Home and Family, Homeschooling

Teach them to think

As we teach our children, teaching them critical thinking is paramount!  It cannot be done with in a vacuum, or without assistance.  Teaching critical thinking is also difficult if it is not practiced by the adults in the child’s life.  Do your children hear you discussing the “pros” and “cons” of a certain activity?  Are current events discussed and reviewed?  Are you thoughtful about the decisions made for your family, or do you regularly take the path of least resistance?  Remember, children learn what they live!

Early discovery learners spend much of their time learning critical thinking skills automatically if they are living in a resource-rich environment.  As toddlers, they observe, and then attempt such tasks as setting the table, building with blocks, or returning books to the shelf.  By doing so, they practice creating patterns, working within systems, and comparing size and shape.  Doing chores teaches them to create order from chaos. The ability to accomplish a job even when they “do not want to” is a skill that will serve them well when faced with paradoxes and challenges as they learn.

As they grow, assist them in finding ways to classify, match, sequence, and explore.  Look for opportunities to build the following skills:

  • patterns
  • opposites/comparisons
  • classification
  • cause and effect
  • listening counting/ordering sets

Also look for ways to produce or acquire games/activities that allow them to spend time with the following:

  • nesting cups/building blocks
  • matching games, lotto boards (such as bingo), dominoes
  • phonics/phonograms
  • word games
  • dot-to-dot pages
  • hidden pictures
  • sequencing cards/activities
  • puzzles
  • picture books without words

Critical thinking games to consider for purchase:  (Consider asking for some of these when Grandma wants ideas for birthdays or holidays.  By far, Timberdoodle has the widest selection of critical thinking games I can find for this age.)

  • Learning tiles (Timberdoodle and Discovery Toys)
  • Large Pegboard (Timberdoodle and Discovery Toys)
  • Pattern blocks
  • Number/picture slide
  • Camelot Jr. (Smart Games)
  • Mighty Mind (Leisure Learning Products, Inc.)
  • Early sudoku puzzles

Later discovery learners have already begun establishing a mental picture of the way the world works.  Take that opportunity to introduce activities and habits that will assist them is building a correct, clear concept of the world around them.  Help them better utilize clearer thinking skills as they rely on an odd (sometimes humorous) logic all their own!  If they can recognize faulty logic, they can correct their thinking as they grow.  Just remember to keep things concrete and literal.  The time for abstract games will come soon enough.

  • Mad-libs
  • word searches (use while they are still learning to spell)
  • brain teasers
  • Encyclopedia Brown books
  • puzzles, tangrams, pentominoes, soma cube, sudoku, etc.
  • word problems
  • I own a game called Drive Ya Nuts (Mattel).  It is no longer available for purchase, but if you look for it on Google , there are a number of sites that have directions for making your own version.

Critical thinking games to consider for purchase (These also work for later learners.)

  • Rush Hour (Thinkfun)
  • Square by Square (Thinkfun)
  • Cuisenaire Rods and books (Cuisenaire Co. of America)
  • Wrap-ups (Learning Wrap-ups)
  • Labyrinth Board Game (Ravensburger)
  • Tilt (Thinkfun)
  • Blokus (Mattel)
  • Izzi (Thinkfun)
  • Cool Moves (Thinkfun)
  • River Crossing (Thinkfun)

Analysis learners are beginning to understand abstract thought and humor.  They often seem to question everything you say and expect.  Stay calm.  They need to learn how to challenge other’s thought processes with courtesy, and logic, and they are simply practicing on you.  As you talk them through the challenges, you are teaching them to think for themselves (which is what we want them to do when faced with the world’s logic and values!).  Now is the time to introduce current events and opinion as a regular part of their academics.  Go ahead and ask them questions for which they do not have the answers; then help them go find them.  You can also encourage their ability to pick things apart with any of the following:

  • logic problems
  • crosswords
  • vocabulary activities
  • grammar study

Critical thinking games to consider for purchase

  • Equate(Conceptual Math Media)
  • Q-Bitz (Mindware)
  • Wrap-ups (Learning Wrap-ups)
  • Visual Brainstorms 1and 2 (Thinkfun)
  • TipOver  (Thinkfun)
  • Rubik’s Cube
  • any game listed for later discovery learners

Application learners should be preparing for life after their teen-age years.  Proficiency in expressing themselves with clarity both verbally and on paper should be a major focus of their studies. Continue with the things they were doing previously, simply add the following:

  • editorial writing and analysis
  • formal logic study

We owe it to our children to equip them with the armor they will need to make moral, grounded decisions as adults.  Life will throw dilemmas and paradoxes at them and they need the tools to dissect, clarify, and analyze each situation so that they have an opportunity to lead others with truth rather than simply “follow the pack.”

