Monday, February 3

Teaching Children How To Think

One of the exciting things about this project has been how it's got the kids thinking.   I've already described one session when they decided whether or not to go to war.  And they were fascinated by the idea of nurses and doctors helping "enemies" - in other words, was their training to heal more important than their political beliefs?  Quite big ideas for ten year olds, but discussing the subject with the Irish nurse, Deirdre, absorbed them.

The children sometimes wanted to discuss issues which bothered them. Some had to deal with difficult issues every day.  Drugs, parents who cannot cope, gangs, violence. But in school, though, teachers must give a moral lead to encourage kids to think along the "right" lines.  True -  but unless you can discuss an issue in a truly non judgmental way, many of the harder issues get pushed under the carpet and not dealt with at all.

A way around this is to teach children how to think.  That's why I'm interested in Philosophy for Children, or P4C. which produces resources to help kids to think in an organised way.   I'm glad my grammar-school education taught me how to think critically.  It's so important, when information zings around about everything, but few people seem to know whether that information is true, or sensible or not.

Years ago Penguin Education put out a wonderful series of books called "Connexions" which dealt with issues of interest to kids.  They're long out of print, although you can find second hand copies around.

There were lots of different topics in a lively, extensively illustrated and readable format,  beautifully visually designed.  I still think they are wonderful - if only someone would update and reissue them. 


  1. It is important to teach critical thought. Unfortunately, around here, mostly what is taught is the tests the children have to pass so the teachers and schools don't get into trouble. So the kids can answer the questions, but don't know the "why" behind any of it. It's sad.

  2. This is a very interesting post. It's good that you are equipping children with these early skills. I have just done a three-day first-aid training course and similar issues came up. What happens if there's a stabbing and the attacker ends up needing help? Ian McEwan explored this very topic in his novel Saturday. Your project sounds fascinating and every time I pop by and red about I leave feeling invigorated, that someone somewhere is doing exactly what education should be for.

    Have a fab weekend.

  3. Thanks for these and other comments you have made on the blog. It is heartening to know that others believe that learning to think is important. The ability to think critically is a treasure, even though it can be so hard to find time and funding for it in today's pressurized curriculum. I'm delighted that the head and the staff at Boutcher are so positive.

  4. Jenny, I did read your other blog and I love the book the children are writing/wrote. The story starters and advance organizers (stories of WW I nurses, real objects) used really focused the children, as well as brought out their creativity. I fully understand that historical accuracy had to be sacrificed in lieu of time, their ages and backgrounds. I love the fact that you started with a personal connection. And I laughed as I read backwards to fully understand the inclusion of fleas on a hospital train. My husband is an RN, so the idea of a nurse having and smuggling flea friends was different. Higher level thinking skills are something receiving a lot of attention in the US right now, with the debate over Common Core standards and how they are being implemented. Supposedly, they are to develop thinking and reasoning/problem solving, etc. but at the sacrifice of any creativity, especially on the part of teachers, as everyone is judged by test scores. I've been an educator my whole life but most recently in early childhood and early childhood special education, but in the beginning I was a reading and literacy teacher. There is a lower performing/ESL school near my house where I would love to volunteer. I have a friend who is a librarian but I always have too many other irons in the fire. How long does this project continue? How is it incorporated into the existing curriculum?

  5. Teresa, thank you so much for your long and interesting comment. There is so much to think about in it. Yes, test scores are a killer. I can see why they're necessary - but they stand in the way of creativity.

    The project is now coming to its end - the final touches are being put to the layout, and then it will be printed, and then we will have a party for the kids ... perhaps there'll be something interesting in the party! :) and we will give them each a copy of the book for free. We'll also sell copies - firstly to parents who might want extra copies or who buy to support the school (a percentage of any profits will go to Boutcher). Vanessa will write some additional material to go with the book when it is sold, to explain more about the structure of the project for teachers, educators and home educators who want to use some of the techniques themselves.

    The existing UK curriculum doesn't cover World War 1 or the early 20th century at all. The kids do the second world war, and some of our work was in conveying to them that the first world war really wasn't the same as the second.

    Mrs. Verhoeven, the Boutcher head teacher, wanted the story we devised to have an overall theme of "You're Never Too Small to Make A Difference" - and this is very much true in the case of the fleas, who do suffer quite a bit of angst when they spot the robbers and realise that nobody will take any notice of them at all! But of course, they save the day :)

  6. You're doing a very important project Jenny and my very best wishes go to you.
    I loved reading about your Grandma's life too - full of adventure :D)

  7. What an interesting and great blog you have. I think I'm going to enjoy this very much. Thank you for visiting my blog - it's totally uninteresting compared to your writings.

  8. I stopped by to catch up with the Amazing Fleas. The artwork for the book is really great, something that I think would draw children into the story. Enjoyed reading a bit about your Grandmother's live as well. I always learn a bit from your posts - just like the children do.from the writing class.