Resources for Teaching Pre-logic and Thinking Skills to PK-Elementary Students (Logic, Part II)
For preschoolers my favorite teaching tools are games, and this is especially true for teaching thinking skills. Timberdoodle catalog carries a fantastic collection of logic and thinking skills games, many of which are fun for a wide range of ages. Some we've enjoyed recently are Safari Undercover and Safari Rushhour. (Can you guess that we studied Africa last year?) I keep a selection of logic puzzles in a cabinet to pull out for a child who has finished his work while I help another child.
Mazes can be great fun for many children, and also help develop spatial reasoning and thinking through consequences. Timberdoodle also carries a wonderful line of maze books for preschoolers.
Math manipulatives make another great toy for preschoolers, once they are past putting things in their mouths. While older ones did math, I've very often given Cuisinaire Rods, pattern blocks, teddy bear counters, our simple two-pan balance, or other math manipulatives to young ones to play with. By the time that child is ready for more formal math, they very often have "discovered" mathematical relationships just from playing with the rods or blocks. You can find a number of books to use with these manipulatives, including sequence cards for the teddy bears, Roddles and Alphabet Animals for Cuisinaire Rods, and many more. All of these things will stretch and challenge your young ones thinking abilities.
Math, in fact, provides some of the best opportunities to teach logical teaching processes for kids of all ages. What you want to do is make sure you choose a curriculum that encourages mathematical thinking, not just rote learning without processing. My favorites for the elementary years are Miquon (K-2 or 1-3) and Singapore Math (K-6th .) Both of these programs reward thinking through and coming up with successful strategies to solve problems rather than simply giving the child one strategy to follow all the time.
The Critical Thinking Press folks have produced some excellent materials. We especially enjoy their Mind Benders series of logic puzzles which are available in books or software. Preschoolers can do some of the simplest puzzles, but the more difficult ones in the highest level can challenge adults. Great fun!
Similarly, Sudoku and KenKen make fun puzzles for elementary aged kids and up. Several of my kids vie for the daily newspaper Sudoku. If you like number puzzles, check out the New York Times Kenken puzzles, which require some arithmetic as well as logic. For younger kids, look for Sudoku with fewer boxes. Here's one website with simpler puzzles.
Finally, begin to use the Socratic Method as you discuss with your children. What??? The Socratic Method with grade schoolers? Have I lost my classical-education mindset mind? Well, not exactly. Yes, it is silly to try to reason with a toddler. And yes, I do still believe that most children don't hit the logic stage, when they really make connections and become good at constructing sound arguments, until 5th or 6th grade. Nonetheless, there are ways to use Socractic questioning with younger children. You really need to check out Marcia Somerville's article on this. (Mrs. Somerville and her husband, Scott, former HSLDA attorney, are the creators of the fabulous Tapestry of Grace curriculum.) You'll need to skip to about the mid-point of this article to read "Socratic Discussion vs. Textbook Q&A," and then especially read the part called "Socratic Discussions at Different Learning Levels." She gives a great illustration of a Socratic discussion with a 10 year old who wants to play but hasn't finished her schoolwork yet. Here's just a brief excerpt:
For grammar-level students, use Socratic questioning primarily to draw out narration of facts that a student has learned, and hope to make only a few simple connections between them. I know it takes more time out of your day, but I do recommend that you hold separate, short-and-sweet discussions with younger kids that focus on them telling you what they've learned, and you highlighting the main facts or themes for emphasis. …
There's plenty of time for them to make connections later, and you really will overtax youngsters by requiring higher level thinking than they are naturally ready for. Like the proverbial task of trying to teach a pig to sing, it does no good and annoys the pig!
This does not mean you never use Socratic techniques with grammar-level children. Socratic methods used in everyday activity will cause your children to be better thinkers all through life. You probably already know this, though you may not realize it.
Here's an example. When ten-year-old Susie asks, at 10:00 AM on a typical homeschool day, "Can I go out and play?" what is your response? Do you just say "yes" or "no"? Or do you begin to ask questions like, "Have you done your morning chores? Are the breakfast dishes completely done, with the counters wiped?" She's nodding. "How about your math assignment? And the history reading I assigned you?" Now, she's looking down at the floor. "What do you think I'm going to say?" you ask gently.
(To see how this scenario plays out, you'll have to read the rest of the article.)