Summer holidays are hurtling towards us along with beaches, bbq’s and bored children. You probably already know that school test scores drop significantly over the summer months. Teachers will reteach much of what was already covered before the long break. But you also know that your kids need a break from the stress of formal school work, and so do you. This makes it the perfect time to sneak in some brain games to raise your children’s awareness of their own thinking and their ability to separate fact from opinion. To get them thinking about thinking without thinking that they are.
Let your teens and tweens try some of these mind stretchers before they clock up yet another hour of Minecraft or Mad Zombie Killing Spree 5 on the X-Box.
Spot the scam in the spam.
Ever imagine that spam mail could be useful? We get loads of junk email and snail mail daily - a reality that our children need to become comfortable with and know how to process appropriately. It’s never too early to start training young minds about the dangers of gullibility or the lack of social intelligence.
Got any requests lately to help an exiled Afghan heiress dispose of her multimillion dollar inheritance by giving her your bank account details? I did just this morning (what wonderful timing). No matter how good our spam filters are, these mails creep in. So pick the ‘best ones’ and hand them over to your preteen and ask them to find the scam in the spam. Ask your child why the letter shouldn’t be trusted? What do they know the sender? What don’t they know? Why is their offer implausible? What do they want from you? Where is the danger? What is the correct response? My 8 year old son recently told me that he had made a new friend on Minecraft and I mustn’t worry because this guy is totally real, he’s just another kid, like me. I was immediately suspicious and curios as to how he managed to get to this ‘kid’. It turns out that someone had posted a photo of a friendly looking child on a mine craft tutorial, called himself Elijah and asked others to leave remarks and chat with him in the comments box below. My son knew to be suspicious of ANYONE on the internet but somehow, because there was a picture of a ‘real’ kid, he totally believed this guy. Luckily comments are locked down!
REMEMBER; Critical thinking is a life skill learnt through reflection and guided conversation. Turning it into yet another academic exercise kills off curiosity and shuts down those areas of the brain we are actually trying to stimulate. Chat about the exercise with your child, ask questions, ask if there is another way of looking at it, ask why - a lot. Then ask why again. Be prepared to be wrong - a lot. Laugh and enjoy the wonder of a young, unconditioned mind.
Find the fad in the ad
Every advertiser has an angle. You know; “The no.1 best selling hair clip in Korea, guaranteed to make you look more attractive.” Or the herbal tincture that will make you smarter within two weeks? As adults we flip over them because we know they’re for the gullible. But what does a child think of them? They’re in print, in a reputed newspaper? Surely they’re true?
Let your kids spot these early and develop a healthy dose of cynicism towards the media and you will find that their ability to question objectionable influences grows more easily. A teenage girl who is able to reject body image propaganda or a son that understands when being part of the cool gang is too high a price to pay for his safety. So, let your tween page through the paper in the morning, find a bunch of ads and have a good think about the claims that they are making. What are the sources that the advertiser quotes? What will make readers actually fall for the claims or promises made? See if your child can refute or debate those claims intelligently. This may sound like work, but its real life and gives your child more confidence in their ability to think and this always makes them feel a little more grown up and independent. And if it happens to help on their next English comprehension test, then that’s an added bonus.
Found these useful? Like my FB page here for more Summer brain games over the next few weeks. Next week: More summer brain games for teens; Where’s the logic in the letter to the editor? Why you should embrace your toddler’s tantrums.