How to Teach Your Child to Think

Updated on December 14, 2018
Dreamworker profile image

Dreamworker has taught in schools nationwide for 26 years in grades 6-12; including blind, handicapped, at-risk, and ESOL students.

If you want to give your child a gift that will last him a lifetime, teach him how to think!

Thinking is a learned skill that used to be taught in our schools, but this all changed in the mid 1980s.

That is when politicians decided that they knew more about educating children than those who were specifically trained to do that job.

They stuck their noses into every aspect of education from using funding to threaten schools who “disobeyed” their guidelines to eliminating the need for separate learning environments for slow learners and disabled children.

They clearly were more interested in pleasing constituents than making sure that children would learn what they needed to learn in order to lead productive lives as adults.

However, there was a darker reason for their behaviors, the results of which we are now seeing in spades throughout the US.

Those in power can have a much easier job of manipulating the masses if the general population is kept from learning how to think!

Every country in this world that is led by dictators has done this, and the practice has led to massive human disasters.

For this reason, if for no other, parents must find ways to sidestep the problems we are now having with the educational system and teach their children critical thinking skills.

How to teach your child to think rather than what to think.
How to teach your child to think rather than what to think. | Source

Is Home Schooling the Answer?

Many parents are already doing this by moving their children out of the general school population and teaching them at home, sending them to private schools or allowing them to attend charger schools.

None of these methods resolve the problem being discussed here, but all can help if properly managed.

There are only to realistic ways to make major changes:

  1. remove politics and money from educational decisions or
  2. have parents supplement the current school systems by teaching their young how to think, research and analyze.

Obviously the first choice is unlikely to happen, so the best people will be able to do is use the alternative methods of schooling that are available to them and also help their children at home to develop or improve their thinking skills.

The Best Way to Help Your Kids

I liken the brain to our muscles. In order to function properly, they need regular exercise.

Therefore, parents must find ways of training brains to think.

This may sound difficult, but it is easier to do than one might think.

You don’t have to be a college graduate to do things such as limiting the amount of time kids spend playing on electronic devices and using it to

  • hold interesting conversations at dinner that pose questions for kids to ponder or
  • provide children with thinking games such as puzzles, monopoly or chess.

Another easy way to improve thinking skills is to teach children to ask questions. You can do this by modeling for them by asking them things such as

  • why do you think your teacher did that,
  • if you could put a different ending on the book you just read, what would it be and
  • how many things do you think you could make if I gave you a box, some crayons and a pair of scissors?

Make Question Words a Household Habit

At first a child may shrug his shoulders and say “I don’t know”, but don’t accept that. It’s a cop out all kids use when they don’t want to strain their brains.

To get them started, prompt them with some possible answers that use question words such as who, what, where, why, when or how.

For example, regarding the first question above you might ask them questions such as

  1. Do you think the teacher became angry because he got frustrated?
  2. Did you like what the teacher did?
  3. How do you think you could have handled the situation better?

Any one of these questions should bring at least a simple answer that you can then respond to with a second question.

For example, for question one if your child says “No”, you can ask, “Why not”, and so forth.

Once you follow this technique a few times, your child will see the pattern and will begin to answer more concisely. This is when he starts the thinking process.

Show Him How to Find Answers

Another thing that will help is to ask your child a question he cannot possibly answer.

When he tells you he doesn’t “know”, respond by showing him ways of finding good responses such as using library resources, interviewing people who do know the answers or experimenting.

What are the rules for playing chess or what would you do if you got stranded in a strange place where you didn’t know anybody and didn’t have any money are typical types of questions that might work, depending on the age of the child.

Create Simple Thinking Games

Here are a few games parents can easily create that will force kids to use their brains:

Cut out the articles in page one of a newspaper.

Separate the headlines from the articles, and then have kids put them in their appropriate spots.

