Our homes were our first classroom, where we learnt to walk and talk, and where we later practiced reading and writing. Studies have provided concrete evidence that the home learning environment is vital in children’s academic and social development. However, whilst most of us understand the importance of creating a supportive home learning environment, the actual practice of that can be difficult. This is even more apparent with challenging subjects, or as in this case, with skillsets that are notoriously hard to teach.
Critical thinking and resilience are two of the most important skills students need when progressing to university or the world of work. Despite their significance to 21st century living, implementing them in the classroom is tough (check out our previous blog on this subject). If they are hard to teach in the classroom, then surely practicing them at home will be even harder? Wrong. We caught up with our Programme Director and Educational Psychologist, Vicky Heath, on just some of the ways you can easily practice these skills at home.
There is plenty to debate, whether it is something you have seen on the news, read online or your child has learnt in school. Encouraging their curiosity by asking them lots of questions about why they think what they think, can be a really great way to get the whole family thinking critically. Verbal debate can also act as a catalyst for other activities which can improve a multitude of skills, as Vicky explains:
“To improve critical thinking there are many things we can do at home with our children to practice these important skills. Debate as a family is a great way to practice critical thinking skills. Ensure your child has access to different quality reading sources and materials and discuss their reading with them. It's important to explore the benefit of critical thinking with them and help them learn and question everything! At home, whilst working on a task with your child, you can practice the ‘Claim, Evidence Reasoning' (CER) Writing Activity. Using this format they respond to a question by making a claim. They will need to support the claim with evidence from the text or whatever source of information they are working on, and then connect the claim and evidence with their reasoning. Ask them questions such as, 'Why is this evidence important? Why do the facts support the statement?' This strategy can develop their analytical thinking and argumentative writing skills.
With practice your child can learn to think critically as a habit. Whether they are thinking critically about video games, music or food, practicing in their natural environment will be a useful strategy to build their cognitive skills. Help them to understand that learning is a mind-set and learning can take place not just via 'school books' but through conversations, observations, nature and even games! ”
2. Play games
“Playing games, and not just video games, can offer fantastic critical thinking opportunities. For example, playing chess improves abstract reasoning and problem solving, as players have to consider various moves before deciding upon the most effective one. Research also suggests that playing chess improves academic achievement. If your child loves video games, they can use critical thinking skills to analyse them, their creators, target audiences and the competition. These activities of analysing, contrasting, deconstructing, evaluating and comparing are at the very heart of critical thinking.”
It’s not just critical thinking that playing games helps to improve. Games can teach problem solving and encourage risk-taking, and as Vicky mentioned, even video games can improve skills such as communication, resourcefulness and adaptability, according to a trial run by the University of Glasgow.
3. Discuss your emotions
Often resilience is mistaken for meaning being mentally tough. In reality, resilience is the ability to adjust to change, to get knocked down and find the strength to bounce back. A huge part of building resilience is to understand what our emotions are and how they make us feel. Young people need to learn how to appropriately express and regulate emotions and home is a fantastic place to start. Talking about your own emotions will show your family that it’s good to talk about their feelings too. When they have questions, answer them honestly but with reassurance. Ask them their opinion about what is happening and listen to their answers.
It doesn’t just have to be your own emotions you discuss though. Talk about the how book or film characters feel about what is happening or how relatives or classmates feel about different events. Whichever capacity it is in, whether whilst driving in the car, doing jobs around the house, or simply round the dinner table, making our emotions a key part of the conversation will go a long way in improving resilience.
4. Family time
There is a popular metaphor for discussing resilience which is focused around a plane weathering a storm. In this metaphor the child is the pilot, but the ability to get the plane safely through the storm isn’t all on the pilots shoulders. Other factors, including the type of plane (the child’s individual characteristics such as age and temperament), the equipment available and the severity of the storm, all play a factor in the safe landing of the plane. However, arguably the biggest factor, other than the pilot themselves, is the co-pilot, or in this case the child’s family, friends and teachers etc. In theory, the pilot can safely land the plane through the storm as long as the support of their co-pilots is there. Providing that level of support doesn’t need to be as high-stakes as landing a plane, simply provide lots of family time for them when they need it. In fact, encourage any connections between your child and other potential co-pilots, by teaching them the skills needed to maintain relationships such as empathy and listening. This will not only improve their resilience, but also their social and communication skills too.
At Critical Thinkers, we are committed to empowering the next generation to become more resilient, emotionally intelligent and of course, more effective critical thinkers. We all face at least some challenge or adversity in our lifetimes, and so we are determined to help young people be better prepared to manage the stresses life throws at them and to become more effective decision makers. We hope these 4 easy tips will go a long way to help families to support their children’s development of these core skills. We will continue to provide dedicated content to parents and schools, which is a huge part of our social mission, which you can read about here.