Critical thinking is one of the most important skills that our children need in order to stay ahead in the future, especially in the fast-changing and competitive world that we live in today. Gone are the days when all that is required of them is to repeat facts off textbooks – it is now vital that they be critical thinkers who can analyse, assess, reconstruct and generate higher order thinking skills.
Contrary to popular belief, having the skills to think critically is not an innate trait that one is born with. Instead, it is a skill that can be learnt through guidance and lots of practice. Critical thinking entails possessing a variety of skills that help one make decisions. Apart from the ability to evaluate the information available at hand to determine its relevance, the ability to think critically also involves being open-minded and to consider alternative ways of solving problems.
According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, a developmental psychologist based in the United States, it is important that children believe that thinking is fun and aspire to be good at it in order to be good thinkers. As they enter the teenage years, their critical thinking skills will help them make independent decisions without relying too much on their parents.
To help your children get a good head start while they are young, here are some recommended ways to develop critical thinking skills in children which you can put in place.
1. Let them learn through play
Early childhood experts recommend that children be given ample time and opportunities to play, as it is during this time that learning takes place. Try observing your child during the next play session and see how he/she discovers how things work and tries to understand the concept of cause and effect. Some questions that may be running through your child’s mind include “What happens if I drop this spoon from up here on the high chair?” or “How do I balance this tower block so that it does not topple over?”
When you provide the space and materials for playing, you are giving your child the opportunity to learn how things work and how he/she can create something unique. Although they seem simple, these hands-on experiences serve as the foundation that sharpens your child’s skills to think critically.
2. Stop and wait
As parents, we have the tendency to step in to our children’s rescue whenever they get stuck with a task or when trying to come up with an appropriate response to a question. The next time that happens, try to hold back on your actions and responses by counting to 60 (or longer) to give your child the chance to think critically through and frame his/her response, and/or complete the task independently. If needed, you can offer a helping hand by asking questions to probe your child to think further and formulate a solution based on their thought processes.
3. Impose “Intellectual Standards” while interacting
Encouraging your children to think critically starts by putting in place a set of guidelines that will help them when interacting with others on a day-to-day basis. The Foundation for Critical Thinking developed the following standards to help parents and teachers help school-aged children learn to be better thinkers:
- Encourage them to be clear by asking for explanations and examples when they do not understand something. It is alright to be confused and asking questions can help to clear any doubts.
- When speaking, it is important to be accurate – emphasise to your children that they should always check to see if something they come across is true by researching the facts.
- When discussing topics with others, make sure that your child’s responses are relevant to what is being discussed. (Note: Parents and teachers can help children stay on track by linking related and meaningful information to the topic that is being discussed.)
- Do what you can to support your child’s ability to be logical. Talk things through to help him/her visualise how things come together, question how he/she arrived at the conclusion and discuss to see if those assumptions are correct.
- Emphasise that your child is fair when coming up with conclusions. Encourage him/her to show empathy and consider the feelings and situations of others.
4. Ask open-ended questions
Instead of giving your child the answers to his/her questions, do set him/her thinking by asking non-yes or no questions. For example, you could start with “Why do you think this is happening?” and then probe further by asking, “How would you solve this problem?” or “Where do you think you can get more information?”. Along the way, make sure to be respectful towards your child’s responses – whether or not they are correct or if you agree with them. You can use phrases such as “It’s interesting that you think of it this way – can you tell me how you came up with this solution?”
5. See things from a different light
When it comes to problem-solving, do inspire your children to evaluate the issue from various angles before coming up with possible solutions. This thought process helps them to think critically and develop creative problem-solving skills. As mentioned earlier on, asking questions such as “What other things could we do to solve this?” helps them greatly in the thought process and encourages them to take their suggestions to a higher level.