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Why We Should Teach Children Philosophy

Why We Should Teach Children Philosophy

For centuries children were taught the basics of math, science, and grammar along with a rich education in the humanities, like philosophy and theology. This turned out some of the greatest thinkers of all time, in eras that were significantly less technologically advanced than today.

We’ve got a creativity crisis in the world today.

We’ve sacrificed the higher order learning offered by courses like philosophy, which teaches how to approach problems, see arguments from multiple sides, and how to think about complex situations. Children who study philosophy grow into being more creative adults; they’re more capable of handling problems in the workplace, in their relationships, and in life in general. Studying philosophy teaches them how to think, how to separate valid from invalid arguments, and how to effectively communicate with other people.

Think about the last time you had a challenge with a customer service representative. Was the teen or young adult employee able to resolve the issue creatively or did they just simply rely on a memorized understanding of policies and procedures?

Were they interested in solving your issue and turning you into a satisfied customer or were they more interested in just getting you to quit complaining?

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For those of you, like me, who are at or just beyond the midpoint of our careers, think about the ‘new kids’ in the work place. Are they creative thinkers? Are they effective communicators? Can they negotiate and come up with solutions that benefit multiple parties? Are they able to come up with creative solutions for complex problems, seeing how seemingly separate systems and/or processes interact with each other?

If we’re being honest, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find people like that.

Kids who have come up through the school pipeline beginning in the late 1990s are now graduated from college and hitting the workforce. Other teens, born in the late 1990s, are now popping up in typical ‘teenager jobs’ (i.e. retail, movie theaters, fast food). These are kids who have come through a school pipeline that is full of standardized testing, and rote memorization. Today’s students are being taught what to think and not how to think.

As technological expansion started to explode in the late 1970s, and early 1980s, it became apparent that the Industrial model of education, which has been in place since the Industrial Revolution, had significant weaknesses. These weaknesses led to the beginning of the decline in US student performance versus students in the rest of the world. As the world began to move faster, US students began to fall further and further behind.

Beginning in the 1980s, accountability in education began to grow as a movement. As the Americans saw educational performance begin to falter in comparison to other nations, educators, administrators, and legislators began looking for ways to improve school and student performance, particularly in math and science. This led to the birth of the accountability, or educational standards, movement. Now, almost 15 years after the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), we see that the focus on metrics and statistics to measure student performance hasn’t returned the results that were promised.

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For example:

  • The United States dropped from 18th internationally to 31st in math and science between 2001 and 2009.
  • A 5 year study completed in 2007 showed that focusing on standardized testing pushes teachers to “teach to the test” and sacrifice more complex, higher cognitive thinking assignments.
  • Some schools devote nearly 25% of teaching time to test preparation.
  • Standardized testing is expensive, putting unnecessary stress on school district budgets.

(source: standardizedtests.procon.org)

This increase in standardized testing, (‘accountability’), has only served as a thumb in the dike, temporarily holding off the inevitable collapse of the American education system.

What has this focus on standardized testing changed?

Well, we’ve become more focused on fact and figures that can be memorized and regurgitated and less on the deeper meanings behind them.

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Centuries ago, when most of the sciences were born, the Godfathers of those sciences were well versed in philosophy. Their study of philosophy led them to search for meaning within the universe. Today, students should be taught the basics of philosophy, preferably starting at an early age. Some of the very basic philosophical concepts that every student should learn include:

  • A priori and a posteriori arguments: to understand the differences between knowledge, truth, and experience.
  • Causality: to understand the relationship between two events in the universe, or on a smaller scale, a system.
  • Deductive and Inductive reasoning
  • Logic and logical fallacies: to form better arguments
  • The philosophy of political and economic ideologies: Comprehending ideologies like democracy, socialism, capitalism, and so on, assists in understanding various countries, cultures, and historical events
  • Subjective vs. Objective observations: to understand the difference between facts and opinion

These basic concepts in philosophy are a good foundation for teaching children how to think, instead of simply what to think.

So, as parents, how do we do this? How can we teach our kids philosophy without getting tangled up in endless philosophical arguments with an 8 year old?

It’s actually a lot simpler to do than it would appear.

Many children’s books are built around philosophical concepts such as fairness, truth, honesty, and ethics. So, from an early age, children can be introduced to basic philosophical concepts. Instead of talking simply about the events in the book, question them about the philosophical theme in the book.

