Becoming A Thinker

Created by pschappet on Thu, 04/18/2013 - 10:52


What was your least favorite part of your grade school math work?  Word problems, right?  Me too…but I have come to understand that - LIFE is a word problem! At least I was able get lots of practice solving problems to prepare me…now how can I help children do the same?


If a child is going to mature into a thinker, able to manage the rigor of life’s word problems, then he must be allowed to play.  With adequate amounts of space, time, and materials, a child will learn to handle emergent thoughts across disciplines. Unfortunately, the compartmentalization of education (separating literacy from math and science) has a profound negative effect on the child’s ability to think--prohibiting the natural intersection and application across various subjects. 


Parents and educators are tempted to press children “forward” into what is believed to be the goal of education: mastery in individual disciplines of skills such as literacy, science and math.  The interplay of these various subjects, the decoding of how these educational components are interwoven, are not found in a compartmental style of education.  Is it any wonder that “word problems” in math cause anxiety among children.  How then can we expect them to handle the word problems of life?


So when can children really wrestle with life’s word problems? During play! This is when they are totally in control of their thinking and actions. As adults we still control the space, time, and access to materials available  for the children to use. The children decide – if they are allowed to play independently – how these elements will be used. Each child mixes their experience and what they know across all of the disciplines of education during play.


In an effort to accelerate learning, adults tend to tell children what to do; in effect to direct their play. This method seems to accomplish the goal of teaching, but it is ultimately ineffective for learning. Building the connections between various bits of information is a slow, messy and individual process. We cannot teach a child to think – they must learn how to think on their own. In the process they will need to be in control of their choices, so that they can make observations of how things work.


Adults will often tell children what to expect and tell them what happened. In these circumstances the child is deprived of the chance to self-predict what might happen, analyze what happened and then adapt to make a correction if it is needed. This is not the time to demonstrate what we as adults know.  It is the opportunity to carefully provide the child with all that they will need (space, time and materials) to make their own discoveries. Our pleasure comes when we see a child working independently through one of life’s word problems and then doing something new, talking about a discovery or displaying a fresh sensitivity for nature. Each of these (and many more) aspects of integrated learning show a child’s growth toward becoming a life-long thinker.


The adults have an important role during play. It is to set the atmosphere for children with space, time and materials. Then, we need to step back from the action to observe the beauty of a life-long thinker in the process of becoming!