Activities for Helping Kids Develop Abstract Thinking Skills

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Think of your child's demands for “More” during dinner or assertions of “Mine” when you ask her to share as positive indications that she is developing abstract thinking skills. By moving from concrete food or toys to the abstract concepts of "more" and "mine," your child is using abstract thinking skills that will serve her all her life. Your job is to encourage even more of such conceptualizing.

Modeling Abstract Thinking

Talking out loud is an important way you can help your children develop abstract thinking skills. According to a 2006 research paper for the Brain Injury Association of New York State, ample evidence shows that voicing your own problem-solving process helps your children learn how to think more abstractly. For example, when your toddler drops a bowl of spaghetti on the floor, work through a problem-solving scenario out loud: “If I leave that mess on the floor, someone could slip and hurt themselves. And germs might grow, making our air dirty. I could scoop it up with my hands, but if I use a paper towel my hands won't get so dirty.”

Abstract Language and Math

When you use abstract words such as “more” and “less” and abstract concepts such as grouping and sorting your child will naturally absorb the lessons about abstractions. For example, talk about sorting all the utensils with sharp points in one section of your kitchen drawer and those with curves in another section. Or make a game of picking up toys by first picking up blue toys and then switching to another sorting concept such as toys with faces or toys you could use for throwing.

Reading and Dramatic Play

When pretending to drive a bus, take care of a baby or wash a pretend car, your child is using language and movement to juggle abstractions and reality. Encourage dramatic play with a box of costumes and props, read books with your child every day, speculate about different endings for books or TV shows and teach your child how to play charades using pictures cut from a magazine of people doing different activities.

Planning and Reflecting

While you won't be able to rely on your young children to plan activities for a summer vacation four months in advance, they can think about what they need to do for school the next day or what to do on Saturday morning after eating breakfast. Making such planning a regular part of your day teaches your child thinking and reasoning skills. Spend time listening to your child's plans, asking questions and encouraging the process. Likewise, ask questions and encourage conversation after activities. Use open-ended questions beginning with “how” or “why” instead of questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”