Raising a Sceptical Thinker
As the Father, one of the many things I try to do for my son is to teach him to be a good sceptical and critical thinker. The ability to think freely and critically is essential in today’s ever changing and evolving world that will aid him in not only dealing with the issues currently at hand but give him the skills required to deal with any future problems. I cannot hope to teach my son everything but by teaching him good critical thinking I can provide him with the ability to learn anything.
I think the first, and possibly the most important, step to raising a sceptical child is to encourage questioning and experimentation. The old adage that there are no stupid questions is never truer that with a small child. It sometimes seems that the stream of ‘why’ questions will never cease from a toddler but answering them sincerely and honestly can go a long way in fostering a healthy curiosity. I find that allowing kids to question helps with their self discovery as it can lead the discussion to what they want to know and not always what you are trying to teach. As far as answering their questions there are several things I try to do depending on the question. I will sometimes simply answer the question, I may on occasion guide him to find the answer himself and I will also admit that I do not know the answer and need to look it up. I feel that depending on the situation any of these methods of answering questions can teach as much as the actual answer to the question can.
Your child’s learning style will greatly influence the way in which you approach teaching him or her. Some children are tactile, auditory or visual learners and the way you explain things will vary depending on what suits your child best. The method of learning can not only vary from child to child but from phase to phase and topic to topic for the same child. Allowing the child to explore the world in a way that feels most comfortable is an important step to fostering and nurturing their thinking.
Knowledge gives the child a solid base on which to build. In order to be able to comprehend and analyze new data the child must have a good understanding of the world around them. Without basic knowledge of the classic three Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) a child will not be able to research or analyze new information. The basics of critical thinking can be demonstrated while giving basic facts. When my son first started becoming curious about gravity I not only explained it as best I could but I showed him how to do some basic experiments to test it. I think this demonstrated that even if you have some knowledge of a subject there is always more to learn and I showed him how to acquire more information.
The real test of any newly learned information can be measured by the level of the child’s comprehension, retention and application. Having conversations with my son about topics that interest him and making him explain to me things he has learned is an excellent way to see how much he has absorbed. I will often playfully answer questions incorrectly or make false statements in order to have him correct me, I find this helps me see how much he has retained and makes him feel like an equal contributor. Knowledge and thinking skills can be tested in numerous ways from conversation to games. The trick is to not make it seem like you are constantly testing them.
When teaching kids to think for themselves an important and difficult lesson is that opinions can differ and there is not always a clear cut right or wrong answer. Shades of grey are difficult for young children. It is important to instill in them that even if we do not necessarily respect the opinion expressed it is still possible to respect the individual expressing those opinions.
I fully expect that my child will come to a point where he will have thoughts and opinions that I do not agree with and that he will come to disagree with me but hopefully with good thinking skills we will be able to have open and honest debates about those topics. I do not want to ignore the importance of teaching basic knowledge and facts but I feel it is at least as important to teach kids how to think and not what to think.