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Rationality for Kids?

by goose0001 min read16th Sep 202025 comments

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So I really appreciate the lessons I've learned from "Rationality", but I wish I had learned them earlier in life. We are now homeschooling my kids, and I want to volunteer to teach my kids plus others who are interested lessons about thinking rationally.

Does anyone have recommendations on how to put together a curriculum which gets at the core ideas of rationality, but is oriented towards young kids? Some criteria:

Children will likely range from 7-11, meaning they should be simple concepts and require very little prior knowledge and only the simplest math.

Lessons should be interactive.

Lessons should include TRUE experiments (not just doing fun stuff with chemicals).

Lessons should be fun and appealing enough that parents will want to sign their kids up.

Any other suggestions on the course (wording that will be appealing without sounding too "nerdy" or alarming to the conservative types who usually homeschool) are welcome.


UPDATE: the Inflection Point Curriculum appears to be the middle school version of what I am looking to do: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tcUJXRlZXeKjAWeU9Y37FcPKv3lj6PsX/view?usp=sharing

I currently envision the course as a combination of game type exercises like Credence Calibration, Zendo, and Meta-Forms, and experiments like adjusting the air composition of a room and investigating bernoulli effects using things like paper and shower curtains. Other ideas: investigating citrus batteries, water absorption by celery, and the light spectrum of various sources as split by a prism.

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I’ve been teaching this age range for the last ten years. Knowing that the dynamic and priorities of each family are different, I hesitate to over-advise.

But I have a few areas to focus on:

  1. Closely observing the natural world, asking leading questions to get them to articulate details of what they see.
  2. Learning a bit about key scientific principles, and using them to explain the world they’re familiar with.
  3. Use paradox to awaken the puzzle-solving itch.

Ask them what would happen if a store started charging $100 for their favorite candy bar. Or what if the principle of their school had to buy all the kids’ school supplies and decide who gets what. Explain evolution and the basic needs of a plant, then dig up a garden weed and use those ideas to explain its structure. Ask them “When you put ice cubes in a glass of water, why does the ice always melt rather than the water turning all to ice?” Or tell them that “you said abracadabra when you got a cut on your finger and it got better a few days later, so saying abracadabra makes cuts get better,” then ask them how they know you’re wrong.

Together, this gives them practice in all the basic methods of science. Keep it light, keep it fun. When their puzzle-solver’s habit is well established, they‘ll be more likely to feel a need for the clarity that more formal methods can offer.

Random thoughts:

Focusing, Internal Double Cruz and Belief reporting are powerful tools for aligning system I and system II. They aren't very complex and have relatively few moving parts. It might be possible that you can teach those to children but I could also imagine that it's hard to teach them. Dealing with groundlevel thinking is intimite and it needs buy-in from the child.

Zendo seems to be a game that can be fun for children and it teaches valuable lessons about building scientific hypothesis and testing them. 

Credence calibration doesn't seem very complex but might be too much for a 7/8 year old. I'm unsure at what age the necessary understading of numbers between 1 and 100 exists.

I could imagine a setting where you talk with children about what they are curious about and what might be tested by experiment. Then the children gather data collaboratively and you do the math for them in Numpy. 

If you have a humidity, temperatur and a CO2 sensor you can for example have experiments about how much opening the window affect the air in the room. Does open the window fully for 5 minutes do more then have it half open for 10 minutes? 

Opening the windows to get better air is a task that's relevant to daily life and it's not a question where you find the answer in normal textbooks. 

I can't find it, but I vaguely recall Julia Galef writing something about how her parents raised her and her brother such that they fit naturally with the Rationalist community, even though it didn't exist at the time of their upbringing.

Consider the board game Metaforms. It requires you to solve logical puzzles based on colors, shapes, and position.

https://www.amazon.com/FoxMind-Meta-Forms-Puzzle-Solving-Brain-Builder/dp/B0015MC2TO

Hi everyone. I wanted to join LW years ago to do this work with kids. Please check out The Paradox Lab www.paradoxlab.org to see our mission and projects. Right now we are only doing online discussion classes, mostly using philosophical inquiry to develop critical thinking skills. We are a nonprofit and all the classes are pay-what-you-want. Please share. And please join our team!

I am so glad this question is here, as it's very relevant to my post a few weeks back about Effective Children Education.

By the way, I recommend following Duncan Sabien (referenced in the post below) on Facebook, he has good posts about children edu, e.g. his speech for sixth-graders (referenced by someone else here - but she picked the good parts).

As mentioned below, Julia Galef also sometimes mentions something related, but I haven't found much

I'm really interested in this too. I have a 1 year old and work in improving engineering education.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_for_Children might be worth checking out.