Shelli reviews a vocabulary program that’s designed to help middle and high school students boost their vocabulary — by going beyond memorizing word lists and mastering the nuances of adding new language to their repertoire. (Plus, we’ve got a special coupon code for you!)
Want to raise critical thinkers? Showing them — out loud — how you think critically is a good place to start.
The first installment of our high school curriculum is available for pre-order now. (We kind of love it, and we hope you do, too!)
Once we find a routine, homeschoolers like to joke that “homeschooling” is a misnomer—most of us spend plenty of time in the car, too, from classes to activities to park days to field trips. We enjoy our car time—it’s a great excuse to pull out our beloved audiobook collection—but we also sometimes get bored shuttling back and forth or sitting in waiting areas or killing time between appointments. That’s when our backseat bookshelf comes in handy.
Your perfect backseat bookshelf depends on your family’s interest, but we’ve found that brainteasers and did-you-know fact books are the most entertaining for us. I keep five or six books tucked in the pocket behind the passenger seat, but some people store them in boxes, bins, or backpacks. The key is to choose a few and rotate them frequently—you want enough to feel like there’s a real selection but not so many that it’s a mess back there. I also keep a plastic bag full of writing materials, sticky notes, and small notebooks. My son added a magnifying glass and a calculator; my daughter popped in a pack of sparkly markers a few days ago.
Now when we’re stuck in traffic for way longer than we’d like or waiting for our friends to show up before we head into the museum, my kids automatically reach for one of their backseat books. I’m not saying that we look forward to the waiting parts of homeschool commuting, but we definitely don’t dread them.
Your challenge this week: Create a backseat library—or, if you’re lucky enough to be transit user, a bag library—to encourage critical thinking when you’re on the go.
Some of our favorite backseat library books
- The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums : We loved The Mysterious Benedict Society, so it's no surprise that we couldn't resist this brainteaser of a book by the same author. Happily, these mind-bending puzzles live up to our expectations.
- Doodlepedia : The cool thing about this doodle book is that it's full of fascinating facts that really stick because kids actively participate in illustrating them.
- MindWare Grid Perplexors : We love these puzzles that let you use deductive logic within a simple grid to chart clues and eliminate wrong options.
- NG Kids Ultimate Weird but True: 1,000 Wild & Wacky Facts and Photos : Wacky facts and the awesome photography you expect from National Geographic make this book one that my kids will read over and over again.
- One Minute Mysteries: 65 Short Mysteries You Solve With Science! : Science is a favorite subject in our homeschool, so we've really enjoyed these mysteries designed to be solved with scientific knowledge.
- Mindware Extreme Dot to Dots Animals : The incredibly intricate dot-to-dot pictures in this book are great for when you need a little quiet. Kids have to focus pretty intently to solve these challenging puzzles.
- What Is the Name of This Book?: The Riddle of Dracula and Other Logical Puzzles : These awesomely entertaining conundrums are fun all by themselves, but they're also a nice low-key introduction to Godel's Incompleteness Theorems.
- Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School : I loved these silly books back in the day, so I'm not-so-secretly thrilled that my kids are hooked on them, too.
- Gallery Ghost: Find the Ghost Who Paints the Most! : This surprisingly engaging mystery book is also a practical introduction to great artists.
Looking to add a little more critical thinking to your homeschool life this summer? We’ve got the scoop on some useful resources, from online games to full-blown curriculum, that will help you out.
nature study: What's At Stake? #18
Turn your next geocaching adventure into a test of logic. (You don’t have to be in Pennsylvania to play, but if you like the idea of playing closer to home, why not create and submit your own geocaching logic puzzle?)
board game: WFF’n’PROOF
Lots of games teach critical thinking skills, but this board game was developed specifically to introduce students to the fundamentals of symbolic logic.
computer game: FTL: Faster Than Light
Your goal in FTL is always the same: deliver an important message to the Federation without getting captured or stalled by ship malfunctions along the way. But thanks to a pretty darn sophisticated game matrix, this 2-D game never plays the same way twice. Every decision you make, from quests you agree to take on to what upgrades you give your spaceship, affects your gameplay. This is a game that rewards thoughtful, intelligent playing over shoot-and-run-as-fast-as-you-can strategies.
book: What Is the Name of This Book?: The Riddle of Dracula and Other Logical Puzzles
Add mathematician and logician Raymond M. Smullyan’s puzzle labyrinth to your summer reading list, and your brain will get a serious workout. (The book includes solutions—with detailed explanations.)
workbook: Mind Benders
I know! We never recommend workbooks. But this series (with books for ages from preschool through high school) encourages to students to deduce increasingly sophisticated connections between people, places, and things to solve puzzles. It’s pretty awesome.
curriculum: Building Thinking Skills
It’s easy to find critical thinking resources for younger kids, and by high school, students are ready to tackle inductive and deductive logic—but what about middle school? The Critical Thinking Co.’s Building Thinking Skills curriculum is the perfect critical thinking resource for this in-between age.
class: How to Think Like a Philosopher
The University of Hawai’s’s Philosophy for Children program developed a toolkit to help kids break down big ideas by looking at some of the assumptions, implications, examples, and reasons behind them. Shelly Denkinger uses the toolkit as a basis for exploring everything from pop culture to Plato in this five-week class for high school students. It’s a great first step to more in-depth philosophy studies.
