Is your child frustrated with common core math or lacks attention and focus in school? Critical thinking skills can help. On February 9th the first parent training video will be released but you must be registered to receive the notifications. I’ll explain the “what” and “why” of critical thinking including it’s potential for academic motivation in preschoolers, struggling students and gifted learners.
Then we’ll review assumptions that prevent parents from fostering (and children from gaining) “good thinking” experiences, and the impacts of these pitfalls on a child’s ability to focus. build their attention span to develop strong reading skills and math number sense.
The last video will give you some quick & easy tips to implement into your already (time-strapped) busy schedule. If you are interested in this training, just click here to you’ll be signed up to be notified when the videos are ready.
Many parents and teachers dread their child asking this question, and it can be an intimidating one to answer. If disregarded, it can allow the child to internalize a negative self-belief. If approached with care and consideration, it can become a powerful, teachable moment and lead to valuable dialogue. As a result, the child can learn how to not only think of themselves in a more positive light, but also how to think critically about how they learn.
Here are a few talking points to facilitate this tough conversation:
Reflect on the power of perseverance
Author, professor, and researcher Carol Dweck often speaks of the “growth mindset.” In short, this refers to intelligence that expands (or grows) over time. Rather than looking at someone’s inherent ability to solve a problem, the growth mindset focuses on the effort put in.
When a child asks if they are stupid, remind them that no one is stupid, and everyone has room to grow if they take the time and put in the effort. It’s important to emphasize here that while your child might not know something, that doesn’t put it outside of their realm of possibility. It just means they don’t know it YET. This can teach them the power of persevering to learn a new skill.
Encourage your child to abandon the phrase “I can’t do this,” instead asking for help or finding areas to improve. Ask open-ended questions that allow them to explore the challenge in a new way, thinking about it critically.
Model how to manage frustration
Growth takes time and effort. As adults, we know this, but when a child is struggling to learn a new skill it can quickly become upsetting. Showing your child how to acknowledge and manage this frustration is key to facilitating growth and helping them feel capable.
Some helpful strategies include deep breathing, physical breaks, and brief distractions. Something as simple as going for a walk or singing a silly song can provide the mental break needed to lower frustration levels and work through challenging situations.
Modeling this for your child is also helpful. When you find yourself in frustrating situations, take the time to emulate these strategies. Then you can use yourself as an example when your child calls their intelligence into question, acknowledging that even you become frustrated and must take certain steps to alleviate the negative feelings.
Teach your child that “smart” looks different in different people
Every person learns differently, and taking the time to explain this to your child can help them grapple with their own doubts around their intelligence.
Emphasize with your child that everyone has that which comes naturally to them and that which they struggle with. Taking the problem and approaching it in a new way can open up new possibilities for understanding.
Additionally, “smart” doesn’t just mean getting perfect grades on math tests; it could mean being a skilled puzzle-solver, having a knack for building, or always being able to make your friends laugh. There are many paths to success and many ways to absorb and act upon new information.
Take the time to uncover your child’s learning style by taking our quiz. This will help you figure out how your child learns most naturally and will allow you to adjust course when needed.
Remind them that everyone is a learner
Along the same lines as multiple learning styles, the idea that everyone is a learner is something to share with your child as well. Children need to see that the adults in their lives make mistakes too, and this helps them understand that everyone is learning.
Model a growth mindset for your child: instead of saying “I’m bad at this,” say, “Wow! This is something I could really use more practice with.” Showing your own vulnerabilities can be difficult, but it helps your children to relate to the idea that everyone struggles with something and everyone can improve.
Many children wonder if they are stupid from time to time, but if your child chooses to ask you this loaded question, remind them of the power of perseverance! Tell them that everyone is a learner and that people are all strong and weak in different ways. These messages along with some strategies for managing frustration will result in meaningful conversations that can change children’s’ mindsets for years to come.
In February 2017, I will be releasing a 3-part video training focusing on how parents can build critical thinking skills in children preschool through second grade.
The training will start with explaining the “what” and “why” of critical thinking including it’s potential for academic motivation in preschoolers, struggling students and gifted learners.
Then we’ll review assumptions that prevent parents from fostering (and children from gaining) “good thinking” experiences, and the impacts of these pitfalls on a child’s ability to build proficient reading skills and math number sense.
The last video will give you some quick & easy tips to implement into your already (time-strapped) busy schedule. If you are interested in this training, just click here to you’ll be signed up to be notified when the videos are ready.
