Monday, April 29, 2013

Sugar bag logic - teaching children to think

My younger son, who is eight, and I sat in a coffee shop for breakfast today. As we were waiting for our food, I figured I might as well make some use of the time we had together. I had wanted to start working on logical thinking with him for quite some time but I never got around to it. My plan, of course, was to do something structured, maybe use the children's' workbooks I got at the Goldratt House. Well, I know that if you fail to plan you plan to fail. There's another part that's always left out. That is that even if you plan you may fail, but fail to execute, and you will absolutely, no doubt about it, get nothing done.

So back to the coffee shop. I decided to wing it. I told him that I know he'd like to be a scientist (he actually means inventor, but I won't be petty), so I'd like to present to him the most important tools for such a vocation. The tools are experiments and logic. Happy to make conversation with me, he told me right away that logic is an important part of his life, since whenever something doesn't make sense he works to fix it. That threw me off a bit so I inquired into it and, as he was finding it hard to explain himself, I requested an example. That was easy. He told me how one of the characters in his computer game seemed to have more than the fare share of something, so he investigated until he found out the details he was unaware of and realized the rules were adhered to.

That was not quite what I had in mind, but you do not want to go around putting your kid down, so I kept my thoughts to myself as much as I could. There is a more basic tool in logic, I told him, and that's the understanding of what causes what. That drew quite a blank stare from him.Good start. So I took a few bags of sugar from the dispenser and I put one down saying: "If you vex your older brother then...", I put the next one after it and he jumped in and said "I get punished". "Not quite, we aren't there yet, though it could lead to that" I say, "this process is like a ladder, you can't skip steps and you want to take small steps to feel secure". I go back to the small bags of sugar "If you vex your older brother then", the second bag of sugar goes down, "your brother gets annoyed, and if your brother gets annoyed then...", another sugar bag is added to our trail, "your brother retaliates, and if your brother retaliates then", another bag, "you get upset, and if you get upset then", another bag and he picks up, "I beat him up". Now we are working as a team, "If you beat him up then?", I put another bag down and he finishes up "I get punished".

"It's like your dominos, Mom", he says. Whenever their quarrels heat up and require parental intervention I use the domino effect to explain why I think they are both to blame. You each had multiple chances to stop this from escalating, I tell them, all you had to do was take 1 domino out. So, he was right, my trail of sugar bags did resemble the domino effect. Ah, the glory of true understanding. We managed to do a couple of AND conditions ("If we quarrel" AND "Grandma finds out" THEN "Grandma is not happy with us" - his example) and then the food was ready.

So, here's what I found out this morning, while waiting for breakfast at a coffee shop: That learning doesn't need a classroom, a format or even much time, that children can grasp logic very easily, that logic is pretty simple to start off with and that small bags of sugar make great entities in a logic diagram.

Have you ever tried to get your kids to think logically? well, that's probably the worst time to teach them. Take 10 minutes when everything is calm to set the stage and plant the seeds for the future.

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