Tuesday, February 21, 2012

John Funk - Logic and Reasoning

This post is authored by John Funk, the Educational Programs Manager for Excelligence Learning Corporation and a clinical instructor at the University of Utah.

How and Why Do We Teach Logic and Reasoning to Young Children?

            When my oldest son was about 15, we were having a ‘discussion’ about something he wanted to do for which I had refused permission.  As things were becoming just a little bit too emotional, I remember saying to him, “I’ve never been the parent of a 15-year-old before.  I’m trying to do what I think is right, but there are no directions for how to do this.   I’m sorry you have to be the test case.”   My son stopped and stared at me -- and then said, “I never thought about that.  Now I understand why you screw up sometimes.” 

While that was not the answer I wanted to hear, my comment and his response brought some logic and reasoning into the discussion, and the emotions disappeared.  That is usually what logic and reasoning can do for a situation.  When you are having an emotional disagreement with someone, not much gets accomplished while emotions are in the way.  When everyone has calmed down, logic and reasoning usually reappear, and a thoughtful discussion can occur.  I feel very strongly that if we don’t help children to develop these critical skills, they will not be able to function successfully and truly get along with other people.

            The basis of logic and reasoning is the ability to search for clues, determine what makes sense, and make decisions based on concrete information.  Forcing children to know the correct answer and be prepared to regurgitate it on a test does not develop the thinking that creates logic and reasoning.  However, allowing children to explore with materials to make decisions about the timing and organization of a project, and, most important, to make mistakes will create the resilience that children need to be logical thinkers. 

The Excelligence Product Development Team knows I like open-ended products that promote divergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is when we take one idea and go many different directions with it.  From one concept or product, we can get many different outcomes or possibilities.  Think about our Biocolor or Liquid Watercolor. With one of these products, a child can create a myriad of projects.  The possibilities are endless.  Some of my favorite teaching products are blocks, dough, crayons and paints.  I like them because they provide endless opportunities to promote learning, and they promote divergent thinking.

I also like products that promote convergent thinking.  Convergent thinking is using many different ideas or data points to lead to one necessary conclusion.  Think of all the products we have to help children learn the alphabet.  Identifying the letters is the ultimate goal, but there are many different pathways that can lead to that knowledge.  As we provide more products for supporting curriculum standards, it is important that our products allow the child and teacher to explore different avenues to help the child learn each standard skill.

My son, who is now 35, said to me the other day when we were discussing his 10 year-old daughter, “It is really hard being a parent.  Sometimes you just don’t know what to do.”   That comment brought us full-circle and reaffirmed to me that justice is alive and well in our lives, and I suggested that he discuss it with his daughter.  Hopefully, logic and reasoning will find its way into every generation of parenting.