Mind in the Making: Chapter 5

As I was reading chapter 5 of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, I began to make a new connection.  As Skill 3 addressed communication as the foundation for real language and literacy development, and Skill 4 focused on making connections as the essence of math sense, following suit, Skill 5 showed critical thinking as the root of real scientific understanding.  I have really enjoyed seeing how these larger essential skills have woven in the “academic” skills, not ignoring their importance, but highlighting them with the proper perspective within a larger framework of true knowledge and understanding.  Here are some of my favorite takeaways from this chapter:

Building Problem-Solvers

Problem solving is a critical skill.  There are plenty of opportunities around for practice.  Whether it’s social problem solving, personal goal-setting, or a search for scientific answers, methodical problem-solving comes in handy.  The trick is, it’s so darn easy for us as adults to solve problems for kids, rather than with them.  This practice is critical, not only for helping children become familiar with the process, but for the critical thinking and evaluating skills it uses.

Children — Even Infants — Pay Attention to Intention

I think my favorite study I’ve read in this book so far, was this chapter’s description of the babies showing a recognition of intention and even making a moral judgement on pages 212 to 214.  The fact that their observations and evaluations would be so astute at such a young age was astonishing to me!  As much as it applied to the developing ability to think critically, it also reminded me that we can not take for granted what our little ones observe, nor can we afford to take lightly our interactions with them.  The words we say to them and around them, as well as the actions we take, are building a narrative about ourselves, our relationships, and our world.

The Balance of Discovery Learning and Direct Instruction

I have really enjoyed how much these chapters have supported a play-based philosophy, showing in each chapter how these skills are built through play.  In this chapter, I particularly liked the discussion about how to properly balance discovery learning and direct instruction.  The emphasis on scaffolding learning by asking questions, giving “just-in-time information”, and pointing out key concepts, while children are participating in play-based or discovery learning is key.  Play is profoundly powerful as a medium, but we as parents and teachers can make it exponentially moreso by observing and offering appropriate guidance or discussion when necessary.
In discussing the need for in-depth, hands-on guided discovery and experience with the scientific method over the collection of scientific facts, I loved these quotes:
“They are living the scientific approach in their own pursuit of knowledge — living the learning — rather than experiencing learning as the acquisition of factual information.”
“Most school learning is like collecting the pieces of the puzzle and keeping them in a box.”  However….
“You can have all 1000 pieces but if you don’t take the time to fit them together you will never see the picture.”

Discussing Motives

I can relate to Ellen Galinsky’s discussions with her children about evaluating advertising and dissecting their true intentions.  More than once, I’ve had to explain to my boys that when someone on the TV says we have to order right away, we really don’t have to order it right away….or at all.
As I read more about taking critical thinking beyond right/wrong and looking deeper at intentions, I realized it’s not only valuable to teach kids to take a look at the intentions of those trying to persuade them, but it also reminded me of the importance of perspective taking as a social skill.  I thought of my own father’s frequent lessons that “you don’t have to agree, but you do need to show respect”.  Discussing why someone may have different intentions or perspectives is healthy work to not only help children better evaluate information, but also to recognize that different perspectives or motivations don’t always constitute a right/wrong paradigm.  I would hope discussing motivation and thinking more critically could help us all to be more apt to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

Encouraging Curiosity

Over and over, I felt this chapter encouraged me to do more to encourage curiosity in my children.  It seems almost comical that we need to “encourage” something that comes so naturally, particularly to my five year-old who is constantly asking questions, but without encouragement in the form of discussions, fact-finding, and experimenting, those questions will slow and then stop.  It seems that lack of questioning indicates a lack of passion for learning, and that’s something I certainly don’t want for my children.  I was reminded of the quote from Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in The Creativity Crisis:

“Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 question a day. Why, why, why — sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions.”

All Parents Get Frustrated

I have to say, one of my favorite parts of this chapter was on the last page where Ellen talks about feeling overwhelmed by her son’s “temper flare-ups”.  She describes herself as feeling desperate and as though she couldn’t live through one more episode.  This was a passage that I’m sure every parent could relate to.  We’ve all had that moment, whether it’s about temper flare-ups, whining, sibling quarrels, or power struggles.  We’ve all been so completely frustrated. It was such a great reminder that all parents — even Ellen Galinsky — have those moments.  It reaffirmed to me that parenting is not a contest, judged on how little conflict you have, rather it is about acknowledging conflict, teaching through the conflicts, and using them as stepping stones.  I really enjoyed reading Ellen’s description of how she actively problem solved with her son.
What were your take aways for Chapter 5?

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