Developing independent thinkers

Regularly using Dr John Langrehr’s brain-flexing techniques with your children will mean that ‘thinking outside the square’ and ‘pushing the envelope’ will be more than just tired cliché’s – they’ll ensure your child will learn to think independently, inquisitively and inventively for a lifetime.

A good memory for facts, and the ability to read, write, and calculate were the basic abilities needed for success in times gone by. But now we are in different times. This is the age of information. It is the ‘I’ age with its iPhones, iPods, iGames and the internet. Yes, we now live in a connected, competitive and rapidly changing world. Extra abilities are needed for individuals and nations to be successful .

Well, what are these abilities? Reading, writing and calculating allow us to gather information and store it in memories. But these abilities don’t help us to make new connections between stored information in order to expand our memories. We only connect when we ask ourselves questions about a topic and its related concepts.

There are three important thinking processes that we use where we have to ask ourselves questions. They are creative thinking, critical thinking and reasoning. Thinking up our own creative ideas, our own cautious judgments, or our own reasons, all involve self-questioning. Ideas, judgments and reasons make up inventiveness and inquisitiveness which most educational, political, and business leaders say are vital for survival in the 21st century.

And yet, most school systems assume that these two abilities develop without specific instruction. Inquisitiveness and inventiveness need particular mindsets or attitudes that many students and adults simply do not naturally have to any degree. Many individuals find it difficult to think flexibly for a novel idea, to challenge a dominant opinion or to probe for an explanation. But these mindsets can, and should be, shaped in early childhood. The older a person’s emotional memory, the more difficult it becomes to modify, whereas memories in the young brain are still flexible and capable of being modified while brain cells are connecting at a phenomenal rate.

But how do you stimulate young memories to get them to be risk taking, challenging and probing? We can ask them special questions (‘pattern breaking’ questions) that they are not used to answering. These questions make their brain search for answers that simply are not in its correct answer memory. The brain is forced to make new, unusual connections for the new ideas.

A risk-taking mindset

Here are six ‘pattern breaking’ question types to help stimulate inventiveness and a risk-taking mindsest. Regular use of such questions prepares children to accept, enjoy and create unexpected answers to open questions.
What can’t you photograph or see?
(Creative reversals)
What are some unusual uses for a newspaper other than to read?
(Creative uses)
What would happen if there was no longer a moon?
(Creative consequences)
Why do insects have six legs and not four legs like dogs?
(Analysing creative designs)
How is a chair and a horse the same?
(Creative similarities)
How would you get a horse out of a deep hole without a machine? (Creative problem solving)
What does this line drawing remind you of?
(Creative imagination)

Children soon learn that creative thinking involves coming up with many possible answers, rather than one correct answer. Children who are not good at memorising facts often come alive with creative thinking questions. They don’t feel threatened or embarrassed, and start to feel good about themselves as thinkers.

A challenging mindset

Here we need to design questions that help young children develop a cautious, judging attitude. Children soon learn not to be impulsive or to rush in with their choices. The questions that test these simple critical thinking skills have to use simple, understandable language. The regular use of such questions soon helps children to be careful about making choices and judgments. Here are some model questions to build on.
Would everyone agree that dogs make better pets than cats? (Facts or opinions?)
If a dog has its tongue hanging out, can you be sure that it is thirsty?
(Sure/unsure conclusions)
What are some important things about your lost dog to tell people who are helping you to look for it?
(Relevant/irrelevant factors)
Should animals be kept locked up in a zoo? Why or why not? (Other points of view)

A probing mindset

This mindset is basic to inquisitiveness. A good start is to chart the 5Ws and H -What? Where? When? Who? Why? and How? These question starters soon become a natural part of any child’s questioning of something they observe. When asked and answered, these words immediately form new connections between the topic and related concepts children have previously stored in their memories.

How do you use these questions in order to develop a probing mindset? Parents can use one of the question types at a time in short mini-competitions. The 5WsH words can each be printed on six cards. A child can pick an upturned card and then be asked to make up a question about a given topic starting with this word. The competition is to see who can make up the most questions in a given time using the word on their selected card. Other competitions could involve groups of children trying to make up questions about a given topic using all six words. Older children might try similar competitions, but with the words Is, Did, Can, Would, Will and Might.

Inventiveness and inquisitiveness can, and should be, developed in young children. The sooner we start stimulating the question-asking memory in young fore-brains, the sooner we will embed the positive mindsets they need for independent thinking.

“Children soon learn that creative thinking involves coming up with many possible answers, rather than one correct answer. Children who are not good at memorizing facts often come alive with creative thinking questions”

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