We’re so excited about our new online classes, and we thought it would be fun to give you a sneak peek at what’s on the lineup for this summer. Today, Shelly’s got the scoop on why everyone should learn How to Think Like a Philosopher. (Summer registration opens May 1!)
WHAT IS YOUR CLASS ABOUT?
We think all the time, but we don’t always understand exactly what we’re thinking in why. In this class, we’ll start to unpack some of the reasons, assumptions, inferences, examples, implications, counter-examples, and truths that underly the way we think. We’ll start by putting these skills to work exploring a fairly straightforward television episode and gradually work together toward tackling a Socratic dialogue.
WHAT WILL STUDENTS LEARN?
How to think! It’s a simple—and as complex—as that. You won’t walk out of a philosophy class with a list of facts and data. Philosophy doesn’t mean the love of knowledge—it’s the love of wisdom. You’ll be able to ask more and better questions and to think better and deeper about the questions we all think about all the time—life and death, right and wrong, how we become who we are. (At least, I think about those things all the time. Other people do, too, right?)
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT TEACHING THIS CLASS?
Honestly, I just love teaching philosophy. There’s a philosopher who writes about how when you’re actually teaching philosophy, it always feels too good to be true, like someone is going to come and tap you on the shoulder and say, “”We were just kidding—you don’t really get to do this for a living.” I totally identify with that. Teaching philosophy is so fun—I still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to get to do it every day. I wish I’d been able to take classes like this in high school, too, so I have really enjoyed getting to put together the kind of classes that I would have fallen in love with as a high school student.
WHO WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THIS CLASS FOR?
If you love thinking—really thinking, thinking deep, relishing the questions as much as the answers, embracing the notion that you can’t relax in absolutes, getting up in the middle of the night to look at the monsters under the bed—you will love philosophy. And philosophy is so open-ended. It equips you to be a philosopher, sure, but it also arms you to go back to science or history or art or whatever your passion is with the ability to think deeper and make better connections about it.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO TEACH THIS CLASS?
I always say if I’m going to jail, I want it to be for blasphemy and corrupting the youth—just like Socrates.
Over steaming pots of tea, my oldest son and I have had great fun working through David A. White’s book Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything. (See my review in the winter issue of home/school/life.). So much fun, in fact, that I just had to check out the author’s sequel, The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kids.
Anyone lucky enough to spend their days among children knows that young people are inquisitive and imaginative bold thinkers. Kids are natural born philosophers. For this reason, experts encourage the practice of exposing students to philosophy early on. Even an introductory understanding of the subject helps cultivate important skills used in developing critical thinking, appreciating cultural differences, considering other viewpoints, and growing one’s self-awareness.
White, a professor of philosophy with loads of teaching experience, breathes life into the ideas of some of history’s greatest thinkers. If you are already familiar with White’s popular work, Philosophy for Kids, you’ll notice the format in The Examined Life differs dramatically. This is a teacher’s guide. It is written for educators and is not intended to be used by students independently. Prior experience with Philosophy for Kids, while complementary, is certainly not necessary.
In this follow-up work, the author digs deeper encouraging readers to consider some of life’s most meaningful, as well as abstract, questions. Feminism, social justice, technology, freedom, and society are among the topics he explores.
The Examined Life is divided into three parts. “Kids and Philosophy,” the book’s first section, contains a collection of 10 readings—a series of passages from primary source selections, which are followed by questions, discussion, commentary, and analysis. Based on his own experience teaching this material, White anticipates and shares the questions students are most likely to raise as they delve deep into discussion. In most cases, links are provided so that those motivated to do so can read the philosophers’ complete texts online. An especially useful feature of this section is its suggestions for integrating the presented topics with lessons in science, social studies, and language arts courses.
“Education as Applied Philosophy,” part two of the book, is where this resource sparkles most. This portion of White’s book is likely to appeal to homeschoolers who have an inherent love of hands-on engagement and real life application of information.
Four discussions intended to enhance student’ abilities in critical thinking, drawing, language acquisition, and music are accompanied by innovative, sophisticated project ideas that bring the book’s material to life.
Part three, “A Philosophical Postlude” is a series of theoretical discussions that are presented in order to understand the relationship between educational theory and instruction. Here, special emphasis is placed on teaching gifted learners.
Although not specifically written for homeschoolers, The Examined Life could be easily adapted to suit the needs of one student or many and would also work well with older children in a co-op setting. To fully utilize this resource, advanced preparation on the part of the parent is necessary. The Examined Life is intended for Grades 6 to 12 and was written with gifted learners in mind. However, this is not a book exclusively for gifted children. Success using this material will rely largely on a student’s level of interest in the subject matter along with their ability to handle abstract materials.
If you used Philosophy for Kids with a younger child and it went well, you will want to get your hands on a copy of The Examined Life at some point too. However, as there is a significant difference in approach and style in this second book, it may be helpful to let some time pass to ensure that your younger child is ready for the level of materials found in The Examined Life.
The Examined Life is a unique resource designed to develop students’ critical thinking. The lessons it contains are likely to ignite curiosity and lead to lively discussions in your homeschool. I can’t wait to get started on this with my son!