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For example, in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day, there are a number of philosophical concepts that can be discussed. You can discuss:

  • Emotions – Discuss what emotions Alexander has, what they are, and how to handle them.
  • Art – Discuss the picture Alexander draws and how art appreciation is subjective
  • Mistakes – Discuss making them, fixing them, and how our actions impact others.

A great resource for divining philosophical discussions from children’s books is TeachingChildrenPhilosophy.org. Then, as kids get older, more complex concepts can be introduced like causality, peer pressure, and morality.

As shown in a BPS Research Digest study, kids who are taught philosophy showed significant improvements on tests of their verbal, numerical and spatial abilities. The study also showed that the positive effects of the study of philosophy were long lasting. When the same students were tested two years later, those who were taught philosophy still had higher test scores while the scores for the control group students either didn’t change or declined.

Philosophy doesn’t need to be an existential exercise, nor does it need to be intimidating. By integrating philosophical concepts into everyday events and discussions, we can teach our kids how to think, instead of just what to think.

And by doing so, we teach our kids how to create a better world.

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Christian Salafia

Rocket-scientist, Nuclear Engineer, Theologian, and creator of the TransformRadio podcast

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Published on May 7, 2021

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

20 Energizing Brain Breaks For Kids

From coaching martial arts to children as young as four years old, I very quickly came to the understanding that if I wanted to help kids progress their skills, I needed to find a way to help them focus more consistently in my class.

There are two key ways I found when it came to improving my students’ level of focus:

  1. Make what we’re doing more interesting. Nothing is off the table here—from having ninja clowns on the rampage in a lesson to including popular games with a martial arts theme, tapping into the student’s love of fun to help them focus.
  2. Introduce brain breaks.

Brain breaks are small mental breaks that help the kids stay more focused. Think of the brain as a fuel gauge that shows the information you can consciously hold in your mind at any given moment. When the kids are focused and working hard on their tasks, the meter is usually full. They can easily concentrate and pass experiences into their long-term memory.

But when the needle starts to drop, you may observe that your kids are feeling anxious or looking restless. New information, experiences, and knowledge are not getting processed from the staging area or working memory into the long-term memory.[1]

It’s here that brain breaks make the most difference, as they allow us to “top-up the tank” or reset the gauge so that we can continue to learn and focus and at a higher level.

If you’ve been home tutoring, you’ll appreciate that brain breaks can help kids in many ways. They can reduce stress and frustration. Think of those times when you’re helping your kids solve a difficult problem. It’s taxing for you both and when compounded with the energy loss after a day at school or watching TV. The stress effect can be compounded, and it’s here that brain breaks can be a lifesaver.[2]

The following is a selection of brain break ideas for kids. You’ll see that some are physical activities while others are more relaxing. It’s always great to test them out to see which ones connect the best with your children.

It’s okay to repeat the same brain breaks. Having a clear name and mission to a break can help keep your child excited, knowing that they’ll have the opportunity to take part in a future round of the activity.

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Active Brain Breaks

Here are some active brain breaks for kids that you can try out.

1. Swapsies

Have the participants stand behind a chair. Call out a character trait, like “everyone with brown eyes.” You then swap places with someone else who has the same characteristic. If you have nothing that matches, you stay put!

Examples: “Everyone with trainers on.” “Everyone who is left-handed.” “Everyone who is wearing yellow.”

2. Dance Party

Put five or six different types of songs on Spotify, including a classic like “baby shark or the hamster dance.” Dim the lights if possible and have the kids dance to the tunes. Then, change the tunes and change the dance style. It’s silly and fun.

3. Freeze Dance

Similar to Dance Party except that when the music stops, students have to stay perfectly still until the music restarts. You can make this even more fun by trying to make the students smile. If they smile, they are out and have to sit down.

4. Keep It Up

Students must keep a balloon from touching the floor. You can add multiple balloons. You can make it more competitive by having different balloons of two different colors and split people into teams. Whoever keeps the balloons up the longest or the team with the most balloons in the air with a timer of 60 seconds wins.

5. Simon Says

This brain break for kids is an old favorite. You can also mix it up with martial arts moves, Fortnite dances, superhero moves, etc.

6. Animal Movement

Move like different animals. It’s fun for younger children. We use Flamingo where you stand on one leg, crawl like a bear, stand like a meerkat, run like a cheetah, and walk like a penguin.

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7. Find It Fast

“Find It Fast” is a scavenger hunt variation. Call an item out in the room and kids have to stand by it. For example, find a clock, find something with a face, find something smelly, find some money, find a phone, etc.

