Many parents are so busy navigating life — not to mention earning a living, maintaining a household, and staying on top of their children’s school, sport and social lives — that they don’t have the time or the energy to stay on top of the latest child development and education studies.
Luckily for us, education expert Maria Chesley Fisk has written a book, Teach Your Kids to Think: Simple Tools You Can Use Every Day, that dissects the complexities of the latest research on intelligence and converts it into a series of easy-to-use tools for parents to work into everyday conversations with their children.
“I wanted to write a book that was simple and easy for parents to use,” explained Fisk, who has a Ph.D. in educational studies and also works as deputy director of Health Games Research, a UCSB-based national program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Teach Your Kids to Think, which recently won the Kidlutions Preferred Product Award, is written in small, easily digestible nuggets, and is a fast read for busy parents. It is full of immediately useful takeaway tips on how to converse with your child, and at the same time, strategically develop their analytical, creative, social/emotional and practical thinking skills.
Most of the ideas fall in line with good old common sense, but to have it backed up by Fisk’s research is reassuring. Even an experienced educator and academic needs help from time to time.
“I taught elementary school for years and then went back and became an administrator and worked in higher education and then I became a mom,” she explained. “I thought I should be pretty well prepared for being a mom, having taught preschool and all through elementary, and I still found myself hoping I was doing the right thing and not completely confident.
“What I felt I was missing and couldn’t find was really just a big-picture examination of what is it I want to make sure my kids learn at home.”
Thus, the inspiration for Teach Your Kids to Think was born.
At the heart of Fisk’s work is the idea that we all have multiple types of intelligences, an area of study that has been one of her passions since her early days as an elementary school teacher in Maryland and Virginia.
“I’ve always been interested in the whole child and the big picture of learning and growing up, so as a teacher I would pay attention to my kids’ social and emotional development,” she said while chatting over lattes near her downtown Santa Barbara home.
“Much of what we are doing when we are being smart is thinking and then acting wisely based on what we thought. So when we teach our kids to think, we are teaching them to use and increase their intelligences and associated skills, and habits of mind,” she writes in the book. “We are encouraging them to develop the range of thinking skills that will help them become more successful in school, at home, and eventually in their careers.”
Now the busy mom to Ryan, age 10, and Alex, age 7, who both attend Roosevelt School, Fisk is even more passionate about the importance of the role parents can play in developing their children’s minds.
“I continue to feel that we’re missing the point that kids only spend a certain amount of time in school and their families, they’re so important,” she said. “There are things we could be doing as a society to help parents learn about things they could be doing at home — and I don’t mean teaching them the multiplication facts. I mean teaching them these life skills so they are flexible and creative in solving problems and having disposition to life-long and life-wide learning. We don’t hear a lot about that.”
Using an easy-to-navigate outline style of writing, her book offers a variety of general tools for teaching thinking skills (i.e. asking “no right answer” questions), as well as tools for teaching analytical thinking skills (i.e. asking “how do you think this works?”), creative thinking skills (i.e. encouraging children to brainstorm), social and emotional thinking skills (i.e. planning how to handle difficult situations) and practical thinking skills (i.e. practicing the art of conversation).
“One thing that I write about in the book is that times have changed so much,” she said. “We seem to be bombarded all the time with new things coming at us, with people not staying in the same jobs their whole lives and moving to different jobs. Certainly the adaptability that is required in the 21st century is more than what was expected from our grandparents, and I think our parenting needs to change and sort of reflect those new life skills that kids need to have.”
Fisk and her husband, Dr. David T. Fisk, an infectious disease specialist at Sansum Clinic, spend a lot of their leisure time at kids’ sports activities, including baseball, basketball and roller hockey.
“I really enjoy watching my kids play their sports and now my hobbies really in many ways revolve around the kids and what they are into,” she said.
Fisk is also a member of the school site council at Roosevelt School, where she coaches the Math Superbowl Team.
“I don’t have time, but it’s just so much fun,” laughed Fisk, who is also an active member of Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Goleta.
“I’m really interested in politics,” said Fisk, who would like to go behind the scenes and hear the policy discussions going on in the closed-door meetings of the National Institutes of Health and the National Academy of Sciences. When asked to describe herself with three adjectives, Fisk offers “enthusiastic, always seeing the big picture and optimistic.”
Her enthusiasm and optimism are evident when she talks about Santa Barbara. Having moved here from Milwaukee four years ago, Fisk says she still marvels at how fortunate she is.
“I just have to mention how much I love living in Santa Barbara,” she said. “I’ve only been here four years and I just pinch myself. I live here; it’s just such a terrific place.”
Click here for more information about Maria Chesley Fisk and Teach Your Kids to Think: Simple Tools You Can Use Every Day.
— Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieDinaberg.