Think Like a Child (Ep. 168)

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(Photo: VA State Parks Staff)

(Photo: VA State Parks Staff)

Our latest podcast is called “Think Like a Child.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Why would anyone want to think like a child? Aren’t kids just sloppy, inchoate versions of us, who can’t even say “I Don’t Know”?

Hardly. As Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt describe in their new book, Think Like a Freak, thinking like a child can be very fruitful.

 LEVITT: I think the beauty of thinking like a child … is that sometimes doing things differently and simply and with a kind of joy and triviality leads you to a really special place that as an adult you don’t get to go to very often.

Kids are relatively unbiased; they don’t carry around many of the pre-conceptions that adults do. And, as we all know, kids don’t “pay attention” the same way that adults do. This makes them more likely to notice or care about things that the rest of us don’t — and, if you happen to be a magician, it makes them a hard audience to fool. In the podcast, you’ll hear from journalist and magician Alex Stone, author of Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind. We brought Stone down to WNYC to perform for a room full of middle-schoolers from I.S. 318 in Brooklyn (thanks, guys!). You’ll hear the results and you’ll hear Stone dissect what happened:

 STONE: [Adults] watch it and they’re waiting for the punch line, and then they sort of see it, and then they maybe go back and think about it. With kids, you get this sense that with every step of the way they’re trying to understand it. From the second they see it, they’re always coming up with theories.

You’ll also hear from Alison Gopnik, who has done fascinating research on children’s cognitive processes and development. Gopnik is a professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of California-Berkeley and the author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. Gopnik describes how modern research shows that kids are much more than just underdeveloped adults, and that they have a variety of traits we’d do well to smuggle across the border into adulthood:

GOPNIK: Think of the kids as being the research and development division of the human species. And we’re—adults—we’re production and marketing. So from the production and marketing perspective, it might look like the R&D guys are really not doing anything that looks very sensible or useful. They sit around all day in their beanbag chairs playing Pong and having blue-sky ideas. And we poor production and marketing people, who are actually making the profits, have to subsidize these guys! But of course, one of the things that we know is that that kind of blue-sky, just pure, research actually pays off in the long run.

Sabrina Gibbs

One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from my 25 year career in education is LOVE what you do and have fun doing it! This resonated throughout the podcast and cannot be lost in mentoring younger generations about careers. I believe that kids do think more out of the box than adults and we should honor their sense of curiosity and creativity more.

This podcast displayed a lot of profound ideas about how children think. I feel much of it was right on course with student aspirations. The part about loving what you do should be an emphasis in the classroom. A question "How can I use this knowledge to achieve what I love" should be a focal point in the classroom. I liked the comparison between adult thinking and children thinking. Children look at somehting with many possibilities available. They are not aware of impossibilities and so this opens their way of thinking. They are able to focus on many things and observe many things whereas adults focus on one particular thing very closely. This hit a note for me. However, I feel I am adult that goes against the grain of this study. I am one constantly thinking about how things work. I find myself deep in thought a lot about jsut how the universe works. I like to tell myself the knowledge to everything is within my mind I just haven't found it yet. This is a practice I will try to have my students accept. I totally agree however that students do not have nearly as many risk factors to thinking and exploring. Established adults have to weigh the risk in many different avenues from social to economic. Many times this does put a restriction on the way we think because we are forced to follow systems. To finish, this podcast did have many qualtities worth investing in especially in the classroom.



I agree with some of the content in this article/podcast,I believe that as adults we do need to slow down and think like a child.

Amy Jennifer

I agree. Children believe with a more open mind. They look at different things without all the skepticism and preconceived thoughts or beliefs. Adults are now living in a faster pace world and don't have the time or take the time to believe like children. We need to pause and give them a chance by looking through their eyes as well as into their eyes. I think we are guilty of trying to teach the children as if they are all the same. They are very different as we are very different.

The person that made the comment that they don't like children...guess what? They are so much of a reflection of us. They want to be heard. They strive to feel important. Some may not like adults because they feel devalued or even hurt by adults. It is our job for our generation to raise them and teach them values, morals, or the way of life, even. Don't group all of them into one category. They are innocent little people that want boundaries, guidance, and love.



I found that applying simple child like games to allow adults to relax and be in the moment was a great idea. A lot of times we get so caught up we forget how to relax and reflect


I agree with what the podcast what describing. Adults are very often deterred by the amount of work or risk associated with change. Children think anything is possible. Often times this allows us to understand why we do things the same way we've always done them whether they work or not. This was described in the example of the college lecture. I also agree with "acknowledging the obvious", because sometimes in adults, for whatever reason, that gets lost and something very simple can become a great idea. A "Why didn't I think of that", sort of moment and all because children don't understand life's limitations yet. There also is a place for life's experiences and the knowledge gained from them. There is a time and place for play and a time and place for work. I think the thing that changes the thought process of children into narrower minded adults are things like responsibility, deadlines, and rules that must exist for the world to continue to function. That's why its important to keep a level head, and never take yourself too seriously. There are times to think like both.