(For information on the levels of learning, see posts from 02/26-28/2013.)



Love my lit. cubes!

Reading classic literature is so important to a good homeschool program. Education needs to include learning how to understand and dig a little deeper into what you’ve read.  How can you do that?  Here is a method that has worked for me and others.  It is called a lit. cube (literature cube).

You can create your own cube by writing the following terms onto a cube of wood: plot, setting, theme, character, compare, a drawn heart.  (I have cubes that are 3/4″ and 1″.)

Pass (or toss) the cube from person to person as you begin a discussion of the completed work of literature.  Have each person roll the cube and address the subject showing.  Always allow time for each person to think as well as talk.  Sometimes hearing crickets in the background is a good thing.  Allow for quiet.  It can facilitate deeper thinking.  Learning to do this may take practice so be patient (with yourself and your students).  Some students can become frustrated or embarrassed as they look for the “one correct answer”.   Help them understand there isn’t one.  There can be many.  Given time, the discussions will become longer and more varied.  Do not require this of children in the Discovery Stage of learning. (Not sure what this means? See blog posted on 02/26/2013.)

Here are some ways to prompt thought and discussion for each topic:


Ask: Can you summarize the plot in two minutes?  Which events in the story seemed most important to the message of the book?  Least important?  Why?

Ask: What would have happened if…?  Would you feel differently about this book if it had ended differently? etc.  (Example:  How would the plot in Treasure Island have changed if Jim had teamed up with Long John Silver?)


Ask: Why did the author choose ___________ for the setting of the story?   How might things have been different if …? etc.  (Example:  If Animal Farm had been set in the forest rather than on a homestead, would the story have the same impact?)


Ask: What was the point the author was trying to make?  This could be discussed in light of characters, conflicts and resolutions, the overall story line, etc.  (Example:  The Hiding Place is ultimately a story of triumph, yet the people involved endured an horrendous circumstance.  How do you think someone else experiencing the same things might have reacted to it?)


Ask: Who was your favorite character in the story?  Why?  Is there a character to whom you related?  Which character did you find the most troubling? etc.  (Example:  The parents in Swiss Family Robinson took adversity and created a home for their boys.  What kind if things did they do to grow in spite of their circumstances?)


Compare decisions made by various characters in the book, compare two characters from the same book or different works of literature, compare different books from the same time period or genre, etc. You could also compare books to the screen or stage productions of the same work.  (Example:  How do the sisters, Elizabeth and Jane Bennett, view their parents?  OR William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies to express his view of the world following WWII.  C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters.  In spite of similar experiences, what differences do the two authors display in the themes of their books?)

Heart (drawn)-What did you love about the book?  What emotion did reading this work invoke?

Writing is a challenge for most of us.  If you take time to explore the various facets of literature orally before asking your children to write about what they read, you will be giving them a chance to process and internalize the lessons in literature that are sometimes not appreciated and often missed.

2013-04-12 10.18.11

After teaching a class on using the lit. cube method above, the group of ladies in the class began to ask questions regarding younger children and tips for  extracting a narration from them on material they were reading.  Some children talk and talk but never quite manage to hit on the salient points of a story, and others simply have nothing to say.  The following topics for a discovery level lit. cube were the result of this conversation:

Plot (picture of a book)

What happened in the story?  Sometimes humor can help encourage responses.  Was it about a pig that went to the moon?  Okay.  What did happen? use whatever can help elicit a more thoughtful response from your child.  (Example: What did David do when the House of Israel was challenged by Goliath?)

ABC (new vocabulary)

Were there new or unfamiliar words in the story which confused you?  What new vocabulary did you learn?  (Example:  If they can’t come up with something, you can ask something like, “In Kate Greenaway’s book A Apple Pie, what did it mean to “quarter” the pie?”)

People (a smiley face)

Can you tell me about the people in the story?  What were they doing?  Did they have problems?  How did they solve them?  (Example: What happened to the Sneetches?  Some of them were unhappy.  Can you tell me why?)

Setting (a house)

Where was the story?  How did help things make sense?  Was it a real place or make-believe?  Would you want to visit there?  (Example: Where did Laura Ingall’s family live?  Would you like to live in a cabin?)

Choices (?)

What choices did the characters in the story make?  Were they smart choices?  Would you have chosen something else?  How might things have been different? (Example: How did Charlotte help Wilbur?  What changed for him as a result of what she chose to do?)


What did you like about the story or illustrations from the book?  Did you have a favorite part or character?

Learning to take time to think about what we read and the messages interwoven in the stories can help us as we make choices about what we bring into our home and hearts.  It can also give us great ideas and amazing heroes from which to draw when things are tough.  What a great gift to give your family!