Mastering ‘How to Think’

A small boy was playing in a garden. He found a little beetle resting under a leaf. Picking up the ladybird, he showed it to his mother. “Look, Mum, a beetle!” The mother swatted it out of his hand. She said, “That’s a dirty bug. It could sting you!” The boy eyed the little bug with new suspicion and obeyed his mother, avoiding insects in the garden from then on.

A short while later, a little girl and her mother walked by the same spot in the garden. The girl, too, found the beetle and squealed, “Mumma! A bug! I’m scared.” Her mother picked up the beetle on her palm and beckoned the scared little girl to come and get a closer look. It was just a harmless ladybird, after all. 

The mother showed her daughter the ladybird’s shell-like outer wings that protect the real ones it uses to fly. The little girl counted five spots on the ladybird’s back, six legs and two antennae. Soon after that, they let the beetle go. But the little girl was full of questions about the ladybird all the way home.

Fast forward to twenty years later: the little girl grew up to be a curious young lady with an insatiable appetite for learning. Most importantly, she was never afraid to ask questions. 

The boy did well, too; he was quick to memorize facts and great at following instructions. But for reasons he couldn’t understand, he lacked creative thinking and problem-solving abilities.

Today, we can access humanity’s collective knowledge simply by reaching into our pockets. That means information recall is no longer the most practical measure of intelligence – it’s how we think, not what we think that matters most. How well we’re able to interpret facts and use our knowledge to create something new will determine our success at navigating the future. But for some reason, teaching thinking skills still isn’t the main focus of education.

What Are Thinking Skills?

“Thinking skills” are cognitive tools which help us draw deeper insights from concrete facts. They include abilities like analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, inferring, conjecturing, justifying, and categorizing, along with other mental processes that operate in the background.

Every innovation that matters to the modern world is a result of better thinking. And the very best ideas come from divergent thinkers who approach every topic from a unique perspective, forging connections between seemingly disparate concepts.

When we emphasize memorization and procedural training, we miss the opportunity to develop a learner’s thinking skills. And although content knowledge is still relevant, businesses now seek candidates with strong problem-solving abilities to fill positions of value. This makes it critical for new generations to learn how to analyze and interpret information, rather than recalling and reciting.

How Can You Develop Better Thinking Skills?

Most education systems equate teaching with learning. It’s often assumed that the learning process follows a kind of strict recipe: “every one ounce of learning requires one ounce of teaching”. We beg to differ. In reality, learning is a constant – whether we’re aware of it or not, everyone is always learning in every moment of every day. Classical teaching is just one way to accelerate the process. 

The best way to develop thinking skills is, in a word, exploration. Allowing the mind to wander and experiment can reveal new avenues of approaching standard subjects, and questioning the status quo might unearth new fields of study entirely. This sort of exploratory thinking is best accommodated by new ways of learning that prioritize skills beyond memorization. These include:

Practice – Encouraging children to participate in activities that require applying subject matter will improve thinking skills over time. 

Reading – Reading remains one of the best all-around brain exercises. Purposeful reading does wonders for information processing and counterfactual thinking skills.

Free-Form Imagination – Giving children opportunities to let their imagination run wild will improve creative thinking and problem-solving abilities more than any other single practice. 

Creative Projects – Children should be given the freedom to express their creativity through multiple different media. Some kids might take to art, some might be born poets, and others might fall in love with technology. The point is to give them space to create, however they feel inclined to.

Puzzles – There are various free online games, puzzles, and learning activities that can help children think differently. Engaging children with stimulating online puzzle activities will quickly improve their creative quotient. 

At VocaTales, we believe that every child has unique ways of thinking and approaching a topic. Giving them the freedom to learn in their own style helps them develop thinking skills naturally and ensures that they internalize everything that they learn. Check out our unique learning experiences that help students build creativity and imagination HERE