Simple Techniques To Encourage Thinking Skills in the Young

Here are a few simple ways to encourage the development of problem solving skills in children from ages 4 to 8.

Teach children to recognize parts of a whole:

  • Begin with objects. Identify and name the parts of each object and discuss the function of each part in relation to the whole. (a bicycle, a telephone, a can opener)
  • Show incomplete objects and call the child’s attention to the missing part and its functional relationship to the whole. (toy car without wheel, shirt without buttons, bell without clapper)
  • Cut out pictures of objects and mount them on poster board or index cards. Cut the picture into two pieces, being certain that one picture is identifiable as “what is missing” in the other picture: a tree cut into trunk and branches.
  • Have the child experiment to discover which of his body parts are most important in various activities. (throwing a ball, picking up a paper clip)
  • Progress to puzzles that have pieces which will form a picture. Help the child use clues rather than random attempts to fit pieces together. (Puzzles which form a pattern, not picture, have fewer clues and are much more difficult. The can be introduced once the child has been successful with picture puzzles.)
    • To make picture puzzles: cut out a picture from a magazine or workbook and mount it on a square of poster board or cardboard. Cut it into two pieces. Make other puzzles: three, then four and five pieces. Cut vertically and horizontally before using diagonal cuts or odd size and shape pieces.
  • Remove a piece from a complete picture puzzle and ask what is missing. If the child doesn’t know, have him chose the piece from among several incorrect pieces.
  • Eventually progress to letters and numbers. Begin with felt pieces that can be put together to form the whole number or letter. Progress to pencil-paper tasks.
  • If the child would enjoy making a booklet, place a picture of the whole at the top of a page and let him draw or paste pictures of as many parts as he can find on the remainder of the page.
  • Provide drawings of common objects with one part missing. Have the child draw in the missing part. (hand on a clock, sleeve on a shirt, tail on a dog)

Teach Problem-Solving:

  • Provide practice with classification. Deciding how to organize (classify) objects is the first in a series of steps which lead to the ability to organize new information by relating it to a concept or idea learned earlier. Information is not readily recalled if it isn’t related to something else in our thinking.
    • Begin by sorting objects, then pictures of objects, then move on to events & experiences
    • Begin with objects that can be easily classified into 2 groups according to an obvious attribute: color, size, shape, texture, and, later, function (use). Eventually sort according to a concept (all furniture, food, animals, clothing, etc.).
    • Progress to sorting one group of objects several different ways. (first by size, then by shape, etc.)
    • Once objects are sorted, introduce new objects to be placed in the appropriate group. Have the child explain why he placed it there.
    • Games such as Old Maid, and Go Fish provide classification practice.
  • Association and generalization skills used in classification may need to be practiced in order to establish connections between objects and ideas. This is basic to developing skill in abstract thinking.
    • Teach opposites: match pictures of opposites, act out opposites
    • Play twenty questions (or a variation).
      • Show children how to ask questions in order to figure out an answer rather than just making wild guesses. Begin with several pictures of objects that you show the children. Turn them over, draw one. This way they see a chance of figuring out a right answer through questioning. Don’t accept guesses until after questions about its attributes are asked, and then only accept guesses that could have been arrived at because of the questions asked. Point out the connections that have been established as you go.
    • Take turns describing something for others to guess. The guess must be based on the description. This builds vocabulary skill, reinforces expressive language development, and reviews attributes used in classification and later in compositions.
    • Play “What’s Wrong Here?”
      • Find pictures or make up a setting with something included that shouldn’t be, or obviously excluded that should be present. For example, set the table correctly except for clothespins on a plate, or without plates at all.

These are all enjoyable and easy activities that have a lasting benefit. The earlier we encourage thinking in our children, the more they will want to think. A thirteen-year-old recently complained about the switch from public to home school—”I have to think!” The response of the home schooled child was —”Yes, and you’ll learn to love it!”