Hands up who wants a free gift! I have one just for you! In a previous blog, I mentioned how important it was to encourage children to think critically and included a link to an article on critical thinking published by the Hanen Centre in Toronto (a not for profit organisation dedicated to improving communication outcomes for children). In response, the Hanen Centre have sent me a few copies of their 2016 Critical Thinking Edition calendar as a gift to my readers. Designed as an evidence based tool to support language development, this is a calendar with a difference. It is packed with language ideas and tips for parents and educators and this year, the focus is on critical thinking. We need critical thinking in order to evaluate information and make decisions. This habit can be nurtured from an early age and Hanen’s 2016 calendar shows how to do that every month of the year in situations such as pretend play, daily activities, book reading and on the go. The calendar has an extra four months and begins in September 15. For this month (October), the theme is “Keep the conversation going”. One of the suggested activities is to set up a space station and to encourage conversation on what the children would need to take into space and why they would need it. I trialled this activity over three individual sessions with three children of very different ages: Ed (3 years 10 months), Henry (5 years 2 months) and Nat (9 years) [not their real names].
The first thing we did was to look around the clinic for toys/objects that might make a suitable space station. We found quite a few, including a space monster who seems ready to gobble up one of our astronauts…
Ed (3 years 10 months) decided-quite logically-that what we needed to go into space was a rocket. He grabbed the water cooler bottle and started flying it around the room. He made symbolic rocket noises and this was an opportunity to teach him the words "Blast off!" He wanted the astronauts to go inside but they didn't fit through the neck of the bottle. He tried to put them on top of the bottle, but they kept falling off. After thinking about it, he told me we needed glue. I proposed blu-tack instead, and our astronauts blasted off into space. Ed learned a few new words, used his critical thinking through trial and error and sent his astronauts into space (including an alien stow away). One of my goals with Ed is to encourage him to use auxiliaries "is" and "are" and there were plenty of opportunities to model these words whilst playing: "The rocket is flying", "The astronauts are ready", etc. Ed responded very well to modelling in this context.
Henry (5 years 2 months) appeared a bit daunted by the space station. I had laid out all the objects on the floor but he didn’t seem to know what to do with them. This is a good reminder that pretend play can be difficult for kids and, sometimes, they need to be guided into play rather than expected to figure out what to do by themselves. He chose to design a rocket on paper and used his language skills to tell me what it should look like. Below is the rocket I drew, following his instructions. Note the trampoline at the bottom. It was added after we asked ourselves how the astronauts would get in the rocket. Henry put his critical thinking cap on and found a creative solution: the astronauts can jump on a trampoline to get inside the rocket. Who wants a boring ladder when you can somersault instead?
With Nat (9 years), we discussed what to put in our rocket. Nat decided that we needed tools to build things (including pick axes to “mine stuff like diamonds”… I was quite blown away by that one, especially when he promised to give me a bracelet of moon diamonds!) He also thought it wise to pack a teleporter (great vocabulary) and few weapons to fight moon creatures (good forward thinking). To the question “How many people will we take to the moon with us” he answered “One million, so we can have a party!” After being told that one million people make up a city the size of the one we live in and he revised his total to 20-30. Still enough people for a great moon party and hopefully, they will all fit in our jumbo sized rocket. When asked “Why go into space?”, he replied “To go to the moon. Do groups of splitting up [split people into groups] and explore the moon. Don’t go on the dark side. You might get killed or there might be zombies.” Did he like the earth or the moon better? “I like the earth better than moon because no dark side.” Nat used several critical thinking skills such as comparing and contrasting, evaluating ideas, explaining and rethinking his decisions and think of creative solutions. He also demonstrated extensive knowledge and great imagination and used interesting vocabulary (teleporter, pick-axe).
Did we keep the conversation going? I think so. This is just one of the tips featured in the calendar and it made for three fun filled sessions with children of very different ages and with very different language skills. With the same materials, I was able to target very different language goals and, ultimately, this is what you want: no fancy resources or complicated lesson plans. Set your goals, follow the child’s lead and you’re away. The calendar is aimed at preschool kids, but as you can see, the ideas can be used at any age and they’ll keep your kids thinking critically well beyond 2016. So, if you live in Australia and want a free copy of the calendar, put a comment below (don’t forget to write your email address, it won’t appear publicly but I’ll know how to contact you). The first five persons will get a calendar and see their kids’ critical thinking skills take-off!
Looking for language tips, activities and ideas? This blog is for parents, speech pathologists, teachers, educators and anyone with an interest in speech and language.