Let Your Children Think!
I taught fourth grade my first year in the profession. Thirty four wonderful children, eyes wide with anticipation reported for learning in my open-space classroom at Rippling Woods Elementary. We discussed many things the first couple of days, the most important being our classroom rules and procedures. Elementary teachers learn quickly that there has to be an established procedure for EVERYTHING in order to escape the relentless bombardment of mundane questions. One opening statement that always grabbed the attention of my little charges on the first day of school was, “Yes! There is such a thing as a stupid question!”
It became clear to me very early in my teaching career that the majority of my students had not been taught to think independently. They had grown so accustomed to being told what to do they felt as though they needed my permission to breath! Please don't misunderstand; I had many wonderful students who could easily grasp a concept with little or no input from me. Those same students, a month after the routines had been established, would turn around ask a question like, "May I sharpen my pencil?"
My automatic response was always, “Pretend you are me. How do you think I will answer your question?” This response normally wrought blank stares and even a few frustrated tears, (fourth grade girls can be so emotional) but it did not take long for the students to get it. You see, we had already designated times when it was and was not ‘OK’ to sharpen a pencil. I had gone to great lengths to put into place daily routines for everything from turning in homework to going to the bathroom. It normally only took me a few weeks to drive home the point that certain questions were unnecessary or “stupid questions.” My students had great fun posting these questions to our “STUPID QUESTIONS” bulletin board, when they were identified. Many of my miniature comedians spent hours attempting to come up with more questions just to say they had one on the board. And though it got a little silly at times, this bulletin board was an invaluable classroom management tool.
Independent thinking is a learning strategy which can be taught at home to very young children. There are only two determining factors to ponder before you begin to promote independent thinking at home:
- How do you establish a routine that promotes independent thinking
- When is the right time to begin?
Ultimately, it depends on your child. I am no expert on early childhood development, but simple choices like choosing which color bottle can start as early as your little one learns to point. Once your child understands the concept of pointing to one bottle or the other, you are on your way. Even late talkers can participate. My little guy didn’t start putting words together until he reached the two year mark. Even still, at 12 months he wanted to stand on the counter and choose a sippy cup from the cupboard just like his big sister.
Here are a few decisions your toddler can make every day:
- Which cup or bottle
- Juice or milk- later what flavor juice (I always have at least two choices)
- What kind of cereal, toaster strudel, or pop tart (or any other breakfast food you keep on hand)
- PBJ, Grilled cheese (or hot cheese as Abby says), hotdogs or Spaghetti Oh's
- Which movie to watch
There really is no limit to the amount of choices you can give your little one. It's best to start with just two choices. Once your little prince or princess understands the concept, more options can be added.
My daughter started talking around her 9th month. It wasn't long after her first precious words (Daddy was her first) she began to put together two and three word phrases to express her desires and concerns. It was at this time I began asking her to make choices on her own. It started with something as simple as which color bottle she wanted. I held a pink bottle in one hand and a yellow one in the other and asked her, "Abby, would you like the pink bottle or the yellow bottle?" She would then point to the bottle she wanted. It is important to include the color names when asking to help your toddler match colors to their names.
At first the choices were completely random, but later they became more deliberate. Before long she was telling me, "Abby pick. Abby pick, Daddy!" It progressed from bottles to sippy cups. Juice or milk was the next challenge and shortly after that she began to get more specific about what kind of juice she wanted. I must warn you; once you establish this routine, your precious little baby will expect to have a choice. I recommend making only the choices you do not wish to have control over available. One of the best things about this technique is you have control over which two items from which they'll choose.
Allowing your child to make choices at a young age will help them become independent thinkers. Rather than ask questions for which you have already established a standard response, they will rely on themselves for the answer. This is an ongoing process with little ones, but my daughter is now four and still loves to make decisions about nearly everything. Whether it is which movie to watch, which snack to eat, what to have for breakfast or lunch- there is no option for dinner- or which juice to drink, Abby loves to make her decision from my limited list of options.
Over time, as they grow, the choice game will become less and less necessary. You'll be glad, however, you have mastered this technique when your baby hits puberty because you will need to begin the training all over again.
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