To infinity & beyond

PUBLISHED: 14:38 15 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:38 15 May 2017

Little child girl in an astronaut costume is playing and dreaming of becoming a spaceman. Portrait of funny kid on a background of bright blue wall with yellow stars.

Little child girl in an astronaut costume is playing and dreaming of becoming a spaceman. Portrait of funny kid on a background of bright blue wall with yellow stars.

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Help your child become a creative thinker and see their confidence and self-esteem soar

Think left and think right, think low and think high. Oh the things you can think up if only you try!’ So said the Pulitzer prize winning author Theodore Geisel. Never heard of him? Well try his nom de plume… Dr Seuss. Yes, when it comes to encouraging children to think outside the box, Seuss hits the nail on the head.

Of course we all want our children to learn the 3Rs and to be academically successful, but we also want so much more than that. We want them to be able to look beyond the obvious and have fun exploring the world in all its multifaceted glory, to be enquiring and embrace learning with enthusiasm.

Well the good news is that, unlike intelligence, independent thinking is not something we’re born with – it needs to be learned. Indeed, some of the most gifted children are extremely rigid in their thought processes, and can struggle with a more free-flowing approach. Yet it is through independent thinking that your child learns how to problem solve and make wise choices, which in turn builds confidence and self-esteem.

A brief history

But how do you go about teaching your child to think clearly and creatively? Well, you might not know it, but the teaching of independent thinking, otherwise known as thinking skills, is already part of the National Curriculum.

But to understand how teaching thinking skills came to be part of the curriculum we have to go back nearly 70 years, to the aftermath of the Second World War, when a large number of young immigrants flooded to Israel, rootless and uneducated, with none of

the family and cultural influences of their peers. These youngsters scored appallingly in IQ tests, but one man, a cognitive psychologist called Reuven Feuerstein, was determined to unlock the key to their intelligence. He did this by developing a technique that, in its most basic form, involved learning through discussion and witnessing other people’s learning processes. The results were outstanding and Feuerstein’s work forms the basis of the very thinking skills that are being taught to children today.

Big benefits

Developing a child’s thinking skills, enables them to process information in a more conscious way. And the more a child develops an awareness of how they think, the more effective their thinking processes become.

A typical example of teaching thinking skills to preschool children is a game where a large number of items are put on a tray, which the children must then name, touch and smell before the tray is removed. The children are then asked to recall the objects they saw.

One child might remember a toy cat because they had cuddled it, while another might recall a tin drum because they banged on it. The children will make many different connections which they can then discuss. It’s through talking about them that these connections are reinforced in the children’s minds, building up different ways of remembering.

No right or wrong

Through learning thinking skills, children also become aware that there isn’t always a right or wrong answer to questions. For example, ask a group of children which is the odd one out: an apple or sock. And one might say apple because it’s the only one you can eat, another might insist it’s the sock, as you can’t wear an apple. Both answers are correct.

An awareness that not everything is black and white and the ability to look beyond the established narrative are vital skills in today’s multimedia age, when children are being bombarded with information that might not always be as it initially seems.

Teaching thinking skills is something you can do every day with your child and it needn’t feel forced. In fact, the most effective way to teach independent thinking is through play, where your child can be encouraged to solve problems on her own and experiment with different solutions.

So step back and don’t always jump in with the answers. Also, it’s worth remembering that sometimes, simply allowing your child to ‘just be’ can be an excellent way to encourage thinking. Indeed, there’s much to be said for a bit of boredom as it’s often what’s kick-start an inquisitive mind into thinking creatively about what they can do.

Future-proof thinking

Another simple but effective strategy is modelling your own thought processes to your child. Let them hear you thinking out loud and problem-solving. For the fact is, learning to think isn’t about sitting down with pencil and paper – there are all sorts of fun and interesting things you can do with your child that, in the words of Hercule Poirot, get ‘the little grey cells’ working.

We live in a rapidly changing world, and whereas a few generations ago parents could impart knowledge to their children that would largely hold them in good stead, that is no longer the case. The future isn’t clear and we don’t have all the answers, which is why we must ensure children are equipped with the necessary skills, and to prepare them for whatever comes their way. A certain sage once described thinking as the ability to ‘know what to do when you don’t know what to do’, and surely that’s a skill we’d all like our children to have.

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