Trillions of neural connections are formed in the early years of life which develop the foundation for future learning. Like the assembly of a home, the brain is built from the bottom up. The difference is that houses are eventually completed, but the brain is under constant construction. Executive Function skills are developed through this construction of neural connections. Executive Function allows us to concentrate when things are different, unusual, or changing. It is the “why” of learning and is an indicator of future success. Ellen Galinsky highlights seven essential skills that help children develop these executive functions. I continue my focus on Galinsky’s skills this month by exploring skills four and five; making connections and critical thinking.
Think back to your most recent “aha” moment. That moment likely came from your ability to make connections! The complex and constant construction of the brain makes every interaction you have with children an experience that can shape connections! Making unusual connections comes from interaction with open-ended materials. These materials encourage creativity. In a world where most everything can be found on the internet, creativity is at risk for elimination. That is why it is even more important for us to provide opportunities and experiences for our children to make connections.
Galinsky states that “critical thinking is the ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions and actions” (Galinsky, 2010, p. 204). Critical thinking is driven by curiosity and parallels the reasoning used in the scientific method. It is imperative that we foster children’s curiosity by allowing them to develop, test, and refine their own theories. We want to assist children in finding answers, not rescue and provide them with what they could discover in their own investigation. Curiosity is not innate; help the children in your classroom develop their sense of wonder!
Click here for a list of picture books and tips for promoting the skills of making connections and critical thinking. My next post will conclude this series with a focus on skills six and seven: taking on challenges and self-directed, engaged learning.
Galinsky, E. (2010). Mind in the making: The seven essential life skills every child needs (NAEYC special ed.). New York: Harper.