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How to be More Socratic at Home - Step 2

By Zach Lahn on July 27, 2022

Clarity begins settling in with Step Two.

Step 2: SET THE CONTRACT: Define your role as Socratic Guide and add structure. (Tips: give choices; don’t answer questions; give growth mindset praise instead of nagging. Be warm-hearted AND tough-minded.)

Here is a sample script to help you envision how this plays out:

Sit with your children and say, “Since we are working and learning from home, let’s play a new game today. From 9am until 3:30pm, I will be playing the role of Socratic Guide. This means I won’t tell you what to do and I won’t answer your questions. You are in charge of your learning and your choices. I am going to trust you to figure things out on your own.

“I’ll post the schedule of the day on the fridge so you can check it if you feel lost. (Example: Your schedule may include Math from 9-9:30am. Snack at 9:30am. Reading from 10-10:30am. It’s up to you how detailed your schedule is based on the age and independence of your children. Wonder learners are used to setting their own goals and managing their own time but if this is new in your family, you may need to offer more structure in your early days as a Socratic Guide.)

“If you need me to help, I will offer choices but you get to make the final decisions. First, let’s set some basic boundaries/rules for the day. We’ll call this our Contract.”

(See sample contract below.)

Once you have agreed upon the basic rules of the day and signed off, everyone is free to go about their day. The game has officially begun.

You may have to tie a string around your finger to remind yourself not to answer questions. Instead you can say, “I trust you to figure that out.” Or, “Do you think you should do ___option 1___ or ___option 2___? Or, “How do you think you can figure that out? I can’t wait to see you solve that problem!”

If problems erupt (ie, siblings fighting) step back. Pause. Don’t intervene unless someone is getting hurt. Do your best to let them solve their own problems. And remember that chaos happens. Messes happen. It’s okay not to fix everything in the moment. Breathe and let it go.

In addition to not answering questions, being a Socratic Guide means zero nagging. It just doesn’t work.

So what does work to get my children to take charge of their learning at home?

Two tricks to hooking your children to take charge of their own learning are: growth mindset praise and giving choices with clear consequences.

This article will equip you to shift from fixed mindset thinking into growth mindset thinking. Also, resources on Positive Discipline have helped me learn the power of giving choices with clear consequences. This article has ideas for every age group of children.

At 3:30pm, you can return to your usual role of parent. (You’ll soon find you like being Socratic so much it may just be your new modus operandi. It is truly a wonderful way to live.)

Tip for closing your Socratic day: Sit and reflect with your children and talk about what worked and what didn’t. What will you do differently tomorrow? Thank them for the choices they made and call out a character trait you witnessed them using. For example, “Hudson, I saw you get frustrated with your math but not quit. I’d call that perseverance.” Or, “Evelyn, I saw you clean up the snack you spilled. I’d call that helpfulness.”

I hope you find with each effort of being Socratic you feel new bubbles of delight arising in your soul. And don’t worry, if you are anything like me, you’ll fail a lot. That’s part of the game.

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.

[Blogs or portion of blogs may be adapted from the blog of our partner school founder and advisor, Laura Sandefer.]