Create a structure around both off and onscreen learning
The key factor isn’t the means through which your child is learning: it’s the structure around it. For example, giving your child free reign to do whatever he or she pleases on an iPad may be somewhat less effective than scheduling a block of time for them to engage in highly-acclaimed learning apps.
This holds true for offscreen play as well. You don’t need to dictate every activity your child engages in, but it’s good to be cognizant of how they spend the blocks of time where no screen is involved.
Remain a part of the process
Whether you’re helping your child build something from blocks or asking questions about the learning app they’re playing with, your participation matters.
While it can be tempting to let your child “figure it out on their own”, it’s important to remain invested in the process. Ask questions, show your interest, and let your child know that you want to be involved, regardless of what the activity may be. Continue reading “Offscreen vs. Onscreen Learning”
How to prevent bullying in the Pre-K through 3rd Grade Classroom.
When thinking about bullying, I find many parents and teachers immediately gravitate to the image of a middle or high school student showing cruelty to their classmates. In reality, bullying starts much younger than this (as early as Pre-K!). Often, by the time
young children hit their pre-teens their ‘bully’ personalities have already begun to make mischief. This is why it’s so important to teach fairness, sharing, and compassion from an early age.
My experiences with parents and teachers who deal with a bully and bullied children led to the creation of Stanley the Snack Snatcher. This short, compelling story provides teachers and parents with a tool to begin conversations about bullying. In addition, there are a number of strategies teachers can use to prevent bullying in the classroom, including creating a classroom community, involving parents, and keeping an
Create a Classroom Community.
Bullying often stems from kids who are isolated: isolated from their peers, their families, or their communities. One way to prevent bullying is to make sure every student in your classroom feels like a valued member of the classroom community.
There are many ways to do this, but one that many teachers use is a daily circle time with an activity called “Give, Get, Pass.” Each student gets a turn in the circle, and when it is
their turn, they can choose to give a compliment to the classmate of their choice, get a compliment from a classmate of their choice, or simply pass. At first, this activity is very surface level- “I like your clothes. I like your hair,” but with time, grows much more meaningful and really makes each student feel valued. Another circle time activity is a daily share, where one or two students share anything they want- something they did at home, something they’re excited about, something that happened at lunch. Other students actively listen and ask questions about the sharing
The activity itself isn’t as important as the intention behind it; encouraging compassion, understanding, and a safe place to share. Outside of circle time, this community can be emphasized by promoting collaboration and discussion. Showing each child that their opinion is valued, not just by the teacher, but also by their peers, is crucial to building empathy.
No parent wants to hear that their child is bullying or being bullied, but the sooner parents are involved, the better. Teachers should immediately communicate any concerns about bullying to the parents of the bully and the bullied. This can help in two main ways.
First, parents will be able to speak with their children at home. In some cases, this may be all the redirection they need. In doing this, parents have the opportunity to help their child learn empathy and sharing.
Second, parents can often shed light on why bullying might be happening. Perhaps there are changes at home- a new baby, a new job, a new routine. Even small changes can seem drastic to young children, so making sure that teachers and parents are partners with open communication is key.
Keep an open dialogue about bullying. Each child arrives with different experiences, backgrounds, and ideas about their world.
As you guide them through the school year, it’s important to embrace and value these differences. Even more important is maintaining a dialogue around these difference as well as behavioral red flags. Young children often know right from wrong, but it is a lesson that needs to be reinforced. Talk to your class about bully behavior and why it is wrong. Use a book about bullying, like Stanley the Snack Snatcher, to guide your conversation, allowing children to openly share their experiences.
Bullying stops when we begin to value one another’s differences
At the end of the day, I believe it is vital for young children to learn how to value the differences among their peers, maintain a sense of community, and deal with conflict in an empathetic manner.
We all want what is best for our child, and part of this is providing a safe, healthy learning environment filled with mutual respect and trust. By approaching the issue of bullying from an early age, we can cultivate this environment.
Using critical thinking skills to approach cyber security and your preschooler.
With cyber-attacks inundating news reports, cyber security has been on my mind lately – especially when it comes to young children. October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to assess your preschool child’s safety in an increasingly complex digital world. First, let’s talk about what cyber security is. Often, we think of it in terms of our passwords. Long, complex passwords that differ for each of your logins is standard (and recommended. But cyber security as a whole is more in-depth. It’s the protection of an entire ecosystem of digital data on a personal, communal, and national level. For you personally, this can mean protecting everything from your bank account to your child’s school records. Even if your children are young – say in preschool or daycare – there are steps you can take to make sure they are not being exposed to vulnerabilities.
