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Exercising independent, critical thinking in 15-minutes

October 11, 2022

It’s really easy to feel like there’s not enough time in the day. Life is demanding, and it can feel like we have too many priorities to knock off our to-do lists. Sometimes things that seem overwhelming, though, can be pretty simple. I have an example: here’s how you can prioritize independent, critical thinking in 15 minutes.

No matter your core values, independent, critical thinking is important. We all want what’s best for our children and for them to be equipped to deal with the challenges ahead of them. 

It’s not magic, but there are things you can do that aren’t too much to chew. I propose you take 15 minutes of “dead time” from your day (commutes are great for this) and try swapping in one of these conversations or activities for the next week. 

Here are a handful of options that will encourage independent thinking in a 15 minute car ride.

If you don’t want to talk:

Listen to a fiction podcast to expose your child to a new world in under 30 minutes.

Podcasts aren’t just for nonfiction! From one-off stories to seasons-long series, you can find something for everyone. 

  • Here’s Common Sense Media’s list of story podcasts for kids of all ages
  • Here’s another list that includes more options for tweens
  • GZM Shows have options for younger kids and teens, too!

Listen to a nonfiction podcast to get your child thinking independently about current events/topics.

Bonus if you find a topic related to the themes/topics in the book your child is reading.

  • If you have teenagers, SheKnows put out this great list of podcasts you can listen to with your teen. 
  • There’s a Ted Talk for everything.
  • The Daily from the New York Times is often appropriate for middle school and easy to comprehend. 

Listen to an audiobook together so you can talk about it later.

  • Audible
  • (independent bookstore option for audiobooks!)
  • Your local library website!

If you want to practice sharing opinions and giving reasons:

  • Play this or that or would you rather
  • Play this or that or would you rather, but have your kids answer as a character from a book (or tv show or movie!). Have them explain why. This is helping them practice analysis skills in bite-sized questions.
  • Practice analyzing characters, but make it relevant to them: Take this idea and run with it depending on your child’s interests and even what you do for work / in your own free time. 
    • Design a room/home for _______.
    • If _____ found $100 on the sidewalk, what would they do?
    • What kind of soccer player would ____ be?
    • Think of a meal inspired by  _____. 
    • If ____  would participate in a TikTok trend, it would be _________. 
    • Design a dream vacation for _________. 
    • If ___ got targeted ads on social media, what would they be for?
    • Create a playlist for a character. 

If you want to talk and include opportunities to use a phone as a research tool to build independent thinking:

  • Talk about the lyrics in the songs you’re listening to:
    • Your child can look up the lyrics.
    • They can look up interviews with the artist about the song/album.
    • They can read about the artist/songwriter.
    • Look for choices the songwriter made. 
    • “How is music like poetry?” 

If this sounds great but is still a little daunting, please sign up to work with me 1:1. If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to send me, Clarkie, an email at

I can help, if you…

  • …don’t have time to curate a list of books/podcasts/questions that make sense for your family.
  • …have specific struggles/questions that come up when you try any of the above and need a more specific plan to help your unique needs.
  • …want to understand more about why and how reading + writing matter when it comes to critical thinking and thoughtful communication.
  • want to have a session with me and…
    • just you
    • you and your partner
    • you and/or your partner and your children.

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