EG: We didn’t do as much as I would like on special needs in the first round of Mind in the Making. I am bringing a wonderful expert into our team this summer just to focus on this topic. We plan to do more filming on special needs and will create materials and resources for families.
In the meantime, I have been told by parents of children with special needs that some of executive function activities are very useful for their children, but perhaps on a different timetable. So stay tuned.
NJC: On a similar note, should the skill of communication be promoted differently for bilingual or multilingual children? As learning two or more languages simultaneously can lead to slower language development in the earlier years, would this have any impact on the development of the essential skill of communication or of any of the other skills?
EG: There is increasing evidence that being bilingual is an advantage for executive function skills, like Communicating and the other life skills. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/science/31conversation.html. We also plan to do more filming on this subject in the future. So again, stay tuned.
NJC: You encourage parents to avoid becoming alarmists. Do you have any recommendations for how (and why) parents should strike that balance, protecting their children and preparing them for challenges, without unintentionally promoting anxiety and helplessness?
EG: The art of parenthood is figuring out this balance for ourselves and for our each of our children. And my saying “each of our children” is intentional, since there are different solutions for different children. The child who is a daredevil will need a different response than the more fearful child.
There is a universal for all children and that is to avoid imposing our fears on our kids or sending negative messages to them about their fears. I think of my mother. She was always afraid of thunderstorms—terrified to be honest. If there was a thunderstorm, she would move away from the crashing thunder and the crackling lightening to a part of our home that was more sheltered, but she did so in a way that didn’t impose her fear on us. We knew SHE was afraid but also knew that there was no reason for US to be afraid.
Here is the challenge to me. We need to set the bar just beyond what each of our children can do, help them take on the next challenge that is hard but not so hard that it is beyond their capacities. And we need to let our kids know that making mistakes comes with the territory. If we aren’t making mistakes, we aren’t learning.
NJC: As you write about critical thinking, you talk about the development of theories. When giving children the opportunity to create their own theories about things they have learned, when or how do parents and teachers correct incorrect theories, if at all?
EG: We do need to help kids move toward accurate theories, but in a way that remains respectful of their theories. The example that comes to mind is Philip. He made up his own theory of math. It was close but in the end, it was inaccurate. We wouldn’t have done him any favors if we just celebrated his theory but didn’t teach him the correct ways to add, subtract, divide, and do multiplication. So first we tried to understand his reasoning and then showed him how his theory worked, putting it side by side with adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying. We said it is like knowing two languages—his way of doing math (which we said was very creative though it didn’t always work) and the school-way of doing math. We told him he needed to learn the school-way, but helped him compare his way with the school way.
If you can, help older children set up experiments to test their theories and in doing so, help them understand the more accurate theory. For example, a child might say that plants don’t need water—so try it out. Give one plant water and another one no water and see what happens.
NJC: Along those same lines, one reader asked how to teach critical thinking in a developmentally appropriate way. More specifically, is it OK to let young children live in their worlds of fantasy without calling attention to the logical inconsistencies?
EG: There are two scenarios I can see. The first is children’s own fantasies—Spiderman can fly, for example. I would say something like “That is a great story—it is a make-believe story, but a really exciting one.”
The second scenario is our cultural made up stories, like the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. It is up to each family how to convey these stories, but when the children begin to understand the truth, then you can explain them again as make-believe stories that have been told for years and are meant to be fun.
NJC: Lastly, if you had to boil down the content of this book to one main message you want parents and teachers to take to heart, what would it be?
EG: Do something everyday if you can that keeps the fire burning in your eyes and your children’s eyes!
NJC: Thank you again for your time in not only producing such a masterful work, but also in answering some of our questions about the information you’ve presented!
EG: It has been my pleasure. If your readers have more questions they want to ask or comments they want to make, they should feel free to continue the conversation.
Thank you, once again, to each of you for reading along and submitting questions, and of course, to Ellen Galinsky for being so willing to participate in this discussion!