Know where data is being stored. Academic institutions keep a record of their students. Some of these records are still following old-school paper techniques, or are housed on internal databases, but not all. In fact, it’s often more beneficial to keep student records somewhere easily accessible throughout the institution, which often means relying on an internet connection. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a good idea to know how the data is being stored. Once you know what programs are being used, you can verify that the company creating the program has systems in place to keep the data safe.
Know where your child is spending their digital time.
Thanks to tablets and an open marketplace for app development, your child has the potential to be exposed to a mountain of digital educational resources. In many ways, this is a wonderful asset to your child’s academic growth. There are countless games designed for the sole purpose of creating a fun, educational learning environment that can be accessed anywhere. Of course, there is a flip side of the coin. Many apps, when downloaded, require access to personal information. Often within an app, users are exposed to advertisements. Taking the time to check exactly what permissions are being sought out and what is available within the app, will help keep your iPad and your child safe. Talk to your child about cyber security. It may seem like a big topic, but safety in a digital world is a reality of today’s youngest generations. Because of this, it’s crucial to teach them how to approach the Internet in a smart, critical way from an early age. This means keeping an open dialogue. Over the years, your child will be exposed to any number of digital dilemmas, whether they are exposed to cyber bullying, are contacted by someone who seems suspicious, or simply are not sure how to access information in a safe way.
Each of these issues can be tackled through critical thinking skills and an open dialogue. The Internet isn’t something to be feared, but it is something to approach with a healthy dose of caution.
I spend a lot of time talking about the value of “thinking prep” and how to effectively prepare your children to be thoughtful, curious individuals. The Critical Thinking Child was founded on this idea, and the prep we provide does so much more than prepare your child for a test–it cultivates a lifelong love of learning.
But what does prep have to do with being gifted?
It’s a good question, and one I hear frequently. My answer?
You can’t wish, teach or prep a child to be gifted but you can improve their thinking skills
As parents, we can give the gift of education but you can’t wish, teach, or prep a child to be gifted.
A child’s gifts take on many forms, and even the term “gifted” is often nuanced. We prefer terms like high-performing, high-achieving or high-potential students.
Does this mean prep is useless? Of course not. Children acquire and build their gifts and talents through exposure to the world around them. Our program focuses on nurturing these natural gifts within your child. We stimulate and stretch their natural talents and supports their academic struggles. Our prep is an opportunity to teach your child how to think critically, regardless of labels.
Through critical thinking, children have the potential to be our greatest assets
The skills we teach at The Critical Thinking Child support talented children in reaching their full potential. Our students develop higher-level thinking skills and accelerate their academic potential. Under our care, children learn to concentrate, listen, and focus. All of our prep serves this purpose.
In addition, we want to empower you, as a parent, to foster your child’s gifts at home. Highly intelligent, unique children may require more attention, and our tips and strategies will help you promote and nurture them in their daily life. Together, we will be able to help children develop their critical thinking skills and give them a chance to explore their interests and discover their passions.
By doing so, we awaken within our children their potential to be our greatest thinkers, scientists, teachers, artists, and leaders.
Gifting education to your future generation
Something magical happens through our program. As we connect with the child, they begin to explore and ask questions. They hone in on their talents and passions and develop a deeper understanding of their world. Our parents are able to witness and experience the joy of their gift of education.
Let’s be honest, enrolling in our program will not make your child gifted.
What it will accomplish is giving you, as a parent, the chance to give the gift of education.
I stand by our motto—“Gifting Education to Your Future Generation”—and together, we will give your child the chance to reach their academic potential and prep for a lifetime love of learning, inquiry, and exploration.
Three smart ways to help your child succeed on their homework.
Few students return from school at the end of the day full of excitement and eagerness about their homework. In my experience, even the most gifted students (sometimes especially gifted students) approach their homework assignments with a certain amount of anxiety, irritation, or distaste. After all, they just spent the whole day at school, why should they need to work more?
Motivating and helping your child succeed can be a daunting task, and no small number of fights have begun at the homework table. Rather than preparing for battle, I recommend taking the stress away from homework. As a parent, you fill the role of monitor and motivator. To do this successfully means implementing a few simple practices.
