Teaching Critical Thinking

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.

Thinking is how we move from one action to the next, form coherent sentences that we use to communicate to determining what to wear. However, our thinking is shaped by our lives and the ideologies we live within (such as our political, religious or fiscal associations) and our thoughts and processes of thinking are often distorted, biased, partial or uninformed. Due to our inability to have unbiased, informed thoughts naturally, we must learn how to become critical thinkers, and this starts at young age as children. That’s why it is important to teach your children about the power and necessity of critical thinking.

What’s Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is a form of thinking that is self-directed, self-disciplined and self-monitored. Critical thinking is the process of analyzing, synthesizing or evaluating information with the intent of forming more evaluative and holistic beliefs or actions. When we think critically, we are able approach the world with more clarity, relevance, reason and depth.

As adults we use these skills to make decisions and deal with everyday problems and research from The Foundation for Critical Thinking suggests that children who can analyze analogies, classify items, identify relevant information, and recognize fact versus opinion are much better problem solvers than those who don’t have those skills.  However, these vital skills are not something that children just pick up on their own. How do we teach our children to use their critical thinking skills?

Teaching Critical Thinking to Children

According to Robert Fisher, author of “Teaching Children to Think,” teaching children to be critical thinkers is best accomplished through intellectual engagement, purpose, energy and interactive tension with others. We can demonstrate intellectual engagement from a young age as children are naturally inquisitive. The cliché about toddlers asking “why” has its origins in truth. When children ask us questions, we have a choice in responding in a way that simply conveys an answer or engaging with children to help them discover answers on their own. But what about when kids are past being naturally inquisitive?

Through being purposeful with what you say and do with your children, you can teach critical thinking. Ask open-ended questions. These include questions beginning with words such as why and how. These questions require children to answer questions with longer, more thoughtful responses and creates interactive tension that both adult and children engaging in. As you continue to ask open-ended questions and prompt higher order thought processes, you can help your children to see the relationship between ideas, concepts and events. From this point, you can have your children begin thinking about alternative solutions or outcomes to common problems or situations by leading them with “what if” questions.

What Critical Teaching Teaches Children

Teaching your children to learn to see things from different perspectives is also a great way to help critical thinking. For example, you might pose an opinion question and have your children take a stance on one side of the opinion and provide logic and reason via evidence to support their particular stance. To continue intellectual engagement and promote interactive tension, have them pretend to take the opposite stance on the opinion. Again, ask your child to provide logic and reason via evidence to support their particular stance.

In addition, teach your children to examine the evidence that is before them. Encourage children to ask questions and seek answers to those questions. Teach children to use their energy as naturally inquisitive individuals to seek out truth and answers. As they do, show them how to evaluate the information they find. What is the source? Is it trustworthy? Is it presented as fact? If so, does it have evidence to support it?

By teaching children to be critical thinkers, you are teaching them the qualities of logic and reason to have more power of their thoughts and the decisions that are impacted by our thoughts. Next time your child insists they “need” the latest trendy item, help your child think critically and have them create an argument based on logic and reason to persuade you to buy this item for them.


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