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5 Ways to Develop Your Child’s Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is one of those buzzwords that has people scratching their heads. Is critical thinking a new kind of thinking? How does it differ from other thinking? Can parents teach critical thinking to kids? Critical thinking is really an approach to thinking. It's a skill set that involves using different thinking skills such as logical reasoning, analysis, and synthesis. Most of all, critical thinking is about treating the evidence with care and respect. Have you ever heard someone make a snap judgment or cite one television clip as evidence to support a conclusion? Critical thinking is the opposite of rushing to judgment. It means seeking out all kinds of information and evaluating it critically before taking a position. Critical thinkers are open-minded and respect the people they disagree with.

When you think critically, you
  • Define your issue or question precisely. What exactly is the issue or question about?
  • Gather sufficient information or evidence - more than one or two sources - about your issue or question.
  • Consider where your evidence comes from. Does the author or organization have a bias? Bias is not bad - it just is, but you need to identify it.
  • Examine the logic of the evidence. Are the reasons offered good ones? Are the implications acceptable?
  • Consider different kinds of information - factual reporting, statistics, first-hand accounts, and so forth.
  • Identify what perspective seems to be left out. How could you include that perspective in your evidence?
You can nurture critical thinking in kids by trying out some of these ideas:
  1. Ask and observe.
    Sometimes we get into the habit of telling our kids what to do or explaining things to death. Neither strategy promotes as much thinking as asking open-ended questions ("Why do you think it did that?") or making observations ("Wow, that tree is really budding."). When the conversation stays open, your child gets to think more. You throw the ball; she tosses it back.
  2. Ask: "How do you know that?"
    This simple question helps kids become aware of their own reasoning ability. When your child explains how or why he knows something, accept his information and keep asking questions that reveal his assumptions. Even if your child has misunderstood something, asking questions will help him clarify his thinking. Telling kids they're "wrong" merely shuts the thinking down.
  3. Talk about good and bad reasons.
    As kids mature, people will make arguments and pitches to them all the time - on television, in magazines, on the playground, even at home. So if another kid tells your kid to give him his lunch money at recess because "that's the way it goes down around here," help your child articulate why that's a poor reason. Point out good reasons when you hear them.
  4. Repeat: Information does not = truth.
    Information is just information; only people can put it together as knowledge. As your child enters middle school and tackles more complex assignments, encourage her to see that no one website, television show, or article can provide her with a complete and truthful account of an issue. When your child is doing research, be on hand to provide some context for the sources she chooses. Encourage her to form her own position based on evidence, not just emotion.
  5. Show respect for the other side.
    When you disagree with a position or opinion, explain why you disagree but try not to put down the other side. By showing respect for people whose ideas differ from your own, you send a message that it's possible to think critically and engage civilly.

Jessica Pegis has been developing learning resources for kids and educators for more than 20 years. She is the author of five books on subjects ranging from citizenship to media literacy. Delving into how kids really learn and understand number concepts eventually inspired her to create Talk PlayThink, a web resource for parents interested in raising thinking kids. Visit Jess's site for more articles on thinking skills and hot thinking topics, as well as fun, brainy stuff to do with your kids..

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