Blur the lines between learning and playing
So often young learners are restricted from “play time” until they successfully complete their homework. Essentially, they are told they are not allowed to have fun until they finish learning. It’s no wonder so many students are resistant!
Instead of holding fun over your child’s head as a motivator, reinforce the idea that learning is fun. Not only that, but it’s a part of everyday experiences. While homework may be a more formal version of learning, each game they play, every curiosity they satisfy, also teaches them.
Remind your child of this by integrating fun, learning activities into their routine and allowing homework to be a part of that.
Ask open-ended questions
It can be tempting to take on your child’s homework as your own burden, but it’s important to resist the urge. Instead of hovering over them, act as a facilitator. If they begin to struggle, ask open-ended questions that prompt them to think for themselves, instead of fishing for answers.
Questions such as, “How can you think about this in a different way?” or “What part of this problem is hard for you?” will teach your child to verbalize their difficulties while also approaching them from new angles. As an added bonus, when you monitor your child in this way you become less of a disciplinarian and more of a motivator. They can look to you for advice, but ultimately they are responsible for their own learning.
Asking your child to do all of their homework at once may be hurting more than helping, especially if they’re bogged down by a huge amount. Instead, block off specific times for completing homework and encourage your child to take breaks frequently. Most young children have short attention spans, and when they become frustrated their ability to problem solve is greatly reduced.
Give your child 15 – 30 minutes to work on their homework in earnest, then break it up with an activity that requires some amount of movement or shift in thinking. Once they’ve had 10 – 20 minutes away from their assignment, encourage them to return to it. This will allow them to approach it with a fresh mind.
As your child gets older they may be able to work uninterrupted for longer periods of time. Be mindful of them as they work, and if they seem to be overly stressed or anxious, remind them to step back.
Are you creating a positive atmosphere around homework?
When you implement these tricks you allow your child to approach their homework with a more positive mindset. It becomes less of a battleground and more of a playground. While your child may never view homework as their favorite activity, they will slowly come to think of it as a part of their day-to-day routine.
When your young child is constantly distracted by, well, everything, it can be hard to make learning stick. Sometimes it can be difficult just to get their attention long enough to check in with them, let alone introduce a new concept.
While it can be frustrating to have a child who seems constantly preoccupied, it is possible to teach them how to become more adept at compartmentalizing and focusing. This revolves around two key skills: listening and attention.
Honing in on listening skills
Listening skills come into play when students have something they need to remember and focus on. For example, activities that require pattern recognition also require a good amount of focus. If students are seeking out a familiar pattern (ABAB, for instance), they will need to trust in their own ability to focus. If they begin to struggle, they will have to seek help and practice listening to the prompts given to them.
Similarly, memory games help students improve their recall and their ability to retell stories. I’m particularly fond of abstract puzzles, which provide a layer of complexity that often requires the use of listening skills. Putting children in pairs can also help develop this skill.
Finally, you can help your young learner develop listening skills by reading to them. By teaching young learners to recognize and focus on the sounds of the English language they will be more tuned to it. This includes the 44 phonic sounds, rhymes, onomatopoeia, and alliteration. Picture books and beginning chapter books are great starting points. For the particularly distracted child, don’t pressure them to finish the book in one sitting. You can always go back to it or re-read it.
Developing longer attention spans
Help your child increase their attention span by providing them with activities that grab their interest and keep it. For example, if their focus seems to wander when reading books, switch up the genre. By deviating beyond fairy tale stories and including a wider variety, you allow students to find their preferences.
In particular, including books with real-world information will give them a new perspective on reading and digesting information. If your child finds a topic they are particularly enthralled by, encourage their interest
Additionally, critical thinking games and puzzles provide ample opportunities for developing attention spans. Forcing your child to think outside of the box through new topics, classifications, and activities will help them understand and interpret their world in new ways. This often results in a spark of curiosity and interest, leading to longer attention spans.
The benefits of abstract puzzles
Abstract puzzles are a great way to help encourage students to be more focused. As you can see from the video below, when abstract puzzles are introduced into a child’s learning environment it requires both listening skills and a long attention span:
A few years ago a dad came to me seeking test prep services for his four-year-old daughter. As an educator, this isn’t unusual, but this specific instance was memorable to me for three reasons:
His guilt and regret about neglecting to test his first child (a bright and intellectually curious six-year-old) for the gifted kindergarten program. His son was an early reader and academically ahead of his preschool peers, but they didn’t seek testing.
