Teaching Kids Abstract Thinking

Most kids are familiar with how things they want to do a certain way will sometimes happen as if by magic. But it can be very tricky for them to figure out how to duplicate what they want to happen again.

To rouse interest when presenting Alexander Technique principles to kids, using any action a kid is interested in will make learning fun. Use balancing or cumulative skills (- such as learning to throw a ball, hit a ball with a bat, or riding a bike) for illustrating F.M. Alexander’s principles.

Kids are learning machines anyway, so they are very fun to work with – but keep lessons short; perhaps ten to fifteen minutes. Showing them some tips about how to experiment so their experimenting goes faster and is more effective will be very useful to them.

As you teach, bear in mind that kids are not able to abstract principles into different situations, unless they are specifically taught how to do so in those situations. Kids are naturally literal thinkers. Helping kids become lateral (sideways creative) thinkers is a challenge. It’s up to the teacher to carry the thread of meaning and relationship from many specifically different activities. Draw the similarities between them for the kids.

Guess there are a quite a few grownups who could use this approach as well!

Also find that for kids a little older, say beyond 6 years old, it’s helpful to be using stories in familiar movies and fairy tales to illustrate teaching points. For instance, in the Fantasia Disney movie about Mickey Mouse who figures out how to do the magic spell with the brooms. The spell really gets out of control when Mickey doesn’t know how to undo it. This story can help kids understand the nature of training themselves to do a repeated habitual order that gets out of control when they can’t cancel it. In Alexander Technique, we call this distorted sensory appreciation, (otherwise known as debauchery.)

This helps teach the secret that if you have already taught yourself how to do something, it will take a little extra skill and time to unteach the old thing you already know. Habits are tricky and “relative” – meaning habits likely to tell you information about where you are and what you are doing with your body that isn’t really true!

Once taught a four year old about how much extra energy is required to compensate for balance and how he can adapt to anything by spinning him on an office chair. How dizzy it feels to stop spinning is a great situation to illustrate a number of points. How come grownups get so stiff thinking they are going to fall down when they’re not really falling?

I like to encourage kids to avoid becoming stiff like adults are, and to regard their natural flexibility as something valuable. Along this idea, it’s handy to ask such questions like “How do adults get stiff when they start out as kids, who are so flexible?” Of course, part of the answer is that grownups expect to be right, and kids expect to be wrong – so kids are more willing to experiment than most grownups. Also great to encourage kids to model the grownups around them who have better natural good use, so the kid doesn’t pick up postural sets from the grownups that they admire that are too extreme.

Most of the challenges for many kids that age, depending on the kid, is fear; they like predictability rather than facing the unknown. Doing what you are scared to do or what’s really new feels sometimes really weird, but exciting. So giving fun experiences that outline which sort of experimenting has the feelings of a fun kind of weird. Most important to illustrate is how can a kid make it safe to try something risky while they’re experimenting?
When they have just accidentally done a new thing, sometimes I’ll ask kids questions such as: how many times do you need to do that the way you wanted before you can do it anytime you want? That teaches them patience and persistence, if they know that they need to do something four or five times before they know it – or maybe it takes them six times before it doesn’t feel so strange. Also teach them incubation learning – to stop for a moment when they do something that impresses them so it can “sink in.”

A fun concept to play with is that muscles are similar to springs in that muscles return to their natural shape when you take the pressure off of them.  For this experiment, it’s handy to have a huge exercise ball, a trampoline or a pogo-springs stick.

Love to hear more suggestions about how to teach Alexander Technique concepts to kids. Have any?

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2 thoughts on “Teaching Kids Abstract Thinking

  1. Classic examples have been telling kids stories about what it is you want them to retain. Strangely enough, this hasn’t been done by adults too often, but the person who wrote a book called “Jack’s Notebook” named Gregg Fraley used this format to illustrate points about creative thinking skills.
    Story-telling can be done with puppets and/or play-like characters, or by collecting and reading stories that include “morals” that you want to illustrate. You might write stories yourself and invent your own characters.
    Also, kids respond to using songs that also have movements attached to them. Scientists have tested that children, who’s brains do not include the ability to think abstractly yet need to move to understand what is meant.

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