A couple days ago I blogged about teaching your kids how to think. That’s a bold ideal, but like most ideals it needs some flesh on its bones. So here is a mix of explanation and exemplification. How do you teach your child how to think?
Read to your child. Read books that engage imagination and build vocabulary. My mother would read to us when we were doing chores, going on car rides, and often just because it was fun. Stories move the mind beyond blah black and white, so feed your children stories. Through stories, I developed a sense of heroism, justice, redemption, perseverance. Oh, and I learned such essential realities as what it means to be drawn and quartered or how to remove a barbed arrow from someone’s thigh.
Be curious around your children. Ask questions about things you don’t understand and explore them with your kids. Maybe this is as simple as looking up a word in the dictionary or maybe it’s a deep, troubling question about God. If you ask questions then questions become not only acceptable, but exciting. Life is puzzling, so treat it like a puzzle with your kids. If you don’t they won’t be prepared to puzzle out the problems they face when you’re not around.
Be excited about learning. For some this means you need to learn to be excited about learning. My mother doesn’t have hobbies like some people do. She gets invaded by interests. Something will catch hold of her mind and she will dig into it with gusto. She will read, she will listen to podcasts, she will rent movies, she will go to museums. And she will share what is exciting to her. Growing up, I witnessed an eagerness to know stuff. My father goes ga ga over “Planet Earth” and “City of Bees.” Why? Because he has wonder at God’s creation. And he passed that on to me.
Use big words. Words mean something, and some words mean more than others. Some words are packed to the gills with meaning, so use them with your kids. Your kids aren’t stupid; in fact, they’re smarter than even you, the proud parent, think they are. They will learn to express themselves in rich ways, and in so doing will open doors to express big ideas. If a child can’t understand the words that make up big ideas and can’t express those words, then she won’t engage those ideas. So give her the words.
Answer questions. Along with asking questions yourself, the best way to build a thinking mind in your child is to answer his questions. This might mean you have to do some learning to find the answer. Ok. Do so. Find out why the sky is blue and why the leaves on trees change color. Give real answers to little questions and your child will end up asking big questions, challenging questions. And isn’t that what you’re going for?
Give principles above your rules. Every kid needs rules. Without them life is a disaster of disobedience and self-inflicted harm. But kids need to be taught how to engage principles, those standards against which any action can be measured. Teach them to think in questions such as “Does this action honor Jesus?” or “Is this loving to my sister?” not just “Am I allowed to do this?”
I didn’t come by these ideas through my own mind and thoughts. These are things that my parents and other influential people in my life exemplified and used to engage me. And they are things that I intend to do with my own children.