We live in a day and time where methods abound that promise to make our kids smarter – self-help books to Baby Einstein products to special classes for infants to every kind of summer program imaginable for kids. We’ve ramped up the pace of life to the point that childhood has become a professional endeavor.
However, before you jump on the gerbil wheel, I would like to assure you that there is another way to train your children to think, one that is relaxed, natural, and inexpensive. It is the one I used, along with my parents and my grandparents and my great grandparents.
Far from being misfits, my kids managed to get into America’s best colleges with hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and awards. If fact, I will go so far as to say if you want your kids to think well, really and truly think hard, you will abandon today’s frequently travelled highway and instead follow your instinct up an unpaved road where traffic moves slower and life gets richer.
The best way to teach your kids to think is to sit down to dinner together. I’m serious! Put the distractions of the day behind you and talk to your children.
I am the product of generations of dinner table philosophers. Some of my earliest memories are at the home of my great grandparents and I remember my aged grandfather, the son of a civil war surgeon, sitting at the head of the table and discussing a current topic of interest. His son, my grandfather carried on the tradition of discussing politics and family history. I loved his stories of my ancestors and their fight to survive on the rugged prairie.
My father married into this family of patriarchs, but his dinner table discussions were quite different. Where the grandpas loved to hear themselves talk, my father preferred to listen. We sat at a round oak table, which Mama explained had no head and no foot. We were all equal participants in the dialog of life. And as we ate, whatever subject we would bring up, my father would play devil’s advocate with us, forcing us to hone our debate skills, sharpen our thoughts, and make sure we really believed what we professed to believe. He showed us the other side, the differing opinion and the debates were lively in our home. Things could get heated at times, but respect for the other person was always paramount.
I married a quiet man, but he soon learned to express himself or get lost in the shuffle. Our children grew up sitting around another round oak table. Nearby were reference books that were often drug out in the middle of a meal to answer a hot question:
• a globe
• what we were learning in history
• what Dad heard on the radio on the way home
• the editorial in World magazine
• books we were reading
• world events
Debates were lively and all of us learned from each other. But we respected each other’s opinion and sometimes had to agree to disagree. I was often the devil’s advocate with my children to get them to:
• see the whole picture
• clear up faulty logic
• sharpen their skills
I’m not talking necessarily about telling our kids what to think, but how to think, to always search for truth, fully knowing that truth has a price tag. However, to parent Socratically, you must be available to talk 24/7.
Ah, there’s the rub! Being engaged and available is not an easy thing at first. It will cost you. It will demand that you not be selfish, but be willing to invest time today to build your child’s future.
You want to train your children to think well? I can promise you that continual dialog, honest mentoring, and thoughtful parenting is much more important than curriculum or enrichment programs!