Changing Children’s Minds and Brains, Part 2

In the second of a three-part series, Diane Bourke talks about task solving in the Feuerstein approach to helping children learn.

In the first article in this three-part series, Changing Children’s Minds and Brains, parents were asked, ‘Would you like to expand your child’s ability to learn?’ The answer was a resounding ‘yes’.

This second article continues the theme and further reminds parents that children’s learning potential is not fixed and that their intelligence can always be enhanced. We will suggest enjoyable, thought-provoking activities and questions to use with your children to help them learn from everyday life experiences and ultimately, develop their efficient, lifelong thinking skills.

Professor Reuven Feuerstein’s insights organised thinking into three phases in order to analyse and describe the process. Here, we focus on the Elaboration Phase, which simply means using the information or data that was gathered during the Input Phase to solve a task during the Elaboration Phase. It may involve defining the task, comparing and integrating relevant sources of information, planning, hypothesising, or working through problems logically.

In the final article of this series, the Elaboration Phase will be linked to the output phase, where the answer is communicated.

The Elaboration Phase could be considered the type of learning that occurs in school, but parents can play a huge role in developing it at home during both the preschool and school years.

As before, we will only share a sample of elaboration skills.

Definition of the Problem

For some children when they are confronted with certain tasks or discrepancies, they are unaware that a problem exists let alone that it requires a solution. Problem, what problem?

‘What seems to be the problem?’ According to Dr Jeanne Zehr, a master Feuerstein trainer from the United States, this question is a good one, especially if used with children in a genuinely honest way and not as a form of sarcasm.

Feuerstein’s method for helping children learn how to learn is called mediation. It implies that a parent positions themselves between a learning task and the child and helps mediate the learning by asking good questions that challenge the child to think for themselves.

The following questions could also be useful:

What do you think is the problem here?

Is it a problem?

How can you know?

Or if you are heading out shopping:

What do we need that we must shop for?

Where must we go?

How will we get there?

When you define or discuss problems with your children, try to model a sense of curiosity as you look for a solution. Many children today who are potentially very intelligent often convey that they are quickly bored because they lack this curiosity.

I am reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt, who once declared, ‘I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity’.

Kindling your children’s curiosity is a perfect gift because it enables them to continually learn, grow and question the world they live in. Curiosity is the antidote to our plugged-in, entertainment-dependent lifestyle because it encourages and allows children to be intellectually self-sufficient.

The following games and activities can help children define and solve problems:



word jumbles

charades, guess the problem

proof reading

new games, no instructions

identifying and talking about problems in stories.

Searching for Relevant Clues

To solve a problem we have to decide what information is needed and what can be ignored. Children and adults often get side-tracked in life because they pursue what is not relevant.

Ask questions or make comments such as:

Let’s think about what you might need to solve this problem.

What can you see?

What are you able to eliminate?

How does that help?

Look at the book and search for clues.

What do you think will happen next?

The following games and activities can help children search for clues:


Who am I?



treasure hunt

nature walk


QR codes.

Spontaneous Comparison

Comparing objects and experiences to previous events, to see what is similar and what is different, should be encouraged from a young age. This strategy is vital to all higher order thinking skills.

In a similar vein, Dr Jeanne Zehr encourages parents to help their children from a very young age to make their own choices. Parents, of course, set the parameters, but then give children the freedom to make decisions about what to wear, what game to play, which friend to invite over for a play date etc. If you trump every decision they attempt to make they will never develop efficacy, the sense that I make a difference in this world.

Ask questions or make comments such as:

What do you see?

What is the same/different?

How does that help?

Can you find two ways these are similar?

Can you find two ways these are different?

Why should we choose this one?


Several of your friends have pet cats. How are they different from one another? Which cats do you like best and what is it about them that you don’t like?

Clothing or shoe shopping provides a wonderful avenue for applying criteria to comparing.

The following games and activities can help children compare:



Babushka Dolls




world clocks


venn diagrams

compare different versions of the same story.

Does it make sense?

Help your child use logic when things don’t make sense, model good reasoning as you work through a problem so your children can hear your process. Remember, too, not to take away opportunities for your children to learn from failure. Children need your support but also need to grow up learning from their mistakes, understanding that failure can be positive and it happens to everyone. It is the perseverance that counts.

Ask questions or make comments such as:

You solved a problem in a different way to your brother/sister.

What are the reasons why your way is good?

Can you see ways in which their way might also be a good way to solve the problem?

Does it make sense?

How do you know?

Does it sound/look correct?

Why do you think that?

How can we test this?

The following games and activities can help children use logic:

Who am I?

Guess Who

absurd stories/fractured fairy tales


proof reading

science conclusion.

Inferential/Hypothetical, If-Then Thinking

This involves thinking about different possibilities and figuring out what would happen if you were to choose one possibility or another. If this is true, then what else must be true?

Ask questions such as:

What would happen if?

If we know this is true, then what else will be true?

If this is the answer, what was the question?

If I can do this correctly, then can I do more?

The following games and activities can help children use if-then thinking or inferential/ hypothetical thinking:




pick up sticks



Rush Hour

predicting in a science experiment



Bee Bot

Move the Turtle

Cato Hike


The final article in this series will examine the Output Phase.

Read Part 1 and Part 3 in this series.

Independent Schools Victoria is Australia’s first Authorised Feuerstein Training Centre, and offers Feuerstein training to improve thinking skills and problem solving for all learners. You can learn more here.

Diane Bourke is a Project Manager for Independent Schools Victoria. She was Head of Junior School, Campbell House, at The Geelong College for 16 years, and most recently, Head of Junior School, Morris Hall, Melbourne Girls Grammar for 15 years.

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