Last week, on one of the online homeschooling groups I’m in, one mom posted her worries about her 5-year-old’s critical thinking skills.
She was concerned about her 5-year-old’s ability to think to solve problems. A bunch of people replied with advice and encouragement.
I read everything over twice, and I couldn’t figure out what her kid was doing that worried her so much.
It reminded me of the day, many years ago, when I realized my then 2-year-old Ben, in fact, did have some serious critical thinking skills.
He was teething. And chewing the tv remote was off limits. Who wants to touch a saliva covered remote?
One weekend afternoon, I came down the hallway and into the living room. Ben was hanging out with his Dad. Dad was reading. I could see when I came into the room, Ben was trying to hide something behind his back with his chubby little toddler hands.
I took a look to see what he was trying to hide from me. It was a drool covered tv remote.
That kid was in diapers and couldn’t talk yet. But he knew when he heard me coming down the hallway that he’d better hide what he was doing.
He knew dad didn’t care, but he’d get in trouble with me if I found out.
I was impressed.
I dare you to tell me you haven’t noticed things like that about your kids!
Kids are smart. If they see a problem or obstacle in their lives, they take action to fix it. Sure, frustration sets in when they can’t solve the problem. When they’re little, you can help them.
But as they get older, your kids will face more complicated problems, both with school work and outside homeschool. They’ll need problem-solving skills to deal with them on their own.
Kids also need critical thinking skills if only to discern fact from fiction. Think about all they’re exposed to on social media and the internet. You can set filters on your home electronics, but that only works for so long.
With strong critical thinking skills, your kids will know when and how to question the information that’s in front of them. They’ll be able to make good decisions about what and who to believe. And they’ll be able to solve their own problems.
Critical thinking skills aren’t hard to teach. You begin with simple skills practice, and move forward from there.
First, What’s the Definition of Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is a process of evaluating information to solve problems. A strong critical thinker uses various sources of information to find solutions to the problems they want to solve. These include outside sources of information as well as those within their own personal knowledge and experience.
Strong critical thinkers are able to apply knowledge from a variety of sources to draw conclusions and solve problems. The better their ability to do this, the better the solutions.
A lot of kids naturally possess critical thinking skills. Some kids have more, some have less. It depends on the kid. Everybody has their own unique personality.
But you can teach your kids critical thinking skills, and you can improve them with practice.
If your kids aren’t asleep or passively zoning out in front of the tv, it’s likely they’re using some form of critical thinking.
For example, if your kids are building something in Minecraft or playing some sort of competitive video game, they’re using critical thinking skills to strategize how to win or cut their losses. They use critical thinking to figure out how to pass through some sort of online obstacle course and solve riddles to get to the next level.
You can’t expect your kids to dive into upper level critical thinking skills right away. A few kids are born with deductive thinking skills at the level of Sherlock Holmes and his “mind palace.” The majority aren’t.
Practice easier critical thinking skills first. This creates a foundation of basic skills and develops your kids’ confidence.
I’ll Bet You’ve Been Teaching Your Kids Critical Thinking Skills, And You Don’t Even Know It.
Anyhow, that’s my guess.
Below is a list of 10 simple critical thinking skills. Which ones do you practice with your kids?
Identifying characteristics. Ask your kids to describe what something looks like.
Making observations. What do your kids see or notice about something?
Comparing and contrasting people, things or events. Here, your kids observe how two things are alike and different.
Categorizing. Grouping similar objects or items. For example, organizing a playroom would require a lot of categorizing.
Criteria setting. Identifying the most useful standards to evaluate something. How do the kids determine a winner when they’re playing a game?
Ranking, prioritizing, and sequencing. Placing items or events in a hierarchical order according to a chosen value. What comes first, what comes next, and why?
Seeing relationships. Comparing ideas or events to see how they work together or impact each other. For example, how does pollution impact the environment? Why are fruits and vegetables good for us?
Determining cause and effect. Identifying the specific reasons for or results of an event or action. For example, we had to take the dog to the vet yesterday. She had a stomach problem because she ate a sponge.
Making analogies. Showing a relationship between two familiar things in a new situation. For example, as Forrest Gump would say, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” This analogy illustrates how life can be unpredictable.
Formulating questions. Designing questions that provide information needed to solve a problem. What questions do your kids ask to get the information they need?
Planning. Developing a plan of action to achieve a goal or solution. For example, if the family needs to lose some holiday season weight, what’s our diet and exercise plan?
Three Quick Ways to Teach Critical Thinking Skills
You’ve gone through the list of easy critical thinking skills above.
Do you see how you practice critical thinking skills with your kids already?
Daily conversation can easily include thinking skills practice. It’s not only homeschool subjects that require critical thinking. Life skills call for it too.
Remember, teaching your little ones thinking skills isn’t something to stress over. It’s easier than you think.
Here are three ways to do it.
Revisit the list above, find a thinking skill you haven’t practiced lately, and focus on that one awhile.
1. First, you name it.
2. Explain it.
3. Show how to use it.
4. Model it.
5. Give your kids opportunities to practice it.
6. Offer loads of praise when they use it!
If those six steps take too much time, there’s an easier way.
Ask your kids WHY and HOW. Why does something happen, or why are things the way they are? How did that come about? When they answer those “why” and “how” questions, your kids practice their critical thinking skills.
Easier still, grab a copy of our free ebook, End Blank Page Terror Forever. It’s got 24 writing tools, called graphic organizers. They guide you to teach your kids how to do critical thinking and organize their content before they start writing about a subject. The graphic organizer worksheets alone offer excellent critical thinking skills practice for kids of any age.
Go get one now if you haven’t already!
The abridged list of thinking skills is the courtesy of Deborah E. Burns, National Research Center for the Talented and Gifted, University of Connecticut, 1993.