Learning to think critically is probably one of the most important skills that 21st century children will need to develop, for now and for the future. In order to be successful in today’s world, we need to be able to do much more than repeat a list of facts. We need to be critical thinkers who can make sense of information, analyse, compare, contrast and generate higher order thinking skills. Why is this type of thinking so important for children? Because it allows us to use logical skills to solve problems, to understand how things work in the ‘real world’ and to come up with creative ideas and solutions.
It is largely up to parents to compliment their children’s education with critical thinking examples and teaching in everyday life. These skills happen through day-to-day interactions as you talk with your child, ask open-ended questions and allow them to experiment and problem solve. This kind of thinking involves scrutiny, rather than passively accepting facts at face value. A critical thinker will also ask the right questions about an answer, rather than just accepting what is told to them.
So, if critical thinking is such an important skill, why is it so hard to teach? The answer is that there is no effective way to impart “general deep knowledge”. However, there are things parents and educators can do to help children form a healthy critical thinking mindset, and to develop the natural desire for creative problem solving.
1. Start early and explain everything
Young children often ask many questions and knowing “why” is the crucial first step in thinking critically. When children are taught from a young age how to ask different types of questions and to formulate answers from using logical analysis, they grow up confident in their own ability to question assumptions and to reason with logic rather than emotions. This is why it is important to explain things as much as possible from an early age. The more knowledge they have, the easier it will be for them to successfully problem solve.
2. Do not demand blind obedience
Asking children to obey and follow orders will discourage the development of critical thinking skills. We need to explain to children why we want them to do what we ask them to. “Because I said so” goes against developing logical reasoning skills in children. A child needs to know the why’s in order to think independently and to make sound judgments for themselves. Remember, we won’t always be there to help them make decisions!
3. Encourage questions and curiosity
To think critically is to be willing to have your views challenged by new information and different perspectives. Allow children to question and discuss the legitimacy of what we say - obviously, always in a respectful manner. Some ways to encourage curiosity include:
- Pausing and waiting - encouraging the child ample time to think, attempt a task, or generate a response, rather than responding with their very first gut reaction.
- Don't intervene immediately - young minds need challenges to grow and to solve problems independently. If you step in immediately to help, they won’t learn how to solve things on their own.
- Ask open-ended questions - rather than automatically giving answers to the questions your child raises, help them to think critically by asking questions in response, such as: "What ideas do you have? What do you think is happening here?" etc.
4. Teach open-mindedness
We can teach children to be open-minded by suggesting different points of view, alternative explanations or different solutions to problems. Some subjects have definite answers, such as Mathematics and Science, but often, there are different answers depending on one’s point of view. By allowing children to think differently, you're helping them hone their creative problem-solving skills and encouraging them to think independently and out-the-box. Ask questions like, "What other ideas could we try?" or, "Let’s think of all the possible solutions."
Children learn from observing how we think. So it is important that, as a parent or an educator, you exercise your own critical thinking - this means not only saying things, but doing them too. Taking time to allow your child to navigate problems is imperative and will develop critical thinking and resilience. This builds children into thoughtful, independent and problem solving adults, who are ready to take on anything that is thrown their way.