The key to having a Socratic dialogue with children is to base your discussion around asking them, in as many ways as possible, “Did the choices you made get you what you wanted?”
When you lead a child to examine the facts and ideas based on better understanding what’s in her own self-interest, rather than telling her your conclusions about what she should and shouldn’t do, she will more easily embrace the realizations and conclusions she’s come to because she feels respected and not manipulated.
In order for a Socratic dialogue to take place, there must be some problem, dilemma or frustration to be eliminated. Problems lead to frustrations, which lead to questions, which lead to answers.
Sometimes you need to create the frustration to get things started, like when I watched five-year-old James rush through writing his letters for homework. I saw him writing letters so fast they were barely legible and far from his best work.
When James gave me the first page, I told him, “ I’m sorry, I can’t read this. You’ll need to do it again.” He took the page back, erased what he’d written, and wrote the letters again at top speed.
When he brought it to me this time I said, “Well, these first few letters look good, but the rest look the same as before. You’re going to have erase all these and do them again.” Then I added, “Let me ask you a question: Why do you think these look so messy?”
“Well I did them real fast. So I can go play,” he said.
“Okay, well erase these and do them again so they are neat.”
James went back to the desk, erased the messy ones, and again wrote them illegibly at top speed.
When he brought me his paper I looked at it and said, “Wow, it kind of looks the same. These first ones look good then it looks real messy. What did you do on these first ones that look real neat?”
“I did those real slow,” he answered.
“Well, how come you don’t do the rest that way so you don’t have to erase them?” I asked.
“If I go slow it takes too long and I want to finish so I can go play,” he responded.
”Let me ask you a question. What do you think will take longer—doing this page fast but doing it five times, or doing this page slow but just doing it once?” I asked.
He looked at me with a half smile and said, “Probably, doing it one time slow.”
“So your theory is that it would be faster to do the letters one time but slow? Well if that’s your theory, maybe you should test that out,” I suggested.