The Socratic Method is, in short, the act of teaching through asking questions, rather than answering them. The Socratic Method strives to delineate the variety of answers by asking specific, purposeful questions. This method has been proven to be extremely effective when teaching both kids and adults, but it must come with preparation. Children have extremely creative and inquisitive minds and may give many answers outside of the intended answers and may ask questions which bring the discussion off-topic.
The Socratic Method can be used in a variety of classroom and homeschooling environments. Children who are very outdoorsy and physically active or who do not express any interest in book learning or classroom teaching will find the Socratic Method highly useful and will participate greatly in discussions where their creativity is given full credit and measure.
Classroom discussions are a more traditionalist method of incorporating the Socratic Method. Rather than simply preaching AT the kids, have them circle their desks around and ask the whole group discussion questions, such as, “What are some causes of war?” or “Can you think of some fun ways in which parents teach their kids?”
Field trips and activity-oriented teaching are useful for active kids and kids with short attention spans. These activities can involve experimentation, working with your hands, exploring a new area or visiting a national park or museum. Engage the children by asking them about their personal options or opinions concerning different things. “If you had been alive during this oil boom, would you have worked in an oil rig? Why would you have (not) done this? What are some hazards in working in an oil rig?” Now that you have specified a general topic area, you can teach your class using the Socratic Method by narrowing down the questions. “Why was this oil drill bit used for this purpose? Do you think they had to experiment with the equipment in order to find the proper tip used for the proper function?” Then you might have the children design their own drill tips and conduct an experiment as to which tip is most effective and why.
Any results of the Socratic Method are good, even if you think that the discussion has backtracked. The truth is, any innovation which has occurred in your lifetime has been the result of real-life experimentation, and some of the greatest minds of our time are a result of constant interaction with our environment and the resulting consequences of those interactions.
Your children need to develop a mental habit of constant experimentation of ideas, without the resulting, “No, it cannot be done,” from their parents or teachers. Remember when school was fun? Was that not because the world was an infinite possibility of creation? You must retain this belief that anything is possible. Remember, man used to think that it was impossible to fly, and this was not two hundred years in the past. Your children may invent a machine that transports people instantly from one place to another, and in the meantime, you can see why it would be detrimental to tell them that this is impossible.
The Socratic Method will open up kids to giving ideas and opinions which you must be open to receiving. This is what Master’s level and Ph.D. students are doing in order to contribute to the academic environment. They are becoming experts on their subject and then contributing their own ideas, opinions and theories. When the discussion veers off-topic, you should veer it back to the intended lesson schedule, but remember to allow the kids to voice their opinions, respond to them, and never cut them off in order to return to the original subject. You must lead them back to the focus point with more questions, not by “taking control” again.
The Socratic Method is useful for children, teens and adults. It is most often used in college, where the students are not forced to go to class if they do not choose, and they are allowed to voice their opinions under just about any circumstances. Some of the most innovative and controversial developments of the past 150 years came, not from research scientists with prestigious degrees, but from open-minded, open-voiced classrooms and teaching environments where the students were allowed to be as free-thinking as possible.