This post is part of a multiple part series on teaching you child to think and write well. For a post on why your child needs to think well to write well, check out our earlier blog post - The Ancient Secret to Teaching your Child to Write Well.
Our first tip for teaching your child to think well is to regularly have your child read persuasive writings that (1) support opposing positions and (2) are about a topic that is important to him or her.
I (Josh) was homeschooled from the 6th grade all the way through high school, and sometime around the 9th or 10th grade, my parents decided that I needed to learn to write. My learning to write was not pleasant for them or me. My dad was a computer programmer. My mom was a nurse. They both had very different ideas of what good writing looked like and how to teach someone to write. To make matters worse, I hated writing. Though to be fair, at that age, I hated almost anything that took me away from my computer.
My parents tried all sorts of different approaches and curricula. They coaxed and cajoled. They ordered and bribed. Nothing worked. Until, one of them, I don't remember which, had the idea to get me to write a paper about computers - specifically about why PCs were better than Macs (I had a PC).
At first, I remained unmotivated. I would much rather work on my computer than write about one. But everything changed after I started reading about the issue. It was like a switch flipped - I could not stop. I went from hating writing to willingly spending time on the project. I read everything I could find on the issue, analyzed all the arguments, formulated a thesis, came up with a bunch of supporting arguments, and wrote a truly terrible essay. But it didn't matter - I had done the project willingly, even with joy. More importantly, I had thought critically about whether PCs were better than Macs and why.
At the time, I didn't understand what had happened (and would not have cared if I had understood). But I have now seen this same phenomenon hundreds of times in my own life and the lives of others - a person is forced to think when they read persuasive writing about an issue they are interested in. Let's break down why.
READ PERSUASIVE WRITING
To learn to think well, your child must read persuasive writing or writing that takes and defends a position. While reading in general is helpful for your child for many other reasons, only persuasive writing is designed to change the audience's thoughts about a topic. By reading persuasive writing, your child will be forced to think about the topic of the writing.
READ OPPOSING POSITIONS
But, it is not enough just to have your child read persuasive writing that they agree with -- he or she must read persuasive writings that take different or opposing positions. If your child only reads writings on the same side of an issue, he or she will never be forced to consider how the arguments about an issue interact and have his or her convictions about a subject challenged. More than that, there is something powerful that happens when you read an article you disagree with - you almost cannot help thinking about why the author is wrong. You have probably experienced this when reading a Facebook post you do not like - you can not help thinking about why the author is wrong.
READ INTERESTING TOPICS
Finally and perhaps most importantly, your child must be interested in the topic. Remember - the goal is to teach you child to think. While some people find it easy and enjoyable to ponder anything and everything, most people, and especially children, enjoy thinking about topics they believe are important (like me, with computers). Thus, you will find it easier to get your child to think about a topic if they believe it is important or interesting.
In summary, to teach your child to think well, have him or her read persuasive writings that (1) take opposing positions (2) on issues that are important to him or her. For more tips on teaching your child to think and write well or to receive updates about our upcoming writing curriculum, sign up for our writing newsletter.