Discussing & Encouraging The Usage Of Different Concepts Of ‘Thought’ With Children.

The meanings of ‘thought‘.

In writing this blog post I have already raised a wry smile. I doubt if I’ll be able to communicate a precise definition and therefore a meaning for the world ‘thought‘.

To discuss the meaning of the word would be a lengthy and a rather semantic exercise and would actually bring us no further towards understanding what actually goes on in the brain when we think.

Checking the dictionary brings us no further to the goal either. Dictionaries offer synonyms – similar meanings clothed in different words – or examples of the use of words – they do not tell us anything about their real or imagined referents.

In fact, the dictionary may seem to add to the confusion. For example, it tell us that the word thought can be used in a multiplicity of ways, some of them even quite oppositely to others!

A short selection from the dictionary notes: formulate in the mind, reason about; reflect, ponder, meditate; decide, judge, intend, plan; believe, suppose; expect, anticipate, hope, remember, call to mind, visualise, conceive, fancy, invent, speculate.

This brings me to the title of this blog post. I do not know why we as educators are so reluctant to acknowledge the ‘mystery’ of thought. Especially since our world seem so full of it in so many ways. Children are rarely exposed to this selection of thought. Although I’m sure children more than anyone could understand them and respect them!

Instead we tend to encourage them to believe that only knowledge exists – not thought. The educated person knows everything that it is necessary to know, or at least knows where to look it up. Why do we associate ignorance with stupidity, and value dogma over doubt? Is it our sense of authority as a place of knowledge (school) that means we can’t show uncertainties and encourage all the varieties of thought to flourish?

mindful mind skills

To encourage this array of ‘understanding the mind’ and the variety of thoughts – the use of these mindfulness skills could be extremely beneficial.

All of the above refer to something brain does that is not directly observable. Thought is exclusively the business of the brain. I also regard thought as an activity of mindfulness. I do not propose you can therefore distinguish mindfulness from reasoning, perception, comprehension or problem solving, or any of the other categories of brain activity.

Can Mathematical Problems Help Promote Mindfulness In Children?

Can Mathematical Problems Help Promote Mindfulness In Children?

I have recently found myself incredibly interested in whether it is possible to find ‘mathematical’ or ‘puzzle’ activity which is rich in the promotion of mindfulness skills.

The National Curriculum in the UK states that;

Pupils should be taught to make connections and approach problems in a variety of forms, in order to identify what they need to do. Develop flexible approaches to problem solving and look for ways to overcome difficulties. Present and interpret potential solutions in the context of the problem. To explain their methods and reasoning, develop logical thinking and search for patterns when solving problems.’

My initial thought is if you set mathematical challenges which relate to working systemically could this be relevant to the practices of meditative activity? Meditative activity can be defined simply as ‘being involved and absorbed in considered thought’. I wonder then, if children are engaged in regular ‘meditative’ mathematical problem solving activities would they find this benefits them when they engage in meditation or in their day-to-day lives?

Whilst you can and indeed I do look at this from a completely secular position, it is interesting to place some Buddhist context on the question. It is claimed that when Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree and gained enlightenment, he was initially troubled by Mara (a serpent) who tested Buddha’s commitment and perseverance (an emotional often felt with a difficult challenge) which he eventually overcame.

His last awareness under the Bodhi tree was said to be the realisation of dukkha or suffering. We do indeed ‘suffer’ in everyday life and things can be difficult. Could exposure by children to problems and puzzles which need (as Buddha laid out in the noble eight-fold-path; right effort, right action, right mindfulness, right concentration) skills to be solved, be of benefit beyond just the puzzle solving at the time and potentially give children tools to cope with other difficulties they will encounter?

Such activities I can think of are playing chess, sudoku puzzles, riddles and the challenges set out on the incredible nrich.maths.org site.

Do you know of activities which could promote managing distractions, noticing, perseverance, staying in the present moment, reflecting, revising, making connections, reasoning and questioning? If so please leave your examples in the comments box.