When do kids learn to think for themselves?

Roguewood Elementary School

When is it really that kids learn to think? Not just the academic variety either, but to actually think for themselves? And how do we provide opportunities for our children to do just that: think for themselves?

Don’t get me wrong, we have some extremely bright kids in our area, kids who are among the smartest in the state. We have hundreds of students who are on the honor roll, who are scoring really well on the MEAP and the ACT, and who are earning scholarships to prestigious colleges and universities around the country, but are they really learning how to think for themselves?

In many ways, I know I was pretty lucky growing up despite some major challenges. My parents encouraged me to participate in extracurricular activities. When I wasn’t participating in sports or band or 4H or delivering the local newspaper on my bike, I had lots of free time. If my parents had not allowed the concept of boredom in my childhood, who knows how I would have turned out?! Did you catch that? We actually embraced the concept of boredom!

Accepting the fact that it was okay to be “bored,” I learned on my own to find something to do; I discovered amazing things. I imagined, I invented, and I played. I thought for myself. My parents weren’t busy planning “play dates” or organizing games for my siblings and me and the neighborhood kids or playing games all that often with me for that matter. My mom was my 4H leader, but after that she made me go outside to play. Certainly I had to follow the rules and “behave,” but I also had to come up with my own plan for occupying my time or “playing.”

Perhaps that was one of the best things my parents, however unintentionally, did for me. I learned how to think for myself. I’m certainly not the smartest person, but I’m very confident that placed in a challenging situation or confronted with a difficult problem, I can think for myself and react appropriately to most situations.

By education and profession, I am an elementary educator, but at home when the mower breaks I can take it apart and fix it. No one ever showed me how to do that and I’m not afraid to try. My furnace broke down last winter. Though frustrated, I didn’t panic or immediately call a repairperson. I looked to identify the problem, thought about what might work to correct it and eventually repaired the furnace on my own.

Growing up, and even now as an adult, I have made countless mistakes, thought about them and learned from them too. I have been in numerous situations where the answer or solution was not readily evident. I would like to thank my parents for allowing me to be “bored” so as an adult I wouldn’t need anyone to keep me entertained. Boredom forced me to think, wonder, and be self-reliant. Don’t we want that for our children? I would also like to thank my parents for encouraging me to play, to invent, and to imagine. Most of all, I would like to thank my parents for allowing me think for myself.

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