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Roots and Wings
Photo: Anissa Thompson
“What’s gray, has a bushy tail, has four little feet, climbs trees, and eats nuts?” Mrs. Simpson asked her class.

As Tim Hansel tells the story, Mrs. Simpson was surprised when not one hand went up in response. 

After a brief silence, she continued: “Okay, children, now picture this in your mind.  What’s gray, has a big bushy tail, has four little feet that help it climb tress, and eats nuts.  In fact, it eats acorns!”

She paused, convinced that the added clues would bring forth the correct answer.  But still, silence.  Then, Johnny timidly raised his hand.  “Yes?” the teacher said.  “Johnny, what’s the answer?”

He replied, “Well, Mrs. Simpson, it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I think I’m supposed to say, Jesus.”

This illustration reminds me of teaching a Kindergarten class at church.  So often the children answer “Jesus” when that wasn’t even close to the answer to the question. I wanted them to think for themselves, not just parrot an answer back to me!

When children are very young, we can control their environment. But as they get older, obviously their world becomes a larger place. More and more people and experiences influence them. We cannot always be with our children - - and that’s the way it should be as they mature. However, I invite you to consider that the two lasting bequests we can give our children are roots and wings. It is our responsibility to rear our children in such a way that they can be rooted and secure, independent of us—that’s what parenthood is all about.

I believe it’s imperative that we give children, even very young ones, opportunities in the home which foster thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills.  One way to foster critical thinking is to ask questions that won’t have specific answers, but rather cause the child to make decisions and respond accordingly.

Foster critical thinking by:

  • Greeting children with statements and questions which refer to their person. (“Jeremy, you have a big smile today, has something special happened?”)

  • Asking children open-ended questions which enable them to answer with more than a yes or no. (“What do you want to do when you go outside to play?”)

  • Offering kids choices of responses when they don’t answer a questions spontaneously, (“If you were him, would you go over the mountain, around it, or through the forest?”)

  • Questions such as “what if, how, and why” help children predict. (“Tell us why you think that the kitten might be afraid of the dog.”)

  • Let your child help evaluate a process. (If there is a new family rule, sit down and ask, “How do you think the rule of each person’s putting their dishes in the dishwasher is working?” Then let the kids discuss and evaluate this process. Encourage them to understand another’s point of view and encourage them to talk about their feelings.
When you provide an environment where open discussion is encouraged, be prepared to listen!  I like the explanation that hearing takes place between the ears, and listening takes place through the heart. We must stop and listen long enough to really hear what our children are saying, to let them get to the heart of things. 

Our children deserve and need answers. Children need reassurance and opportunities to question us so that they can build their own belief system, and learn to resist peer pressure in healthy ways. This will develop faith maturity.

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By Susan E. Murray. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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