How To Foster Critical Thinking Skills In Your Preschooler
Before we start, what is critical thinking?
Critical thinking comprises a number of different skills that help us learn to make decisions.
It is the ability to evaluate information to determine whether it is right or wrong. To think
critically about an issue or a problem means to be open-minded and consider alternative ways
of looking at solutions. As children grow into pre-adolescents and teenagers, their critical
thinking skills will help them make judgments independently.
While we do our part at Little Harvard, here is what you can do:
Provide opportunities for play. Testing how things work informally is crucial to
developing critical thinking. It is during play that children explore cause and
effect. What happens if I drop a spoon over and over again off the side of a high
chair tray or roll two marbles down a chute at the same time? How can I get the
block to balance on the top of this tower? By providing indoor and outdoor space for
playing, along with time for pretend play you provide open-ended opportunities for
your child to try something and see the reaction. These hands-on experiences
provide an integral foundation for later abstract critical thinking.
Pause and wait. Offering your child ample time to think, attempt a task, or generate
a response is critical, but not necessarily easy to do. Try counting (silently) to 60
while your child is thinking, before intervening or speaking. This gives your child a
chance to reflect on her response and perhaps refine, rather than responding with
her very first gut reaction.
Don’t intervene immediately. Instead, try counting to 120, or even longer, and
observe what your child is doing before stepping in. As challenging as it may be,
avoid completing or doing the task for your child. For younger children, patiently
readjusting and maneuvering to grasp a toy on their own encourages continued
problem solving and develops executive functioning skills. For older children, ask
critical thinking questions and provide enough information so they don’t get
frustrated, but not so much that you solve the problem for them.
Ask open-ended questions. Rather than automatically giving answers to the
questions your child raises, help him think critically by asking questions in return:
“What ideas do you have? What do you think is happening here?” Respect his
responses whether you view them as correct or not. You could say, “That is
interesting. Tell me why you think that.; Use phrases like “I am interested to hear
your thoughts about this” “How would you solve this problem?” “Where do you think
we might find more information to solve this problem?”
Help children develop hypotheses. Taking a moment to form hypotheses during
play is a critical thinking exercise that helps develop skills. Try asking your child, “If
we do this, what do you think will happen?” or “Let’s predict what we think will
Encourage thinking in new and different ways. By allowing children to think
differently, you’re helping them hone their creative problem solving skills. Ask
questions like, “What other ideas could we try” or encourage your child to generate
options by saying, “Let’s think of all the possible solutions.”
Of course, there are situations where you as a parent need to step in. At these times,
it is helpful to model your own critical thinking. As you work through a decision
making process, verbalize what is happening inside your mind. Children learn from
observing how you think.
Taking time to allow your child to navigate problems is integral to developing your
child’s critical thinking skills in the long run. Learning to think critically may be
one of the most important skills that your child will need for their future. In
today’s global and rapidly changing world, children need to be able to do
much more than repeat a list of facts; they need to be critical thinkers who
can make sense of information, analyze, compare, contrast, make
inferences, and generate higher order thinking skills.
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