There’s an endless number of things competing for the attention of our children. Video games, Netflix, and iPad Apps are just a few of the things vying for a piece of their minds. Unfortunately, most of these activities do not involve any kind of deep intellectual engagement.
As a father of three young girls, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to engage the minds of my kids. Like many Christian fathers, I desire to teach my children to use their minds to love and glorify God.
Sadly, critical thinking doesn’t come naturally. In fact, the natural tendency is for the mind to be uncritical. Like a knife, our minds can be sharpened through the regular practice of critical thinking.
Recently, I have added a fun exercise to my eldest daughter’s bedtime routine. I’ve found it to be wildly successful in getting her to think critically about big ideas. Since this has worked so well in our home, I thought I’d pass it along to you.
The bedtime routine in our home isn’t unique. After reading a story and praying together, my girls all go to their own bedrooms. My wife and I put the younger two to bed first. Once they are asleep - or almost asleep - I head to my eldest daughter’s room.
After she reads to me and practices her Bible memory, we pull out my phone, snuggle up together, and open up YouTube.
That’s right, I let my seven-year-old daughter watch YouTube before bed.
But we don’t just watch any YouTube videos. We watch PragerU videos. In fact, our current routine is to watch one PragerU video each night, followed by an interactive discussion of the main ideas in the video.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that my daughter loves to think deeply before bed. For her, this is when she loves to ask meaningful questions and share personal stories. This is when I witness how grown up my baby has become.
Of course, she might also be trying to prolong her bedtime. But I’m fine with that because our late night discussions have turned into soul-stretching, mind-sharpening, and character-forming experiences.
The catalyst for our nightly discussions is a PragerU video of her choosing, with one exception. I get to veto any videos that I don’t think are age appropriate.1 If that happens, she is happy to pick another video.
There are three reasons why these videos have been so effective in stimulating the interest of my seven-year-old.
First, PragerU videos are thought provoking. Each five-minute video focuses on a big idea. In many cases, the big idea is also a new idea that my daughter has never considered before. As you could imagine, this stimulates a lot of questions. And kids love to ask questions.
For instance, we recently watched the video What’s a Greater Leap of Faith: God or the Multiverse? A minute and a half into the video, my daughter asked, “What’s a multiverse?”
I paused the video and said, “Well, honey, a multiverse is the idea that there’s an infinite number of universes.”
She thought for a moment and then replied, “If there’s an infinite number of universes, then does that mean Narnia is real?”
This led to a fun conversation about possible worlds and what it would mean if an infinite number of universes actually existed.
Second, PragerU videos are visually engaging. I think one of the reasons these videos have been so popular on YouTube is that they use creative animations to communicate ideas. Like me, my daughter is a visual learner. It helps to see abstract ideas explained using artistic images. I don’t think she is unique in that regard. In fact, I think most kids would identify as visual learners, although in varying degrees.
Third, PragerU videos are short. The attention span of my seven-year-old isn’t long. It is unrealistic for me to expect her to sit through a 45-minute lecture or sermon. This is why the PragerU format is so great. They offer big topics in a bite-sized timespan. They are succinct without compromising depth.
PragerU videos offer great educational content.2 But that isn’t my primary purpose for showing them. Rather, it’s the conversation that I’m after. The video serves as a springboard to get to conversations. It’s in our discussions that I get to hear my daughter articulate her thoughts and defend her opinions. This is also when I get to look for ways to encourage right thinking and correct wrong thinking.
This routine won’t be for everyone. Every child is different, after all. But it works for my daughter, and it might work for your child, too.
If you’re looking to give it a try, I recommend going to the PragerU channel and searching for videos in the Religion/Philosophy playlist.