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Who are the Thinking Friends©?

Thinking Friends® are eight farm animals having all sorts of fun learning and figuring things out.  Thinking Friends are never alone! A ninth character, Farmer Framer, is always there to help, like a teacher, parent, or family member gently leading the way. 

Each one of the Thinking Friends, as described below, animates (yes, because they are animals!) focused on only one thinking skill.  This also means that each Friend has only one strength and must listen to the other Thinking Friends to make sense of problems.

His cognitive/thinking strength is DEFINING and UNDERSTANDING CONTEXT. Doggie focuses on defining and understanding a given situation or context. He brainstorms everything he knows about a concept or the questions that he would like to find the answers to about it. 

Doggie Definer

Her cognitive/thinking strength is COMPARING AND CONTRASTING the similarities and differences between different people, animals, places and things. 

Chicky Comparer

Her cognitive/thinking strength is examining PARTS OF WHOLE OBJECTS and considering how objects fit in space. 

Pony Parter

Her cognitive/thinking strength is EXAMINING CAUSE AND EFFECT. She examines the causes and effects of actions and events.

Cowsie Cows n' Effect

His cognitive/thinking strength is DESCRIBING. He uses adjectives and 5 senses to describe the attributes and qualities of people, places and things. 

Donkey Describer

Her cognitive/thinking strength is CATEGORIZING. She categorizes or groups together ideas, things, events, experiences, and animals. 

Kitty Categories

His cognitive/thinking strength is SEQUENCING. Snakey puts things in order and focuses on the sequencing of ideas, things, numbers, alphabet, and events.

Snakey Sequencer

His cognitive/thinking strength is examining ANALOGIES or seeing relationships between and among ideas and things—that is, he helps to identify the “relationship” that connects.

Rooster Relationships

Her cognitive/thinking contribution to the stories is always reflective

(or metacognitive) and thinking about the big picture. She FRAMES problems and examines PERSPECTIVE TAKING. Farmer Framer surveys the perimeter of the barnyard “framing” the topic/issue/problem under consideration in a story or script. She helps the Thinking Friends to identify how they know what they know, to surface the factors that influence their ideas, and to formulate conclusions and insights from their experiences.

For example, Doggie Definer is always running around digging out as much information as possible so he can “define” a problem.  But Doggie Definer does not focus on “comparing” as does Chicky Comparer, or putting things into “categories” as does Kitty Categories, or seeing the “causes and effects” of events as does Cowsie Cause and Effect!

This means that it is VERY important that all the Thinking Friends work together as it takes all of these fundamental cognitive processes to think well, learn new content information, and solve problems.  Also, each of these eight thinking skills animated by Thinking Friends are an essential foundation of early literacy and reading comprehension.

What is Thinking Friends© Program about?

“…the brain changes in radical ways over the first few years of life, and it changes in response to experience. In other words, the brain learns.” 

——Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl, authors of The Scientist in the Crib

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As teachers, researchers and parents with many years of experience working with young children on developing cognition and improving learning, we created the Thinking Friends program to help young children become more purposeful and mindful thinkers. Internationally, educators, child psychologists, and cognitive-neuroscientists understand that from birth, childrens’ brains are in constant and dynamic interaction with the world around them:  the brain learns! 

Who Developed Thinking Friends©?

Of course, we did not “develop” the thinking skills behind each friend! These eight cognitive processes were long ago identified as life-long skills that are the foundation for learning. Jean Piaget named these skills “mental operations” that each of us have within us from birth and only improve on through adulthood.   The authors, Kim Williams, PhD., Larry Alper, MS Ed., and David Hyerle, Ed.D. are parents, educators and have a mix of expertise in the areas of cognitive development, early childhood learning, neuroscience, and the processes of facilitation of students.  David Hyerle first conceptualized the Thinking Friends in collaboration with the late Gene Marr, a colleague of his.  Adding to our team is a master illustrator and childrens’ book author John Steven Gurney.  John brought dynamism to our thoughtful friends, and we appreciate how he brings the Thinking Friends to life!


Dr. David Hyerle developed the Thinking Maps® model of eight visual tools and the frame of reference in the late 1980’s while at UC Berkeley and Harvard Schools of Education.  With partners, David co-founded Thinking Maps Inc. that has developed into a dynamic professional development company dedicated to transforming education, pre-K- 12.  The Thinking Friends program uses the very same cognitive processes as used in the Thinking Maps model, thus offering a complementary approach for early childhood education through the early primary years for schools that want to engage children, parents, and community members.

Why should young children be introduced to Thinking Friends©?


The Thinking Friends program is an approach to Early Childhood education for developing fundamental cognitive skills linked to early reading, meaning-making, and inquiry/problem solving processes. Access to high quality early childhood programs, including pre-school programs has become an educational, if not a national imperative.  And, when parents and extended families of children use Thinking Friends at home then a richer vocabulary grows along with “higher order” conversations about how to consciously think through new learning and solve problems.  

Doesn’t thinking develop naturally in young children?

As Dr. Art Costa has written, “Although thinking is innate and spontaneous, skillful thinking must be cultivated.” Cognitive skills can be nurtured. The brain thinks—as the heart beats. But unlike the heart which is involuntary and out of our control, the mind is within our conscious control. We can start in childhood to teach children how to direct their minds and use them more purposefully by helping them first understand the thinking they are doing and when it is needed.

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What makes Thinking Friends© effective with young children for thinking and the Habits of Mind for social-emotional learning?

Young children are first introduced to each of the characters through the stories. As the children become more familiar with the characters and their individual cognitive strengths and style, the stories become more complex. Thinking Friends model how the mind works for young learners.  The Thinking Friends begin to think and work together to improve and expand their own thinking, content learning, problem solving and social-emotional approaches to building relationships.  Along the way they develop an array of Habits of Mind (Costa and Kallick), such as decreased impulsivity, perseverance, and the joy of learning. 

Along with the characters, children learn to appreciate the complexity of ideas, the different perspectives that can be taken, the value of working cooperatively and the

open-mindedness so vital to successful learning.

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