Every parent wants to see their child succeed. And the groundwork you put in with them at a young age has a huge impact on where they get to later in life.
Problem is, it’s hard to know exactly what a child needs, to grow into the very best version of themselves.
Should they learn another language? Pick up an instrument? Play sports, or master chess, or learn how to code? Sure, these skills will certainly give them an edge, but it won’t be enough unless they learn the essential life skill that is critical thinking.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is not just seeing the world around you, but taking the time to process, analyze, and question situations in order to form a judgment. It’s a deeper form of thinking — one that’s a necessary part of everyday life in our complex world.
By teaching critical thinking to young children, you’re giving them the skills they’ll need in their teen years and adulthood. Critical thinking helps to expand their minds so they can absorb new information and quickly solve difficult problems.
It all sounds a bit abstract. But critical thinking is about learning how to approach issues with perspective. It’s about learning that not all questions have multiple-choice options — in fact, some questions have no definite answers at all.
11 ways to help your child develop critical thinking skills
Critical thinking skills develop over time — it’s not something your child can sit down and study in a textbook.
Instead, here’s what you need to do…
Don’t answer every question they have off the bat
Kids are full of questions, aren’t they? And most of them are extremely random and/or out of left-field. Rather than trying to answer all of your little one’s queries, you could respond with another question: “What do you think?.
This encourages your children to come up with a solution on their own. Even if they’re completely wrong, they’re developing critical thinking skills by trying to figure it out. Then together, you can go online to research and find the correct answer.
Dive further into questions
You can also take a moment to further explore any questions your children come to you with. Instead of just asking “what”, encourage them to discover the “how” and “why” as well. For example, if they ask what clouds are, you could then explore how clouds are formed and why we need them.
Give them time to answer
Some children will take a long time to digest information and form a response. If you ask them a probing question, allow them to take their time in coming up with an answer.
Again, once they’ve responded, leave another period of silence. This will give them time to reflect on what they’ve said, in case they want to amend their gut reply.
Encourage them to think of others’ experiences
It’s understandable for young kids to assume their own experience is the same as everyone else’s. But as they grow up, it’s important for them to acknowledge the perspectives of others and look beyond their own point of view.
You can encourage this by reading books and talking about how the characters might be feeling. Identify their emotions and the reasons behind their feelings. You can also check out our senses and feelings worksheet pack to help learn how to differentiate the two.
Give them opportunities to explore
Toddlers are constantly building critical thinking skills: they love to wander around, play with stuff, and learn cause and effect. They’ll drop their spoon off a high chair repeatedly just to see what will happen — annoying as it is, that’s their critical thinking on display!
As your child ages, continue to give them indoor and outdoor space to experience the world and exercise their natural curiosity.
Ask them to build hypotheses
While playing with your child, ask them what they think will happen as the result of an action. Try asking something like, “If we do this, what do you think will happen?” or “Let’s predict what we think will happen next”.
It could be pushing a Slinky down the stairs, or mixing paint colors together.
Encourage children to form opinions
Learning how to form well-reasoned opinions is an important part of critical thinking practice. Start out by making sure they know the difference between fact and opinion, then encourage them to list some opinions that are important to them.
You could even stage a mini-debate and ask them to come up with a convincing fact-based argument for their opinion.
Give them a journal
While some kids might be opposed to it, keeping a daily journal is a great way to flex critical thinking skills. Even capturing one page a night will make children reflect on their day, on situations that arose, and learn how to analyze what happened.
They can keep the diary private, which may help them be more honest with the thoughts they share. If your child isn’t keen on writing, drawing pictures is also a good tool to work through a situation in their head.
Talk about current affairs
This one varies with the age of your children, and how much you want to expose them to the news cycle.
There are some great news sources for young kids — like KidNuz, a daily five-minute podcast with headlines suitable for children from 5-8 years old. Use this as a jumping-off point for discussions that’ll help broaden their understanding of the world. You can put news stories in context, then ask questions like “What do you think about these events?”, “How do you think these things happen?”.
Here’s some more insight on how to talk about the news with kids.
Find similarities and differences
This is a great one for toddlers. Pick up two similar items — like a fork and a spoon — and ask your child what makes them similar and what makes them different.
Having to distinguish two similar items but identify why they’re not the same will help build a basis of their critical thinking skills.
Play 20 Questions
This is a simple and fun game — excellent for long car rides. One player thinks of a person, place, or thing, and the other competitors must ask fewer than 20 questions to figure out what it is. It’s an educational exercise in processing information and analyzing it to narrow down options.
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