I completely agree with the statement if there is no fun in your work and you do not love what you do than no effort is put in to change it. This is so apparent in my school with teachers that forget to have fun. They seem miserable and just collecting a pay check. If you give a child a problem right away and only show them one way to solve (usually your way) and they do not get it they seem hopeless as a teacher. Yet, I have realized that most kids can answer the question and the problem if you give them the right tools to and adapt your ways. Usually, I ask the kids to solve the problem first their way without any guidelines. Then teach them the way they can think about it from an adult perspective. Never telling them they are wrong just broadening their cognitive skills to think out of the box.
I do not totally disagree with the statement that adult traits are easier for kids at times. Going back to what you stated in the podcast kids do not see a risk assessment in decisions at times. Their answer may be what you want to do but they do not realize at times you can't do it. (rules govern what you teach, how to teach it, and how much time you have to spend on it, and where your curriculum needs to be at a specific time of the year).
I believe and state to my students all the time I am the biggest kid they will meet I enjoy what I do because of that.



STONE noted that: There’s a sense that when a kid watches a trick … they’re asking a question at every second.
This can also be true in the educational field in regards to science, math, music, etc. It's great to see a kid understand things outside of the natural realm of thinking.


The "Think Like A Child" Podcast was very enlightening. It points out the whole idea of a child seeing the world through a different lens then most adults. It is valuable to point out specifically to educators because I think that sometimes in the daily drill of our field we forget that our primary focus beyond our requirement of providing our students an education is to affect them in a positive way....we are the world changers.

Geri Drag

Could we better open ourselves as educators to thinking like a child if we were not forced to be so data, content, and technology driven that it feels like we can't even teach passionately anymore?


“Think like a child.” There are many ideas and lifestyle choices of a child that adults could benefit honing into. If we love what we do, and have fun doing it, we will never work a day in our lives. I agree with the idea that if we acknowledge the obvious, and start from the basics, it will turn out that it is the break through. We do need to begin thinking small instead of one huge big problem. Kids are in the here and now. They think small to reach big. We could certainly learn from that. To look through the lens of a child, we as adults could learn a lot. To be positive and open to change could change the outlook on life...and on learning.


Most of the pod cast I do agree with. Children do have a different way of thinking. However, I also believe children understand so much more than we believe. We can have adults listen to this podcast and children listen to a short speech, and while we may hear it in the same way, it will be perceived differently.


I thought this was a very interesting podcast. I love hearing that kids are more perceptive, that they are constantly asking questions so they are more observant, they rarely miss a beat and are therefore able to draw conclusions sometimes better than adults.


Children's minds are so much more open than adults. They are still observing, investigating and exploring.


I agree children do see things different than adults. As adults we often overthink things. I do see where it could be helpful to see things like a child. To go back to a time when life was simple.


I thought this podcast was very informative. Thinking like a child would be beneficial to "putting ourselves in their shoes" and remember what it was like when we had thoughts like a child.

Kaitlin Roberts

I completely agree that students are much more curious than adults. As adults with life experiences we lose our sense of imagination and creativity and focus more on the one way we know how to do something. We do lose the excitement and joy of thinking like a child. As adults we are constantly trying to sound smarter and look for the most complicated answer that we can muster up in order to try and "impress" someone. I loved how it was said that children just basically blurt out the obvious answer. They are able to give the simple answer and move on. When you started talking about the fun and where does it go I completely agree that as adults we find it harder to find the fun. I also agree that you have to love what you do. The teachers that I work with that don't love what they do I don't believe are as excited and effective with their students as those teachers that truly enjoy what they are doing and love coming to work. I have been on both ends of the spectrum. I have loved teaching and I have gone through spurts where I truly questioned whether I made the right choice. The students know when you just show up and aren't truly enjoying teaching them. I also loved the idea of adults thinking about risks vs utilities, and children just enjoying themselves. Why do we lose this idea of play?



That students can think outside the box and if we can make education fun for all students then learning would be fun. We as adults tend to always be serious about education. This could be due to the pressure placed on teachers to have high test scores so we don't have time to make education fun. The powers that be need to remove the pressure and allow teachers to teach what our students need to learn to be successful adults.

Kelli Marselis

I loved this! The simple idea that I pulled from it is that children ENJOY the JOURNEY of learning something new...every step of the way; as opposed to only learning an idea or doing and activity for the outcome (answer).