Flexible thinking and problem solving are key components of learning. We are constantly presented with questions needing an answer. “What time do we need to leave to make it to school on time? “ How cold will it be tomorrow?” “ Who is picking me up today?” Whether the question is big or little, important or trivial, it needs to be answered. Teaching our children to analyze information and find solutions to the problems they face is a critical skill.
Children start out as Concrete Thinkers.
Concrete thinkers learn new information by memorizing it. Learning to memorize facts, decode words, and write letters/numbers is the first level of academic learning. Practicing rote facts and skills until they become automatic allows children to advance to the next stage of learning where they start developing higher order thinking skills. Now the child can extend previously learned rote information to create associations and novel solutions.
How do concrete thinkers learn to think flexibly?
Transitioning from concrete thinking to flexible thinking is automatic for many children, but others need guidance and support to make the transition. Since concrete thinkers see the world as black and white, ideas become fixed in their mind as final and complete. When asked to reconsider or alter an idea in any way, concrete thinkers often become resistant. Lacking strategies to think flexibly these children hold tight to the idea they have.
Helping children understand that there is another way to think is a good first step to teaching children to think flexibly.
Teach two types of thinking: crystalized and fluid.
Exploring the concept of solid and fluid and comparing it to your child’s thinking skills can help them understand that there are many ways of thinking.
Crystalized intelligence is often compared to an ice cube, where the knowledge is frozen and stored in long-term memory for later use.
Examples: Learning math facts or vocabulary words.
Fluid intelligence is compared to flowing water, where the knowledge can easily adapt to any changes it encounters.
Examples: Figuring out how to do a new math problem or solve a puzzle.
Demonstrate that there can be more than one right answer to a problem.
Introduce your child to the idea that there can be multiple solutions to a problem to start the process of flexible thinking. Discuss that switching from crystalized to fluid thinking will allow new ideas to develop and lead to novel solutions.
Many children’s first response to a problem is to pick one response and stick with it. So it is critical for children to learn how to inhibit their first response and stay open to finding other solutions. Creating metacognitive strategies will help guide your child to create multiple options and facilitate flexible thinking.
Metacognition is thinking about thinking.
Modeling metacognition is the best way to teach it. You will be instrumental in guiding your child through the metacognitive questioning process to discover solutions. The goal is to offer enough external guidance and practice that your child is able to internalize the process and is able to create solutions on her own.
The best way to begin modeling metacognitive thinking is to pay attention to the questions you ask yourself.
What is your internal dialog when you solve problems? As adults much of our internal dialog is unconscious, becoming aware your problem solving process will allow you to understand what you are trying to teach your child. Verbalizing each thought you consider on your way to solving problems will provide your child with a demonstration of a problem-solving model.
- WONDER: “What will we have for dinner tonight?
- Let’s see what we already have. We have chicken, beans and some rice. Great, I will make roasted chicken with steamed beans and rice.
- WONDER: When should I start dinner?
- Well, we want to eat at 6:00, the chicken cooks 40 minutes, the rice takes 20 minutes and the beans need 10 minutes.
- So I have to put the chicken in the oven at 5:20, the rice in at 5:40 and the beans on at 5:50.
- I will set the timer to remind me to start dinner at 5:15”
We are constantly asking and answering questions to solve our everyday problems. Allowing our children to see this process will help them realize that active thinking and problem solving is a normal part of everyday life.
Use the Flexible Thinking Wonder Wheel
The Flexible Thinking Wonder Wheel helps children begin to wonder about how to approach and solve problems.
Start the Flexible Thinking Wonder Wheel with a clear understanding of what the problem is.
Leo takes too long to get ready in the morning, making the morning routine stressful for everyone in the house. Every morning he is woken up at 7:00 which should give him plenty of time to eat breakfast and get dressed, but somehow he stretches out the process so that at 8:00 when it is time to leave he isn’t ready.
Create a signal that indicates it is time to let go of what you and your child are doing so you can begin the Wondering process. This can be something as simple as blinking 2 times or clapping your hands. The idea is that you let go of whatever you are thinking to begin the Wondering process.
Start the WONDERING process with metacognitive questions to understand the problem. “ I wonder how I can get to ready for school on time.”
..why I am doing this?
..what this will look like when I am done?
..how long does it take to do everything in the morning?
…is this more or less time than I have now?
Answer as many questions as you can and then start the next stage of the wondering process.
Start thinking of solutions
Option 1: I can time each activity in the morning to find out where the time is being spent and then adjust the schedule as needed.
Option 2: I can set a timer to make sure each activity takes only as long as indicated.
Option 3: I can get up earlier and not worry about how long each activity is taking.
Pick which solution to try first.
If the first solution doesn’t work, don’t give up, just go on and try the next one.
Continue on until you find a solution.
The Flexible Thinking Wonder Wheel enables you, as the parent, to guide your child towards active problem-solving. Like a wheel that goes around many times to reach a destination, you will use this wheel many times to get to your destination: flexible thinking. Mastering this process requires practice and repetition.
Learning the keywords, Stop, Wonder, Act, Don’t Give Up, to guide you and your child through the strategy of identifying the problem, breaking it down to understand it, creating possible solutions and then trying each solution until you find the one that works helps guide you through the process.