Lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of teaching critical thinking skills to our children. If we want our kids to thrive in the world, then we must ensure that comprehension and critical thinking is part of their education.

But how do you even teach critical thinking skills to children? And when is a good (or appropriate) time to start? In my opinion, the earlier the better. The earlier you start having them practice being critical thinkers, the earlier they will be able to voice their own opinions and draw their own conclusions.

Children digest information differently at different ages. So teaching critical thinking skills to elementary students will be different than how you teach middle and high school students.

Below are a few ideas on how to help your child become a critical thinker:

  • Begin with a question. Make sure it’s an open ended question as these require more thought, depth and lengthier responses. Ensure you’ve also provided enough information in advance so your child doesn’t grow frustrated, but not too much that you answer the question or solve the problem for them either.
  • Pause and wait. Give your child time to think things through and analyze his/her answer. Your child should have ample time to think, to then generate a response or attempt a task.
  • Don’t intervene or interrupt. Allow your child to express his/her thoughts entirely. Interrupting or trying to finish their thoughts or tasks for them is not helpful. This starts as young as when they are babies. Let them maneuver and figure out how to grasp their toys as this helps encourage problem-solving skills.
  • Help them expand their answers. Once your child is done giving his/her response, provide additional information or depth to what they just said. This will help you understand his/her level of comprehension and critical thinking skills while providing him/her a new perspective on the information.
  • Explore cause and effect. Testing things out is crucial to help your child become a critical thinker. This gives them a basic understanding of how things work and provides opportunities for your child to try something new and see the reaction of each new thing he/she tries.
  • Help them develop hypothesis. In becoming a critical thinker, it is essential to start out with a hypothesis and/or possible answers or solutions. For example, “where do you think we can find information to solve this problem”? Or, “what do you think happened here”? These questions provide opportunities for your child to think about different possibilities and explore the facts to then come up with an answer.
  • Explore different answers. Similar to helping them expand their answers, with this exercise you’ll want to have completed the first round or attempt at completing a task or answering a question. Then, you can ask things like “what other ideas could we try”? Or, “what are some other possible solutions to this problem”? And, “how do you think others think/feel about this”? And, “let’s think of all the possible solutions”.
  • Practice making choices. Like everything else in life, we learn through trial and error, and critical thinking is not the exception. Most of the time, children develop critical thinking skills when they have time to practice making choices. One way to teach critical thinking skills is through an allowance. This article provides some great ideas on how to motivate your child to learn math while promoting critical thinking as well.
  • Encourage creativity. This can happen in so many ways or forms. Allowing your child to plan their time or participate in creating a homeschool schedule is one way to promote critical thinking skills. Creating something from nothing often gives them the satisfaction of seeing their ideas or efforts come to fruition. The more they experience this, the more they’ll want to continue trying.
  • Encourage collaboration. Get multiple people in a room talking about a specific topic and you are sure to get those critical thinking juices flowing. The mix of views and ideas provides an interesting result and your child will surely walk away with a broader understanding of the subject.
  • Pick apart the information. When your student is digesting new information, always remind them to ask questions. For example, “who does this impact”? “What are the alternatives”? “Where will this idea take us, or where has it taken us”? “Why is this relevant or important”? “How true or valid are the statements”? These simple questions will help form their own individual ideas about a subject that we couldn’t have even imagined!
  • Open mindedness. This one may be tough, but in order to think critically we need to be objective and evaluate ideas without bias. Leave judgments and assumptions aside. Think about diversity, inclusiveness, and fairness.

It’s important to understand that not every scenario in life requires us to think critically. Helping children improve their critical thinking skills also means teaching them to recognize those moments and proceed accordingly.

Additionally, some experts recommend teaching the 6D’s of solution fluency to help build problem-solving and critical thinking skills. This process consists of:

  • Defining the question.
  • Discovering all aspects of the problem.
  • Dreaming and brainstorming possible solutions.
  • Designing a possible solution.
  • Delivering or applying the solution.
  • Debriefing or reviewing the results.

As homeschoolers we can try out so many different things at any given time, and switch from one method to another whenever we want. One thing I try to ensure in my homeschool when teaching critical thinking to my children, is that they are also acquiring concrete and abstract thinking skills, but that’s a story for another day.

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