"We fill our children full of facts. But education is also about helping children apply information to new problems and new situations. We teach them, but we don't always teach them to think." (Dr Robert Fisher, Centre for Teaching Thinking at Brunel University)

“We fill our children full of facts. But education is also about helping children apply information to new problems and new situations. We teach them, but we don’t always teach them to think.” (Dr Robert Fisher, Centre for Teaching Thinking at Brunel University)


1 Don’t assume that an intelligent child is automatically a good thinker. In fact, intelligent children may be lazy thinkers, or poor ones. They may be good at giving quick answers without much thought. Meanwhile the slow, reflective child – the pupil whom teachers may reprimand for daydreaming – often produces deeper insights.

2 Start early. Simple rhymes such as the following may get five year olds thinking.

How far are the stars?
How deep are caves?
Are there men on Mars?
What makes waves?

Why is the sky blue?
Where does it end?
What makes a rainbow?
Why does it bend?

These can lead on to other, more thought provoking questions. Young children enjoy reciting rhymes which use simple word-play.

Tell me who can
Catch a toucan?
Lou can.

Just how few can
Ride a toucan?
Two can.

They look at the words, think about what they’re reading or hearing. Once learned, this habit will last a lifetime.

3 Give your children something to think about. Visit museums together, read with them, watch TV side by side. Talk to them about what they’ve seen and heard. Throw them questions. Challenge their imaginations. For example, “What might earth be like if dinosaurs came back?”

4 Involve the whole family. Good thinking habits can be learned best in a small group with plenty of talk and give and take. Even the youngest child has ideas that should be listened to.

5 Tell jokes. Humour can help children to learn that there’s more than one way to look at things. “Knock, Knock” jokes are popular with the young because they are unsophisticated and easily remembered.

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Boo who?
There’s no need to cry about it!

Children around seven or eight enjoy making up their own jokes, especially ones using puns that look at words from a different perspective.

Why couldn’t the animals on Noah’s Ark eat apples?
Because he only let pears on board!

Once you have established a thinking atmosphere, you can then train your child to think using some of the following approaches:
(1) Look at all sides. The PMI technique may be a Ā useful tool for this. This involves looking at the Pluses, the Minuses and any Interesting points about a given topic. Using a technique like this allows a child to give deeper consideration to a question. They may learn that nothing is as simple as it first appears. Example “How would you like to receive ā‚¬10 a week for attending school?”
(2) Find patterns and threads. “How does this relate to what I learned last week? How does this fit in with something coming up next week?” Fitting bits of knowledge together is the basis of education. By identifying patterns we avoid having to learn the same lessons again and again.
(3) Even if it ain’t broke, fix it. Reverse the old saying. Human progress is about overturning accepted ideas. People were content to light their homes with candles until Thomas Edison came along and invented the lightbulb. Ā Accountants added with pencil and paper until calculators and computers arrived. Parents should encourage children, who are less set in their ways, to question the “way it’s always been done.”
(4) Ask unconventional questions. Challenge your child with thoughts like: ‘Suppose all cars were painted green.’ What would the pluses, minuses and interesting points be? The best questions are those that don’t have a single answer. ‘What if animals and plants could talk? What can you do with a piece of paper? What would happen if everyone doubled in height? What do we need to feed all the world’s people?
(5) Say what you mean. Precise words not only prevent misinterpretations but also help sharpen ideas. Defining terms (e.g.weird, cool, boring) is a tough mental discipline that helps children clarify what they really think. Ask a child to describe a hidden object without naming it. Ask a child to describe the feel of an object in a paper bag or cloth bag.
(6) Seek a second opinion. And a third! Children often state their own convictions, wait impatiently for another speaker to finish and then simply repeat what they said earlier. By not listening to others, they remain ignorant of ideas that could broaden their outlook. Get them to consider points of view. Similarly, watching and reading the news can teach the important lesson that identical bits of evidence may be interpreted in different ways.
(7) Wear the other person’s shoes.Ā Urge your children to try to understand how others think and feel. That’s not easy in personal matters. Simple role-playing helps children understand the feelings of others.
(8) Write it down. “I never know what I think until I write it down”, has often been said. Encourage your child to keep a diary or journal. Writing is very good practice for thinking. It can be difficult, but that is writing’s virtue.
(9) Think ahead. Encourage children to consider short-term, mid-term and long-term consequences. One of the most important questions a child can ask is “And then what?” “Drop out of school Ā … and then what?” OIt’s difficult for children to think about tomorrow or next year. Yet what might happen tomorrow should affect actions and thoughts today.
(10) Study. Intellectual development and growth requires information, knowledge, understanding and growth. All are necessary.
(11) Keep at it. Young people don’t develop the habits of logical thoughts overnight. Thinking takes practice, like sport or music. The first time you try something after a practice may not be successful. But eventually the lessons will become part of you and will stay with you for the rest of your life.

to be continued …

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