How To Develop Critical Thinking In Kids: 10 Effective Ways

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From an early age, children learn to make decisions for themselves. It may start with basic instinctive judgments like ’eat a sandwich or ’play hopscotch.’ However, critical thinking for children will become crucial once they need to make important decisions regarding their work, school, family, and friends later in life.

So, what exactly does critical thinking entail? Critical thinking aids your child in developing a versatile mind capable of absorbing new knowledge and comprehending difficult issues.

It enables them to generate innovative solutions, understand others’ viewpoints, evaluate ideas, and make views using their previous knowledge, experience, and problem-solving skills. It also aids them in explaining how things work and comparing and contrasting data.

In other words, critical thinking is about knowing ’how’ to think rather than ’what’ to think. Continue reading to understand why critical thinking is essential for children and how you can help them improve their skills.

Why Is Critical Thinking Important For Children?

Here are a few ways in which critical thinking can help children in school and their everyday life.

1. Stands children in good stead throughout life

Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill, meaning no matter what your subject is, it will always be beneficial and relevant. It’s not specific to anything. Being able to think well and systematically solve problems can stand you in good stead in all walks of life.

2. Supports decision making

Whether it’s about everyday problems, like which game to play or what movie to watch, critical thinking helps your child follow a train of thought that’s systematic and well thought out, leading to better decisions. Over time, this thought process fosters independent thinking. Beyond decision making, critical thinking helps your child form well-informed opinions based on facts.

3. Encourages creativity

Critical thinking helps the child solve problems and develop new and creative ideas relevant and useful to the task at hand. By using their critical thinking capacity and creative skills to engineer imaginative solutions, children can step out of their comfort zone.

4. Promotes curiosity

Displaying critical thinking skills entails never taking anything at face value, constantly asking questions, and learning more about a concept or situation. By asking pertinent questions such as, ‘What am I seeing?’ ‘Where did this come from,’ or ‘What if …?’ children begin to think critically and become more inquisitive, thus, promoting lifelong learning. It also makes them alert to situations that can help them learn more and understand things better.

5. Reinforces problem-solving ability and adaptability

Critical thinkers are successful problem-solvers, as they have a defined thought process. Critical thinking allows them to analyze situations, make calculated decisions, make objective judgments, and take action to solve problems.

Critical thinking is also one of the primary skills that let your children keep an open mind and adapt to change.

How To Develop Critical Thinking In Kids?

The following are a few effective ways to develop critical thinking skills in children.

1. Inspire them to read

The benefits of reading are immense. Reading improves a child’s comprehension skills and vocabulary, stimulates their mind, and develops their organizational skills. By asking questions such as ‘What is the author trying to say?’ a child evaluates and analyzes what they’ve read. When they read, they engage with a plethora of ideas, which unlatches the mind to imagine. And imagination unlocks several other doors and provokes them to think critically. While reading, children can come across new concepts that challenge their existing knowledge, thereby encouraging them to question and rethink.

2. Encourage play

Play is one of the fundamental ways in which children learn and develop. When children play, they put their skills to the test. Whether it’s building a block town or solving a puzzle, they figure out how things work. Such activities make them think. By letting them play, you’re providing open-ended play opportunities for your child to learn cause and effect. For instance, when there’s an undesired outcome while playing, they might use a different approach, thus promoting problem-solving skills. Such hands-on experience lays the foundation for later abstract critical thinking.

3. Ask open-ended questions

Questions are a sure-shot way of getting your child to think. Rather than asking ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions, aim for open-ended ones. This will motivate them to think about their answers and analyze the response.

Alternatively, instead of instantly answering your child’s questions, ask them questions in return. For instance, you could ask, ‘What do you think is happening here.’ ‘Why do you think this is so?’ or ‘How would you solve this problem?’ to empower them to think critically. At times, their responses may not entirely align with what you expect; however, you need to respect their answers.

4. Have patience and wait

If your child takes longer than usual to answer questions or attempt a task, pause and wait before you jump in. If not, it would affect their ability to think for themselves. Give them time to reflect on their response and possibly refine them. Patiently maneuvering and readjusting on their own encourages problem-solving and executive functioning skills.

5. Foster new and creative thoughts

Critical thinking requires taking in information, analyzing it, and making an informed decision. Encourage them to look at a problem from different perspectives and come up with different solutions. By fostering this, you’re helping them hone their creative and critical thinking skills. Their solutions might not always work, but this gives them courage to think independently.

6. Enable summarizing

Summarizing comes with a host of benefits that promote critical thinking. By summarizing, children learn to ignore irrelevant information, discern the most important ideas from large texts, and consolidate important details in a concise, meaningful way. You can let your child summarize a chapter they’ve studied or a story they’ve read. Ask them to sketch out the protagonist’s characteristics and their role. This helps a child recall what they’ve read and put their comprehension and critical thinking skills to practice.

7. Help children evaluate information

Often, your child will be exposed to lots of information at one go. By evaluating information and analyzing the world around them, children can determine if the information is true, important, or credible. Also, it allows them to think about the source of information, why it’s important, and how it relates to what they know.

8. Encourage metacognition

Metacognition, the awareness of one’s own thinking, helps a child reflect on what’s bothering them, why they’re stuck in a situation, and what measures they can to employ to get out of it. It helps them flip the switch from ‘I can’t do it’ to ‘How can I do it?

Metacognition molds children into more flexible and successful beings from an early age. They can comprehend both sides of a coin, assess and analyze the pros and cons of a given situation, and draw their conclusions without being dependent on others.

9. Stimulate problem-solving skills

Whether it’s negative peer pressure, a tough math equation, or a toy-related conflict, children of all ages face challenges and problems every day. You cannot stand by them every minute to help them solve issues, so teach them how to solve problems by themselves. This will help turn them into successful, independent, and confident individuals.

When they face a problem, motivate them to manage their emotions, think creatively, and persist until they find a solution. Make them realize they can answer a question. This is a big step in establishing critical thinking in a child.

10. Entertain their questions and ask back

‘Why is a ball round?’ ‘Why is the sky blue?’ Why is this bitter and not sweet? Why can’t fish fly? Why? Why? Why? Do you remember this stage? If your child constantly bombards you with questions and drives you up the wall, prepare for more! Although these questions may seem silly to you, keep their morale up by answering their questions with enthusiasm.

Instead of just answering, promote conversation, encourage them to think outside the box, and dig deeper. Answering a child’s questions not only improves your bond with them, but also shows your child you have their back, and they can rely on you.

Critical thinking for kids is a crucial skill that parents can inculcate from their early childhood. This skill can help them analyze different situations and problems in life and deal with them smartly and productively. This simple yet essential skill can be taught through some effective exercises and activities. For example, you could ask them questions about a particular situation and how they would deal with it or encourage them to read thought-provoking books. These small steps will make a big difference when they are adults and help them face challenges with reasoning and solutions based on facts.

Key Pointers

  • Critical thinking in children promotes their creative problem-solving abilities and supports decision-making.
  • Reading and playing can promote the development of children’s cognitive and critical thinking skills.
  • Letting children evaluate and summarize information and fostering new thoughts can enhance their critical thinking.

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Bhavana Navuluri

Bhavana has nearly 20 years of experience in content writing and editing. She was a print media journalist before moving to online. Having covered various forms of writing and editing, she earned proficiency in developing content right from news and business to features and lifestyle. As the Chief Editor of MomJunction, Bhavana guides her team in writing the most authentic... more