The sacrifices his family made based on their financial priorities. They focused on three key areas: education, health, and retirement. This meant he invested big bucks in his children’s education.
His anxiety and stress around figuring out which resources to buy and how to best help his bright, shy 4-year-old daughter so she could excel academically on the day of the gifted test.
Like this parent, you invest in education because you expect the best for your child. You want them to learn and grow in the most beneficial way possible. I know, as I experienced the same with my children. I wanted them to see learning as a positive experience, one they looked forward to.
Unfortunately, many academic organizations focus too much time and energy on old-school techniques, like rote memorization, drilling, and lower-level thinking skills.
Test prep is particularly guilty of this. Young kids learn to cram and memorize skills which are often forgotten and rarely applied after the test.
In a perfect world, you want your child to learn skills that are sustainable. When tested, you want them to feel calm and ready to put their best foot forward, not anxious and overwhelmed. This is why I built The Critical Thinking Boot Camp for Kids: to be fun and engaging and, above all, useful beyond the test. It’s about think prep rather than test prep.
Here are a few ways in which The Critical Thinking Child Boot Camp for Kids stands apart.
We build confidence
With activities that take into consideration all possible learning styles, our program is geared to your child’s exact needs. This helps to break down barriers and make learning accessible to all of the students. Even better, children are able to practice learning in their dominant and their non-dominant learning styles, which helps to boost their confidence.
We also help to create an atmosphere of healthy competition. Instead of comparing students to one another, we focus on individual progress. We teach our students to identify their own academic strengths and opportunities for improvement. We also teach them to celebrate their mistakes, using positive praise to help them learn and grow. This fosters a growth mindset and helps them understand that learning is a lifelong process and it is okay to make mistakes.
Additionally, we take time to model and demonstrate all of our lessons. These examples, combined with critical thinking questions, help students become familiar with a variety of concepts, even when they are presented in new ways. We start practicing at a young age to help students develop these skills early.
We take learning beyond the classroom
When I first created The Critical Thinking Child Boot Camp for Kids I wanted to create an atmosphere where parents and children were companions in learning. We bring parents into the equation, providing the tools and resources necessary to make learning an everyday experience. This includes a Parent Mastermind Group and various online learning opportunities. We show children how to think critically about their world, and we help parents promote this way of thinking at home.
In doing this, we help ensure that young learners continue to practice their critical thinking skills no matter where they are. Easy-to-implement tools make it simple for parents to guide their child. As a result, the young learner is able to create a lifelong habit of approaching their world with curiosity and a joy of learning.
We also help students become comfortable with using technology as a learning tool. Through technology, we enhance the learning experience, rather than interrupting it. This allows students to continue learning even outside of the classroom. All of our learning tools are designed and developed by award-winning educators and local teaching artists, so you know your child is getting a great experience.
We are founded on fun
Because true critical thinking is rooted in inquiry and discovery, I aim to help young learners understand their world through play. The activities presented during test prep help students think about their world in a way that makes sense to them. We encourage children to have fun and to ask questions, stretching their creative muscles in the process.
This means incorporating a wide range of activities throughout sessions, including visual art, science, music, arithmetic, and even origami. Each of these activities is designed to help students understand abstract topics in a fun, accessible way.
We don’t teach to the test, we teach to the student
Many test prep organizations simply drill students on possible test topics. Not only is this approach ineffective and boring, it limits learning.
Instead of focusing mainly on memorization and worksheets, we focus on the thinking process itself. Our goal is to help nurture children’s natural curiosity, rather than frustrating them. With this in mind, we focus on activities that advance a child’s true and natural abilities.
As a result, students gain confidence in verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, reading, math reasoning, listening skills, and memory.They also learn which test prep strategies work best for them.
At The Critical Thinking Child, we instill a lifelong passion for learning
The Critical Thinking Child LLC has helped countless students successfully prepare for classical and gifted admissions tests. More importantly, we have shown students that learning is a process of discovery. We bring the joy back to learning and promote a lifelong love of curiosity.
We believe that by helping children think critically about the world, we are helping create adults who will be able to change it for the better. As a result, our students have greater problem-solving skills, verbal and non-verbal skills, and transferable skills across multiple subjects. Our parents feel confident in their child’s academic path, and our students are excited to participate in a fun learning environment.