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5 tips on how to be more Socratic with your children

Education, Parenting
4 min read
Socratic Method - Mother talking to daughter

The Socratic method is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. It is employed to bring out definitions implicit in the interlocutors’ beliefs or to help them further their understanding.

Laura Sandefer, co-founder of Acton Academy, has 5 tips on how parents can integrate the Socratic method in their homeschooling during COVID 19 social-distancing.

Sandefer says, “When we move toward the Socratic mindset of curiosity, we begin to see how this changes how we relate to our children. We are less like carpenters carving them into the shape we want. And more like gardeners, less concerned about controlling them and more focused on providing a rich environment for them to grow into whom they were meant to be.”

Below are her five tips to become more Socratic with your children at home:

1. Commit to a parenting adventure
Get clear on your WHY as a parent. Ask yourself, “What do I want for my child? What do I want to be as a parent? What do we want to be together as a family?”

2. Set the contract
Define your role as Socratic Guide and add structure. Below is a sample contract.
We promise to :

  • Follow the schedule.
  • Clean up after ourselves.
  • Be kind to each other. (This includes not distracting each other when we are working.)
  • Work hard.
  • Take play breaks when we need them.

3. Create an attractive game and invite players
Like asking great questions, games elicit engagement and focus. They motivate. Like the Socratic experience, games have rules and boundaries.

Here’s a simple example: Every morning since this quarantine, I post a challenge on the fridge for my family. At 5 pm a competition will be held. The loser does the dishes. This is a game I made up – not to get my children to do their schoolwork, but to add an element of fun and excitement to the close of the day.

Here are a few game examples:

Four Square (I made a court with chalk in our driveway)
Darts (we have a dart board)
SPUD (a game I used to play with neighborhood kids) 
Pin the tail on the donkey
2 on 2 football
Card games: Hearts and Spades
Sardines – the hide and seek game

4. Be a tough-minded and warm-hearted coach
It’s not enough to show empathy and affection. Nor is it effective to weigh too heavily on holding boundaries and delivering consequences. Being truly Socratic is a balance between the two.

Warm-hearted behaviors include listening with your whole self and supporting through struggles with love and presence. Tough-minded behaviors include sticking to your agreed-upon schedule, being consistent with the delivery of consequences, and being crystal clear on limits and expectations. We all lean more heavily toward one mindset and it takes self-awareness to know where you need to shift and grow.

5. Unpush your own emotional buttons
Often, what gets us riled up about our children is more about us than about them. Leave your own “stuff” at the door during Socratic homeschooling. Come with fresh eyes and, when needed, pause and step back to get reset.

Laura Sandefer is an author and the co-founder of Acton Academy, a school whose learner-driven model is spreading across the globe with over 130 locations in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Guatemala, Canada, Malaysia and more, and in 2019 celebrated 10 years of letting children take learning into their owns hands.

Acton Academy bases its model of learning on the Hero’s Journey: a story pattern common in ancient myths and modern-day adventures in which a hero goes on an adventure, wins a victory, and comes home transformed. Children at Acton Academy know why they are being challenged to learn — they are on their own Hero’s Journey to find their passion in life. Committed to the mission of inspiring children to find their callings, Acton Academy also emphasizes hands-on, real-world projects and apprenticeships. The school also uses adaptive game-based programs through Khan Academy and other online tools for teaching core skills, as well as Socratic discussions to challenge and equip children to be independent thinkers and lifelong learners.

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