are on a roller-coaster ride.

– Or, while reading a book ask them to pause and think.

– I recall asking my son to read aloud Jeremy Strong’s book, “The 100 mile an hour dog” and wherever he laughed I asked him to pause and think why he laughed. He made a list of these points – metaphors, interesting similes, cliff-hangers, crazy situations… stuff he could then use himself in his writing.

– I am sure he learnt something. He wrote a story about this boy who wasn’t playing the Violin well in the school orchestra and was asked to leave. We, his parents, had of course suggested that the boy practiced hard and was accepted back in the orchestra. But our son’s piece was a bit different, “…the boy was asked to leave the school orchestra. So he started his own band and called it ‘Wrong Notes’, which went on to become a huge success.”

– Another time when our son had collected some money he wanted to buy a game for his Nintendo DS. Since it was HIS money he didn’t want any parental influence and selected a game from Amazon. However, on my wife’s insistence they went back to Amazon website and figured out the best selling games, games that had high user rating and discussed whether it made sense to buy a new or used game. The whole episode was a great critical thinking exercise.

– Observing your child and listening to her will help you understand how your child makes sense of the world and what thinking skills you need to foster.

– When you are doing deep thinking yourself then think out loud so that your child knows how your thinking process works (and hopefully you are a deep thinker yourself!)

– You could take topical social issues and demonstrate thinking and arguing skills to your kids. You could take one position and your spouse could take the opposite view. You could then explain what are the claims and counter-claims being made, how the issue could be looked at from different perspectives to gather evidence in support of both views, how the evidence should be analysed to see if it is based on facts or beliefs, are there any assumptions underlying the evidence, are the assumptions correct, or is the evidence based on a fallacious notion. Counter-arguments could also be presented.

– Once your child understands what critical thinking, analysis and reasoning mean and how to ‘think deep’ (look at an issue from different perspectives, role playing, what-if scenarios, downstream consequences…) then you should encourage her to participate in such discussions at home.

– You should help your child understand flaws in her thinking and how she could improve her thinking skills by offering thinking tips and techniques.

– Thinking tips and techniques include – the good old ‘5W1H’ (what, where, when, why, who and how), Venn Diagrams, Mindmaps and Flowcharts.

– For example, you could ask your child to compare (find similarities) and contrast (find differences) between ‘Horrid Henry’ and ‘Just William’ or between ‘Enid Blyton’ and ‘J K Rowling’.

– In doing this exercise you could ask them to use a Venn Diagram. The overlap between the two circles represents the similarities and the two distinct areas represent the differences. Children find it fascinating that something they learnt in Math is being used in English.

– Summarising a book in your own words is a good thinking tool. Using Mindmaps and Flowcharts makes summarizing fun.

– Summarising could be followed by extrapolating. Example, ask your child to list three take-aways from a book that he read which he can apply elsewhere. This could – an interesting character (and what makes the character interesting), plot or setting…

– For younger kids you could ask questions on books they have read. Questions that foster thinking. Like, ‘Should Goldilocks have gone to a stranger’s house?’, or based on Mouse Tales, ‘Who do you think is a friend?’

– Even for older kids this works. For example, “Do you think Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak is scientifically possible?”

– Web Quests are an interesting way to develop thinking skills. For the Harry Potter question you could ask your child to surf the web and find out if any research has been done on ‘invisibility’. Or pose a more specific question, “Do you think small mirrors, placed at different angles such that all light reflects back could create an invisibility cloak?”

– Even while playing games like Monopoly you could encourage kids to think. For example, think about ‘savings’ and ‘investments’. In Monopoly they need to save and invest prudently because if they go bankrupt they lose. Prime properties on the Monopoly board are expensive and are towards the end of the round. Thus, investing in them requires ‘delayed gratification’. Buying all ‘utilities’ vs buying all ‘prime properties’ involves strategic thinking skills.

– Savings, investments, delayed gratification – these are the building blocks of financial literacy. So Monopoly can be used to teach thinking skills as also financial skills.

– I personally think that we need a new financial game for kids. Monopoly is a wrong form of business in today’s world. You get into anti-trust lawsuits! More importantly, in the 21st century new business models are possible – collaborative ventures, self-organising structures, ‘freemium’ economy, economics of abundance, long tail and more. Games should be built around these concepts. Making them online can make them massively collaborative.

– Such collaborative games can also be used for sensitizing young audience about global issues like poverty, climate change and diversity.

– I am not a fan of Farmville and Mafia Wars but I am sure that a thinking layer could be created on top of these games such that important life skills are learnt while playing popular games.

– You need to put on your own Deep Thinking Cap and I am sure you will come up with tons of ideas on how you can foster deep thinking skills in your children.

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