This article was supposed to be part of a blogtrain. But, I missed the deadline. However, links to other articles in the blogtrain are provided below.
There are many skills that children, specifically someone around the age of 12 should have. It is not really fair to try and narrow it down to a short list. Moreover, skills can be necessary in a regional sense. 12 year olds in Alaska need to know what to do when confronted by a bear. That’s not the case down here in Texas. Then, depending on your own biases, this list can come from many different perspectives. The educator, prepper, homesteader, academic, etc…will all have different lists. For the sake of this blogtrain, here is my short list:
1. Read with comprehension – If you can read and comprehend what you are reading, you can pick up a book and accomplish almost anything.
2. The ability to put in a hard day’s work – Everything is so easy nowadays. If many 12 year olds had to work from dawn till dusk, they would collapse in their tracks, partially from not playing video games, partly because they don’t know work like that. But to be fair, many people would fall into this category too.
3. The ability to delay gratification – In our modern life, everything seems instant. News, entertainment, food, answers, etc… can be found with a push of a button. Because of this, we believe EVERYTHING should be instant. We charge up credit cards to buy what we want NOW, when we should save up. Learning how to balance a budget and your finances without charging up credit cards is definitely a skill.
4. Survival skills – At the very minimum, kids should know how to build a fire, find and filter water, hunt and cook small game, garden, defend themselves and use tools. All of these skills and much much more were common place and common sense not too long ago. Again, years of ease in this country has many adults in the same place; not knowing how to do some of these basic things.
5. Critical thinking and problem solving – I will devote the rest of this article to this skill.
When I was younger, my family owned an electronic distributorship here in Houston. When my uncle passed away, my dad gave up his own pursuits to come help my grandfather run the company. I spent many days there, roaming through the aisles, getting into trouble and messing with stuff, I mean experimenting with stuff. 🙂 I would plug this thing in to that thing and switch out this for that. My curiosity ran wild.
The employees encouraged me, all but my cousin. He was always telling me what I shouldn’t be doing, that I was going to break something, that this speaker was not the same ohm as the output, etc… I learned to avoid him in my exploits. I had ideas, questions and experiments that I had to conduct, always asking “what if” or “why does this happen?”
Fast forward many years and as a father, educator and assistant principal, I’m asking those questions of kids….getting them to think and problem solve. However, it’s not as easy as just saying, “think critically about this subject.” Kids need to learn HOW to think critically and problem solve. Some kids are naturals, but most, need guidance. I wonder what I might have been able to accomplish if someone was prodding me, guiding me to ask the right questions and giving me the tools to think at higher levels?
Being a Guide & Providing Tools
The role of ANY teacher should be that of a guide or facilitator. Teachers should guide students to ask the right questions, so that they can come up with the answers themselves. If we always provide the answers, the joy of self-discovery is lost and learning is boring and falls into the realm of “just push the easy button” again. As students embark on the learning journey, they should be provided with a set of tools that help them along the way.
Basic Knowledge – Students need a basic foundational knowledge before they move to higher learning. You can’t expect a kid to comprehend a passage when they don’t know alphabet sounds. And this fact is important to keep in mind throughout all learning. At some point, kids will be able to pick up a book and get the foundational knowledge they need to move forward, but everyone needs a foundation to start from. So in every learning situation, the guide will need to ascertain or know how much foundational knowledge the student has or at least point them in the right direction to obtain that foundational knowledge.
Organize Your Thinking – As a Math teacher in elementary, my district expected everything to be learned in word problems. We utilized a graphic organizer called a window pane to help students. I wrote about it here in a previous article, but here are the main points. You can also check out a video to go along with it.
· The Main Idea – What is the problem asking? What are you trying to solve for?
· The Details – What are the important facts about this problem? What do you know? What is missing?
· The Strategy – This is the part where you try to work out the solution by considering the Main Idea and Details. You might be adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, measuring, etc…
· The How – It is important to verbalize/write down how you solved your answer. When you are able to verbalize your answer, you truly understand the problem and know that you didn’t just guess. The How should link back to the Main Idea.
The fact is, this is just a process with a graphic organizer. We do this all the time in many different disciplines, it just isn’t so formalized as writing it all down. But it does help us get through some of those hard questions if you apply it.
Higher Level Questioning – Asking the right questions is imperative to critical thinking and problem solving. There are basic “recall” or “knowledge” questions and then there are higher level questions – “evaluate,” “justify” or “analyze.” Basic questions can be answered with the basic foundational knowledge that was discussed above. Higher level questioning goes beyond the basic foundational information and asks you to “use” the information in some way. You can find out more information about higher level questioning or Bloom’s Taxonomy here.
Breaking It Down – Putting it Together – One of the ways to think through questions is to break them apart to their smallest piece or put it altogether to see the big picture.
Building Thinking Capacity – Regardless of age, everyone should build their ability to think and reason. In the past, it was thought that your brain was set in motion early on in your life. Scientist believed that certain synapses were formed before two years old. If you didn’t have those formed, or weren’t purposeful in helping your child form those “connections” then after two years of age, it was too late.
They don’t believe that anymore. Scientist now believe that synapses can be formed as long as you are making connections/learning. You can strengthen them by using them more frequently, or they can deteriorate if you don’t. Check out this interesting video.
So, the key is to help your child continue to learn and think and build their problem solving capacity by putting their brain to use.
1. Play Chess – you can download free apps, even on your smartphone.
2. Play Thinking Games. Stay away from Angry Birds!
3. Be purposeful and help them to learn something new and then practice it. Just don’t do it for them.
4. Challenge them – Give them a scenario and ask them what they would do. If it is possible, try out their response.
I often see parents give their child an Ipad so that they could play some worthless game or watch some worthless video. However, I have also seen the opposite.
I sat in a parent conference the other day with a parent who had two small children. The parent had her Ipad and when she sat down she immediately turned it on. “Oh, here we go – a Barney video,” I thought. But I was surprised to see this little 2-3 year old playing a game where she was putting shapes and letters in their proper place. She managed that Ipad like a pro!
In closing, let me just reiterate that learning and problem solving is a skill that needs to be fie tuned. Parents who are purposeful can make a big impact on the child to help them navigate times where they will have to solve some real problems.
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