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Is Technology Squashing Our Kids’ Critical Thinking Skills?

We’re sitting around the dinner table and a question comes up. Who won the World Series last year? What is the most populated state in America? Is a cucumber a fruit or vegetable? Instead of using our brains, we all whip out our handy devices and ask Siri, Alexa, or Google to find the answers for us. On one hand, it’s incredible that we can instantaneously find the answer to just about any question that pops in our head. On the other hand, I am concerned that our children’s brains are getting lazy. They no longer have to remember anything or spend time analyzing information because all the answers can be found with the click of a button or through voice recognition. How will kids ever learn to retain information and connect the dots if technology rapidly provides all the answers?


Technology has become a crutch that is diminishing our kids’ critical thinking skills. This is quite troublesome since critical thinking is the foundation of education and an essential life skill for survival and success. Psychology Today defines critical thinking as the “capacity to reflect, reason, and draw conclusions based on our experiences, knowledge, and insights.” Our children depend on this skill to communicate, create, build, and progress. Critical thinking is a complex process that combines a number of tactics including observing, learning, remembering, questioning, judging, evaluating, innovating, imagining, arguing, synthesizing, deciding, and acting. We use critical skills every single day to make good decisions, understand consequences of our actions, and solve problems.

Now that technology has infiltrated our children’s lives, critical thinking skills are harder to achieve. However, our children still need to be able to think critically even with all the gadgets that they can rely on. If our children can’t think for themselves, how will they function in this complex world? From solving puzzles to deciding when to cross the street to eventually competing in the job market for positions in science, engineering, health, social science, and other fields will require well-developed critical thinking skills.

For years, experts have been evaluating the impact of technology on critical thinking skills. According to Patricia Greenfield, UCLA professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center, children’s critical thinking skills are getting worse while their visual skills are improving. She analyzed more than 50 studies on learning and technology, including research on multi-tasking and the use of computers, the Internet, and video games. She found that real-time visual media do not allow for reflection, analysis, or imagination. In addition, reading for pleasure has declined among children and teens in recent decades, which is a concern because reading enhances imagination, reflection, and critical thinking in a way that visual media like video games and television do not.

Terry Heick, a former English teacher in Kentucky, explained to NPR that his eighth- and ninth-grade students immediately turn to Google for answers. They then report back what they find practically word for word, without thinking through the research. He wanted his students to take time to assess the information they needed, determine how to evaluate the data, and then address any conflicts they found. Instead, this new “search and find” process completely eliminated any need for critical thinking.

Next, in a 2008 article for The Atlantic titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” writer Nicholas Carr predicts how the Internet will take away our ability for contemplation due to the plasticity of our brains because we no longer have the need to concentrate or think through issues. Our kids may read more information overall, but since they really aren’t assessing it critically, they don’t actually process and recall much of it. Instead, they quickly move onto the next factoid that appears on the screen.

Finally, a 2011 study in the journal Science showed that when people know they have future access to information, they no longer need to recall or analyze it. Our children’s ability to grow their expand their memory is greatly impacted by all this technology, which affects their thinking skills. Knowing where to look for information has become more important for children than actually retaining that knowledge in their brains. The problem with this is that if our children don’t use their memory and analytical skills, they will lose it over time. Essentially, these devices are taking over basic functions of the brain like memory and critical thinking.

We are all in big trouble if our children lose the ability to think critically. It’s up to us to help them develop a critical mindset throughout their childhood. By instilling critical thinking skills from an early age, we will teach our kids how to effectively analyze the world around them. Here are some ways that you can enhance your children’s critical thinking skills at home.

Read books for fun

As Patricia Greenfield discovered with her research, children are spending less time reading for fun because they are attached to their electronics. One downfall of this is that they are losing the opportunity to develop important comprehension and analytical skills from reading. Therefore, you can shift this pattern by reading with your children daily and discussing the material with them in ways that will challenge them to think critically. See if they can make connections between the story and their own life. Ask them to use what they have read so far to predict what will happen next. Have them summarize the key points of the story or chapter so they can determine what is most important. What roles did each character play and how do they relate to them? All of this practice with fun stories will help them analyze more challenging pieces of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, as they get older.

Explore science

Science gives us a platform to raise educated children who have the ability to evaluate information presented to them to confront all types of critical issues that impact their lives. Science experiments and other related activities are fantastic ways to teach children how to think critically because they need to make predictions, evaluate data, and then interpret the scientific facts and findings to relate them to the world around them.

Show them how to answer their own questions and evaluate information

Young children have tons of questions. Take advantage of their curiosity to teach them how to look for answers to their questions in a critical way. If they ask how something works, take a trip to the library and find books, magazines, videos, and other resources on that topic. Provide opportunities for them to speak to people who can provide them direct answers. For example, if they want to know what a fireman does, schedule a trip to the local fire station so your child can learn firsthand how everything works. When your children are doing research online, sit with them and help them find reliable sources. Also show them the difference between evidence-based information and opinions. It’s probably a good idea to also explain fake news, as that has unfortunately become a recent trend. Our goal is to give our children the critical thinking skills so that they can spot unreliable sources on their own. It is so important that they know how to question what they read and to evaluate its validity.

Build problem-solving skills

When dealing with conflicts, our children need to use critical thinking skills to understand the problem at hand and to come up with possible solutions. Use games, puzzles, riddles, mystery novels, physical challenges, and other activities to teach them problem solving skills.

Force them to memorize basic information

Long gone are the days when we had all of our friends’ phone numbers stored in our heads. We have all become so lazy, relying on looking up every bit of information on our phones. In order to exercise your kid’s memory muscle, you can go a bit retro on them. Make sure they know some basic facts by heart like their address and important phone numbers. As they get older, continue to add more facts to this list like relatives’ birthdays, math equations, state capitals, and American Presidents. Also, see if they can give directions from home to school and other places you frequent.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I can vividly remember the last time I remember feeling truly rested. I was on vacation with my family, and my dad and I had started a tradition of going to sleep at 10 p.m., then waking up at 10 a.m. to go for a run. After five days of twelve hours of sleep a night, I remember actually pausing and thinking, "I am truly not at all tired right now!"

That was probably 15 years ago.

Of course, being tired pre-kids and being tired post-kids are two entirely different beasts. Pre-kids, tiredness was almost a badge of pride. It meant you had stayed up late dancing with friends or at a concert with your boyfriend. It meant you had woken up early to hit a spin class before gliding into work, hair still damp from your shower, for a morning meeting. Being tired meant you were generally killing it at life—and I was still young enough that, with a little concealer, I could look like it.

Tired post-kids is a whole other animal.

Tired post-kids means you probably still went to bed at a reasonable hour, but you're still exhausted. Maybe you even slept in past sunrise... but you're still exhausted. You may not have worked out in weeks... but you're still exhausted. And staying out late dancing with your girlfriends? (I mean... is that real life? Was it ever?) Nope, didn't do that. But—you guessed it!—you're still exhausted.

Sometimes I look at my husband and say, "I think if I could sleep for about five days, then I would feel rested again."

But considering the average new mom loses almost two months of sleep in her child's first year of life, even that is probably a low estimate of what I really need.

Because being a mom is exhausting.

It's exhausting always putting someone else's needs above your own. I often find myself actually giving my daughter the food off my plate (because, when you're two, mom's meal must be better even if you're eating the exact same thing).

Or I'll sacrifice sneaking my own nap to lie uncomfortably with her on the couch because it means she sleeps an extra 30 minutes.

Or I'll carry her up and down flights of stairs she is perfectly capable of scaling on her own because, well, she's tired or it's just quicker than nagging her to hurry up all the time.

I often end the day bone-tired, shocked at the physical exertion of just keeping this little person alive.

It's exhausting remembering all the things. The mental load of motherhood is so real, and sometimes I'm not sure it won't crush me.

I schedule and remember the doctor appointments, keep the fridge stocked and plan the meals, notice when my husband is low on white shirts and wash and fold the laundry, add the playdates and the date nights to the calendar, and add any assortment of to-dos to my day because, well, I'm the parent at home, so I must have time, right?

And when I drop one of the thousand balls I'm juggling, I writhe under the guilt of failing at my responsibility.

It's exhausting not getting enough sleep. The sleep gap doesn't end after baby's first year.

Studies have shown that parents lose as much as six months of sleep in their child's first two years of life. That sounds unbelievable at first...but I completely believe it.

Because sometimes I stay up later than I should just to get a few minutes of "me" time. Because sometimes my sleep-trained daughter still wakes up in the middle of the night with a nightmare or because she's sick or for no real reason at all and needs me to soothe her back to sleep.

Because sometimes I'm so busy trying to keep it all together mentally that I don't know how to turn my own brain off to get to sleep. And because sometimes (almost always) my daughter wakes up earlier than I would like her to and the day starts over before I'm ready.

It's exhausting maintaining any other relationship while being a mom. I try not to neglect my marriage. I try not to neglect my friendships. I try to make time for friendly interaction with my coworkers. I try to be there for my congregation. I try to keep all these connections alive and nurtured, but the fact is that some days my nurture is completely used up.

It's exhausting doing all of the above while being pregnant. Okay, this one might not resonate for every mom, but we all know being pregnant is hard. Being pregnant with a toddler? I'm shocked it's not yet an Olympic event. (I'm not sure if we'd all get gold medals or just all fall asleep at the starting gun.)

Most days, I'm so tired and busy I honestly forget that I am pregnant, only to be reminded at the end of the day when I finally collapse on the couch and the little one in my uterus wakes up to remind me. My body is doing amazing things, sure—and I have the exhaustion to show for it.

Of course, I know that this is just an exhausting season of life. One day, one not-so-far-off day, my children will be a bit more grown and be able to get their own breakfast in the morning. One day, they'll actually want to sleep in, and I'll be the one opening their curtains in the morning to start the day (maybe before they're really ready).

One day, they'll always walk up and down the stairs themselves and will stop stealing my food and I'll be able to nap without making sure they are asleep or with a sitter. One day, they won't need me to remember all the things.

And the really wild part? Just thinking about that day makes me miss these days, just a bit.

So, yes, I'm tired. I'm always tired. But I'm grateful too. Grateful I get to have these days. Grateful I get to have this life.

But also really grateful for those days I get to nap, too.

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For the first couple years of a child's life, their feet grow so rapidly that they typically need a new shoe size every two to three months (so, no, you're not imagining how many shoes you've been buying lately!).

Fortunately, things tend to slow down as they start walking and hit school age. Even so, it's important to make sure they're wearing the right size for maximum comfort and healthy development.

That's why we teamed up with the experts at Rack Room Shoes for tips on helping the whole family get back to school on the right foot.

1. Get professionally fitted at least once a year.

We love online shopping as much as anyone, but for the health of your child's feet, it's worth it to make at least an annual trip to a store to get them properly sized on a Brannock Device (yep, those old-school sizers you remember as a kid are still the most reliable indicators of foot length and width!). Back to school is a great time to plan a visit to a store with trained associates who can help ensure your little one is getting the right fit.

2. Remember not all feet (or shoes) are created equally.

Most babies have naturally pudgier feet that thin out as they get older, and many kids need a wider or narrower shoe than their peers. Visiting a store and speaking with a trained associate can help you gauge which shoe brand will best suit your child. Once you have that benchmark, shopping online will be easier.

3. Get good closure.

Shoe closure, that is. Nowadays, there's a variety of ways to fasten kids shoes, from slip-ons to velcro to elastic laces. Provide your child with a few options to find the closure that works best for you both.

4. Watch for tell-tale signs your child has outgrown their shoes.

Children will often be the last ones to tell you their favorite shoes are uncomfortable. If your child is tripping or walking funny, it may be time to size up.

5. Try the push-down toe method.

Think your kid has outgrown their kicks? Push down on the toe of their shoe with your thumb to see how much wiggle room they have. The ideal size is to have about half a thumb's width between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe. (That space equates to about half a size.)

6. Pick a style they'll want to put on. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Most moms know the struggle of getting kids out the door in the morning—the right pair of shoes can help cut down on the (literal) foot-dragging. Opt for a fun style (consider shopping for their favorite color or a light-up design) that they'll be begging to wear every day. (But feel free to buy a second pair that's more your style too!)

You'll love that they're classic converse. They'll love the peek of pink.

Converse Girls Maddie, $44

BUY

7. Don't forget the sneakers.

Whether they're running through the recess or racing in P.E., school-age children need a pair of well-fitting, durable sneakers. Be sure to get them professionally fitted to ensure nothing slows them down on the playground.

8. Understand the size breakdowns.

Expert retailers like Rack Room Shoes break up sizing by Baby, Toddler, Little Kid, and Big Kid to make it easier to find the right section for your child. For boys, there's no size break between kids shoes and men's shoes. Girls, though, can cross over into women's shoes from size 4 (in girls) on—a girl's size 4 is a women's size 5.5 or 6.

Looking for more advice? Step into a Rack Room Shoes store near you or shop online. With a "Buy One, Get One 50% off" policy, you can make sure the whole family will put their best foot forward this back-to-school season. (We had to!)

Who knew Amazon had so many dreamy nursery must-haves? Maybe you have a friend or family member about to have a baby or you're preparing for your new bundle of joy—either way, you can save tons on grabbing some essentials on Prime Day.

We've rounded up our favorite nursery items from basics, like cribs and changing tables, to the essentials you never knew you needed (hint: lots of storage!).

1. 6-drawer dresser

This gorgeous dresser has plenty of space for baby's clothing and accessories—and will transition seamlessly to a big kid room one day. Even better? The top is large enough to be used as a changing table. The shade of white is great for any gender, too!

Dresser, Amazon, $239.99 ($329.99)

BUY HERE

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