Children are no different from other people. They’re just shorter.–Inger Stevens.
If you ask your children what they think about school, chances are their responses will sound like you. But say you ask them the same question 20 years from now, do you think they’ll give you the same answers? Children, in general, are not taught to think for themselves and form opinions. “They’re too young to understand,” “they don’t know what to think,” “their beliefs and attitudes aren’t important at this stage anyway” are what we as parents and teachers tell ourselves.
Independent thinking is a skill we learn, and if nobody teaches us how to do it, we never learn. Not everyone knows how to think for themself! You can start your children on the road to independent thinking as young as two years-of-age. For instance, letting your children pick out the clothes they’ll wear, choose cereal for breakfast, or pick out a bunch of flowers for your vase at home are ways of helping them figure out what they like and don’t like.
Values Clarification is a great way to (a) expand children’s awareness of life beyond their classroom and home; (b) help children come to grips with what their values are, in relation to their parents’, siblings’, peers’, and teachers’; and (c) encourage children to stand up for, and be proud of what they feel is right, even though others may not agree with them.
How do you help children find out what’s important to them? Raths, Harmin, and Simon (1966) developed a seven-part process:
Prizing one’s beliefs and behaviors
o prizing and cherishing
o publicly affirming, when appropriate
Choosing one’s beliefs and behaviors
o choosing from alternatives
o choosing after consideration of consequences
o choosing freely
Acting on one’s beliefs
o acting with a pattern, consistency and repetition
Here are some exercises that help children find out what beliefs and behaviors they value:
o finding alternate ways of thinking and acting
o weighing the pros and cons, and consequences of their options
o evaluating whether their actions equal their beliefs, and, if they don’t, how children can bring them closer together
o making up their own minds
A good book to get you started is Values Clarification by Sydney Simon, Leland Howe, and Howard Kirschenbaum (1968). It’s brimming with good ideas on how teachers and parents can encourage children’s free thinking. Most of the strategies are intended for older children and adolescents, but in some cases they have primary grade versions as well. Teacher participation is encouraged, although the authors suggest you express you views last, and stay away from moralizing or imposing your feelings on students.
One suggestion from this book is Values Voting–asking children to give their opinion on values issues like going to school, people who look different because their handicapped or their skin is a different colour, and what they want to be when they grow up. Values Voting asks children to publicly take a stand on values issues, and helps them realize that not everybody thinks the same way as they do. As well it helps children better accept and understand people different from them. Another exercise is called Proud Whip–asking children what makes them proud. This helps children identify their sources of pride and well-being.