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Our Favourite Ways to Encourage Thinking Skills

From going to the supermarket to exploring a new playground, every day is an adventure for young children and an opportunity to develop and learn new skills. Here are some of the things you can do to help and facilitate their learning


The world has changed so much in the last 20 years that we can only begin to imagine what our children will need to be prepared for when they go out for their first job interviews. Regardless of the technical skills they will need, thinking skills will always be imperative to adapting in changing environments.

Everyday magic

Encouraging your child's thinking skills is not something difficult or specialised; it's a part of everything you do on a daily basis. It's in the magic of smiling at them, answering their questions and giving them hugs. We know that the regular interaction with friends and family is important. According to Unicef: "Every three months that a young child resides in an institution, they lose one month of development."

Practical activities to encourage development

We asked Education Specialist Rachel Barber for advice on what you can do at home to help encourage the development of your child's thinking skills.

Water play

Most young children find water play irresistible. It's also a cheap way of stimulating observation and experimentation or 'scientific thinking', and relatively easy to clean up when contained.

You can lose hours filling and emptying containers, measuring volume and watching how different containers empty at different rates. All you need is a variety of containers and a large bucket or a sink of water. If you want to add a little twist, you can even try including coloured water and watch in amazement as they create new colours upon combination.

"When we deny young children play, we are denying them the right to understand the world," Erika Christakis, Early Childhood Teacher


Research shows that one of the best ways to help children succeed at school is to find 10 minutes to read to them every day. Try adding it into your daily schedule so that you have it as a 'habit trigger'. Once it becomes part of your routine, it's a lot easier to fit in.

Showing that you're looking forward to your shared reading time is also important, as it will help your child view it as a treat and not a chore. Some research says the best indicator of school success is a child who arrives at school with an interest in books and literature, or 'an eager learner,' as teachers call it.

"Some families just get out of the habit of coming together to make something lovely happen," Margot Sunderland, author of 'What Every Parent Needs to Know'

Get involved

Encourage the thoughts your child has. Imagine a four-year-old is walking home and notices the manhole covers. Tuning into this interest, you can start counting them together. Before long, you'll find they've enthusiastically counted to 100. You may find they become very excited, jumping around as they spot each one!

The transformation and engagement is incredible, and just showing a little interest goes a long way. On top of the excitement, this activity involves lots of numbers or, as teachers call it, 'mathematical thinking'.

"When children are deeply involved in what they are doing, it's likely that deep-level learning is taking place. When they give themselves completely, they use all their mental abilities," Professor Ferre Laevers, Education Researcher


Children become skilled communicators long before they learn to talk. When your child points or looks at something - eye pointing - go with it. Show that you think it's the most fascinating thing in the world and explore it together.

This simple act will release chemicals in the pleasure centres of their brain, and it will encourage them to share their thinking with you. You can use this time to help grow their vocabulary as well. For example you can use descriptive words or other terms to describe the object of their attention, like explaining the difference between a pebble, a rock and a boulder.

The vital importance of play

We've all enjoyed a game or two over the years, and they're an excellent way to help children learn vital thinking skills, self-control and listening skills, before they go to school. Not only is it entertaining, but it also helps foster the ability to share and interact as part of a group. These skills will help them when they are settling into their classrooms.

Family activities that encourage thinking skills

Here are some fun family games you can try:

  • Hide and Seek / Peek-a-boo (reading facial expressions; learning that you'll come back!)
  • Simon Says / Musical Statues (listening skills; self-control)
  • "I Went Shopping..." (listening skills; working memory)
  • I Spy (listening skills; turn-taking)
  • Snap (concentration)
  • Catch (hand-eye coordination; turn-taking)


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