8. The Frog

Physical Challenges can be excellent fun. We have one in the martial arts class called “The Frog” where you squat like a frog, then lean forward so your head and feet are off the floor. These are all old yoga poses, so have a look through a booklet or website for some safe ideas. Other examples are grabbing your nose with your left hand and touching your knee with your right elbow.

9. Pizza Delivery Time

Give the students paper plates and tell them to hold the plates above their head on a flat hand. They then run around the room and try to keep the plate in their hand. You can make it more challenging by having other students try to knock others’ plates off. There’s usually a 3-star jump penalty if your plate touches the floor.

10. Limbo

We use martial arts belts and the students take turns going underneath the belts. Fun music creates an awesome atmosphere here.

11. Human Knot

Split the group of people and have everyone link hands under and over. That’s making knots between everyone in the group. Have the other students try to untangle them and return everyone back into a circle.

12. Feather Balance

This brain break for kids works well with gentle music, and you can use a balloon or a straw if you don’t have a feather handy.

13. Stack them high

The students should have plastic cups and paper squares. The goal is to make a tower as high as possible, or it could be to make a triangle or even a pyramid.

Relaxing Brain Breaks

We talked about brain breaks for kids that are being used to energize the students. But they can also be used to calm and relax them. We’re more familiar with the term mindfulness, but it’s the same idea. These are brain breaks for kids that reduce stress and anxiety.

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14. Meditation

Meditation

is a popular way to reduce anxiety. There are lots of great examples already pre-recorded on YouTube that you can follow along with. Below is a useful classroom meditation example.

15. Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscopes are fun ways to relax. They are mesmerizing and like a peaceful vortex that sucks you into them. Below is a great example of a visual online one you can use.

16. Reading/Listening to a Story

When I surveyed the members of our martial arts club about how their kids employ brain breaks at home, there was a clear winner among the families—listening to a story or reading a story. The feedback was that the process of daydreaming a little helps the kids to recharge. But it goes without saying that the story needs to be engaging.

17. Doodling

My personal favorite way to brain break as a kid was to doodle. Doodling gives your child a few minutes to draw anything they want. It can be calming for them, and it’s a lot more fun if you have different types of pens or crayons available to use. Add some soft music, and you have a simple way to take some time to relax.

18. Coloring Sheets

Coloring sheets are another way to relax the mind. There’s lots of great coloring in pads available, but here are some links to public resources shared on the internet that are great examples.

19. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing

is an epic way to help your child slow down. It is a quick way to relieve anxiety so that they feel more ready for the next task ahead.

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Try this: put your hands on your tummy, breathe in through the nose, and feel your belly expand like a balloon. Hold it here, then slowly breathe out through the mouth while feeling your stomach get smaller. Repeat this 10 times. Use the following counts: breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breath out for 4 seconds.

20. Going Outside

Go outside was the second most popular response from our parent’s survey about brain breaks for kids at home. Fresh air always feels nice. You can combine this with a treasure hunt, looking for different colored cars, types of birds, or even types of trees, if you’re familiar with these.

My personal favorite is using a mushroom spotting app on our phones and finding a mushroom or toadstool, then using the app to identify its name. This is surprisingly engaging for children. But a few safety rules about not touching them is important. It gives kids a change of scenery and helps revitalize the senses, providing a welcome break from their homework.

How Often Should You Introduce Brain Breaks?

The key to brain breaks is their timing. If you can introduce them before you notice that your kids are entering deep fatigue or their loss of focus has set in. You’ll find a great balance between breaks and effort.

I’ve observed from my martial arts coaching that younger students have a smaller amount of working memory than older kids. My formula is for five minutes of technical training, we provide five minutes of brain breaks for students under seven years old. Plus, we coach to 15 minutes of training to five minutes of brain breaks for children under 12 years.

Final Thoughts

Implementing calming brain breaks for kids is a really efficient way of introducing brain breaks. You have a quick way to allow your students to learn about regulating themselves. Balancing their mind and energy is a useful skill, and you can take this with you everywhere you go.

Our martial arts center revolutionized our approach to coaching by using brain breaks for kids. We found that although we were teaching less technical skills, there was now consistent progress from the students. Plus, everyone was less anxious, happier, and are having more fun. This is a win overall.

If you’ve been having challenges with your kids focusing at home, maybe try a mixture of the calming and active breaks to see which types work best for your kids.

Featured photo credit: Robert Collins via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] SimplyPsychology: Working Memory Model
[2] BrainFacts.org: Kids Need Brain Breaks — And So Do Adults

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