The ability to think critically and analytically then confidently reach their own conclusion is one of my main homeschooling goals for the children. We learn lots of history (and that’s great). But my desire is to use history to teach the children more transferable skills, rather than simple knowledge. I want them to think, hypothesise, predict, problem solve and support their own answers to their own questions. In short, I want to develop an enquiring mind in my children.
How Do I Develop an Enquiring Mind in my Children?
I’m glad you asked!
At the crux of developing an enquiring mind in children is the ability to ask questions.
A child must learn that asking questions is the basis for higher thinking skills.
The Huff Post wrote an article about thinking beings and claimed that 2% of people think, 3% of people think they think and a whopping 95% of people would rather die than think (!). This was not backed up by any scientific research or any links where I could have confirmed such an astonishing statistic. But the fact it was there suggested that either the writer was making wild assumptions, prefixing them with ‘according to research’ or he was trying to make the point that if we believed such tosh we were clearly not thinking. He went on to discuss gullibility…
The general gist of the (I am certain, false) stats was that people don’t think and don’t actually want to think. One thing I would say is that from the age of 16 down, most schooling depends far more on recall than it does independent thinking. Answers on exams are prescribed and predictable (because the questions are not open ended enough to require anything other than the ‘right’ answer). Things improve from age 16-18 and by the time you’re at university there’s an expectation that you will learn to think at some point during your degree.
Born with Capacity to Investigate
Anyone who has watched young children will know that most children have the innate ability to investigate anything and everything. As they grow older, this ability tends to reduce. If a child is encouraged in their incessant questions, they may learn through time to reason, to reflect and to transfer their knowledge between situations in order to understand. Those very questions are an immensely important tool in promoting agency and the development of complex problem solving skills. In order to develop that enquiring mind in children, they need to be given ample opportunities to actively construct their own knowledge base through exploration, collaboration, research, experimentation, problem solving and inquiry-based investigation.
This type of autonomous learning increases motivation, stimulation, depth of thought and a propensity for out of the box thinking.
I will utilise every occasion to get my children thinking. The following case study is from our homeschool many years ago when my older children were just ten and eleven. It demonstrates the ease and fun with which a homeschooling mum can nudge her children towards autonomous thought, so important in this age of electronics and the constant bombardment of being told what to think.
Case Study: Develop an Historically Enquiring Mind in Children
We were doing a unit study on the knights and castle era of British history. I asked the children how historians know when one era stops and another begins? And how accurate are they?
History is not an exact science; only a level of certainty can be gained with any assertion. I wanted to introduce the idea to my children that historians can only be somewhat certain of their postulation, never completely certain. This will change the face of our future studies in history. The children, so far, had accepted pretty much anything a book has told them although they were a little more critical of films and historical fiction. I had taught them about primary and secondary evidence and their related strengths in ascertaining truths from the past. However, I had not drummed in the importance of hypothesising and re-hypothesising as new evidence comes to light.
Taking the Children into the Field…
So, I decided to take the children to their very own excavation. First I asked the children to sit on the floor with their eyes shut, and I placed some items I had relating to finds at Riccall, North England. The items included a bone with slice marks on it, some teeth, an axe and Viking helmet:
I old them they were archeologists and they would be unearthing for the first time artefacts from the soil. I encouraged them to pick up a pretend trowel and start digging carefully:
They did this with their eyes shut. I then asked them to open their eyes and examine their finds. They loved this and were having so much fun!
Encouraging (somewhat) Intelligent Questions
Developing an enquiring mind in children starts with them asking the right questions. I had them think about the type of questions they would be asking if this was real. They came up with the obvious ones, along with a few less obvious (sometimes leaning towards the ridiculous!). We used a who, why, where, what, how dice (shown next to the helmet) to encourage improved questioning:
Charlotte has always been our very verbose, highly creative and imaginative child. She came up with imaginary scenarios of what happened to the person who owned the bone rather than asking any questions! 😂
The two most important questions were: who died here? and how did they die? I left the children to come up with a hypothesis to answer these questions. They all came up with similar answers, some more succinctly than others (Charlotte, I’m looking at you!). The general consensus was that he was a warrior and he died in battle:
Giving the Children Extra Information
This was my time to introduce them to a couple of clues. I told them that Riccall was near the site of two famous battles that were fought in 1066. The first was the Battle of Fulford (20 September 1066). In this battle a large Norwegian army invaded the north of England and defeated an English army. The second was the Battle of Stamford Bridge (25 Sept 1066). In this battle the Norwegian army was beaten by king Harold of England after a long, bloody battle.
The other clue was regarding whether or not there had ever been a church where these bones were found. This may have explained why bones had been found. However, neither a church nor a burial ground had ever stood here.
I asked the children to make another guess about who they thought the remains belonged to and how the person died. This time they were introduced to many words which could be used to show varying degrees of certainty:
Making a Judgement of Certainty
I showed them our certainty continuum line – from UNCERTAIN to CERTAIN. The children had to make a new theory based on the evidence they had been given and then stand on the certainty line to show how sure they were of their theory. The children picked up that it was possibly a Viking or Anglo-Saxon and that maybe they died of wounds from the Battle of Stamford Bridge or in another, undocumented, battle:
As it would on a real dig, more information came to light. After the scientists examined the bones carefully, they found many marks. These marks were consistent with marks which would be made by a sword or an ax. They already knew from their Anglo-Saxon Unit Study and Viking Unit Study that axes and swords were he kinds of weapons used during the aforementioned battles.
And finally, I told them that Riccall was the route the Vikings took to reach their boats after being defeated by the Anglo-Saxon at Stamford Bridge.
Re-evaluate and Re-hypothesise
I asked them to re-evaluate and re-hypothesise who had died and how they had died. Gleefully, the children re-hypothesised. They were now fairly certain that the person was either Anglo-Saxon or Viking and had died after the Battle of Stamford bridge.
Charlotte had some elaborate fate for this poor warrior who had an infected leg bone and died of septicaemia! They were asked to show their degree of certainty. All the children were more certain, all having moved up the continuum to the CERTAIN card
The Last Clue
The scientists also examined the teeth from six of the skeletons. Scientists can tell which region people grew up in from their teeth (who knew?!). This is because traces of the water that children drink stay in their teeth forever. The tests on the skeletal remains showed that these bones came from someone who lived on the far side of Norway and Denmark.
The children, having covered Viking history fairly thoroughly, knew that these were areas of Viking settlements. They fine tuned their theory, asserting that it was a Viking warrior, who had died on his way back to his ship, either from battle wounds or from fighting that occurred on the way as the Anglo Saxons pursued them. Charlotte stuck resolutely to her theory and was 100% certain she was spot on!
Lillie remained unsure. This reflects her personality. Charlotte was absolutely sure she was right. This reflects her personality. Thomas was the only one I felt really grasped what I was trying to teach. It could be a maturity thing, being 9 months older (they were all aged ten here). He understood, no matter how sure he felt about his theory , he could NEVER be completely certain. He realised that other information might come to light and he would need to change his theory again.
Discussions to Develop an Enquiring Mind in Children
We discussed why Charlotte may not have been completely right and looked at other possible scenarios for his demise. I think she got it, but simply felt her ideas were the most interesting!
The children LOVED this activity and I saw how much it encouraged them to think. It was also good because there wasn’t a right or wrong, simply a great learning experience. And yes, it really was of help to develop an enquiring mind in children.