Helping Children Become Thinkers

Several people reading my last post asked me to elaborate on encouraging curiosity in young children. Using my years in the classroom, I would like to suggest the following list of opportunities to help children develop thinking skills:

1. Present open-ended activities. Instead of having the child do a self- portrait by giving her a page with the outline of a body, give her several colors of construction paper, scissors and glue to create a picture of herself. The possibilities are endless.

2. Ask the child for his opinion. When issues occur in the classroom, instead of issuing commands, turn the discussion to the children. "Friends, we are having trouble remembering to clean the art center when we are finished. Do you have any suggestions for what we can do about this problem."

3. Conduct a daily share time activity. When I was teaching, I gave the children an opportunity to verbally share any information item they would like to that day (no show and tell items, just verbal sharing). I did insist that the children listen to the speaker (listening skills practice) and encouraged anyone to share. It was not a requirement, but an opportunity. It only took 3-4 minutes and was a great beginning to the school day.

4. Let the children be the teacher. Children learn many more things from their peers than they do from adults. I found the value of using other children as teachers early on in my teaching career. I routinely partnered my students so that they could share with each other during an activity. The thinking and discussion were so valuable that I looked for other opportunities to allow children to 'teach' each other.

5. Help children understand the 'why.' Discuss with children why they are learning what you are teaching in the classroom. "Girls and boys, why do you think it is important for us to learn the letters of the alphabet?" A routine why discussion will help children develop the thinking skills of reasoning and understanding the foundation of learning.

Helping a child develop thinking skills will open up the world to him, much like opening the shell of a clam.