Hide something in the house. Then provide clues that lead to one another and eventually to the item (which is the reward for finding it). For example, the first clue might say “Look inside the pair of black shoes in a closet”. Once the child finds the next clue which is inside the shoes it might say “Look on the second shelf of the refrigerator”. Create about ten clues, the final one being the reward.

Have the child create a simple lesson about how to do something and then demonstrate the process to the family. How to read a TV guide or how to bake cookies are good examples.

Incorporate Skills in Daily Activities

There are many things adults take for granted that kids don’t understand or know how to do.

Thus if you involve your children when cooking, cleaning, repairing and organizing plus other activities, and you explain why you are doing them and model the best ways of doing them, you will be teaching them basic survival skills, many of which require thoughtful decision making.

People spend small fortunes on fancy toys and games every year when the truth is that if they would just give their children a box and some crayons they’d be doing them a big favor.

A Teaching Example

When I taught composition years ago, the hardest things for students was to come up with a topic they could write about.

To resolve this problem, I’d tell them to name something and draw a circle around it. Then I’d advise them to start asking questions about it. They were to list answers under specific questions.

For example, they might write “dog”. They could then develop circles that answered questions such as “What Do Dogs Eat” and “Types of Dogs”. From there they could develop subtopics that each had their own circles that attached to the main circle with a line such as “What Foods Do Dogs Like?” and “What Are Healthy Foods for Dogs”, etc.

The process would continue until one of the circles had enough questions about a specific subtopic to provide content for a composition. The chart below gives a rough example of how this would look. It’s more effective (and more fun for the kids) if you ask them to color code their selections.

Help your child find writing topics by using a Venn Diagram to organize his thoughts.
Help your child find writing topics by using a Venn Diagram to organize his thoughts. | Source

Make Learning Fun

One of the problems with getting kids to learn is that they tire and become bored easily. However, if you find ways of making it fun, learning becomes easy.

When I taught math to my younger students, I would drill them on the tables by presenting a problem and then tossing a ball randomly to a student to see if he could answer.

Since the kids never knew who was going to “catch” the next questions, they had to stay alert. They also wanted to be successful, which meant they had to study their math tables in order to do well.

By making learning fun, parents can join in and make it a family affair. In doing so, they’ll help themselves as well as their kids.

What is important to remember here is that no matter how you choose to do so, teaching your children to think and learn is the best thing you’ll ever do for them!

Do you think doing these things will improve your child's thinking skills?

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Questions & Answers

  • You mentioned involving children in house chores and explaining the reason we do what we do. My daughter is so sweet and interested in everything else but house chores. How do I make learning this life skill fun?

    Chores are not supposed to be "fun." Not everything in life is! However, if you can explain to her that the house belongs to her as well as to you and as such, she should want it to be well maintained this may help. You didn't mention her age, but if she is very young, start with simple, easy to do things such as setting the table or drying the dishes. You can show her photos of houses that are dirty and unkempt and ask her if she would want to live in them and, if not, then the only way to avoid doing so is to help out with chores. You can also explain that by doing these things, she is helping YOU and also making you proud of her willingness to do that. You might also want to explain about germs and show how cleaning and disinfecting keeps the family healthy. Kids normally love to help with chores because doing so makes them feel useful and also gives them feelings of accomplishment.

© 2018 Sondra Rochelle


Submit a Comment
  • Dreamworker profile imageAUTHOR

    Sondra Rochelle 

    3 months ago from USA

    Natalie Frank: That will help, but schools need to change the way they teach or we may be doomed.

  • Natalie Frank profile image

    Natalie Frank 

    3 months ago from Chicago, IL

    An excellent article. You make so many great points. Unfortunately our educational system leaves a lot to be desired and the only way not to end up with a country where everyone is led around by the nose is for us to be able to thonk for ourselves. This involves skills like gathering, evaluating and analyzing information. As much of education today seems about rote memory, the only way for this to occur is for kids to gain these skills at home. Thanks for an important article.


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