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Encouraging Thinking Skills in Young Children

Cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am") - René Descartes

There are many current buzz words used by educators to describe the concept of thinking skills — critical thinking, Socratic thinking, creative thinking, higher-order thinking, logical thinking, problem solving skills, etc" and there doesn't seem to be any universally agreed upon definition. However, the one thing I've found is that they all contain important aspects of learning that we want our children to grow up with.

We all want our children to be able to analyze information, make decisions, come up with creative ideas and solve problems - in essence, to think rationally and logically. Thinking skills are becoming essential for survival in our rapidly changing global information age. We need to be able to make sense of information, adapt and be skilled in identifying and solving problems. As a result, the development of thinking skills is one of the most valuable gifts we can pass on to our children.

Thinking is motivated by questions. It is only by asking questions that our world as we know is has been discovered. The roots of critical thinking go back as far as 2500 years ago when Socrates established the importance of asking probing questions to clarify thinking and logic. Socrates' practice was followed by Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek skeptics who emphasized training the mind, to be able to see deeper truths and to question ideas of the time.

Today, we still want our children to maintain their natural sense of curiosity, feel comfortable asking questions, examine problems and of course look for ways to solve problems on their own. We want them to eventually become independent and think for themselves.

Helping your child or student to develop thinking skills early is essential to their academic success and lifelong ability to solve problems.

The simplest way to develop your child's thinking skills is by asking questions! Questions that stimulate your child's thought process can make learning fun and exciting. Children love engaging in thought provoking conversations with their parents or teachers. This is the exciting part of teaching your child or students - hearing the "Aha, I get it!" By asking questions, your child takes a more active role in creative thinking and reasoning. Questions also stimulate quality conversations that can bring families closer together.

Here are some further ideas to help encourage thinking skills in your child:

  • At a young age, encourage your child to ask questions - and keep asking further questions.
  • Always respond to your young child's questions enthusiastically. You do not want to curb his/her enthusiasm.
  • Start off asking questions that you know your child can answer, allowing him or her to begin with a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Remember the difference between drill type questions that recall information such as "what", "which" and "where", and thought-provoking questions such as "why" and "what happens if".
  • Guide your children or students towards discovering the answer on their own. Try not to tell them the answer. (Giving them the answer often stops the thinking process.)
  • Make your teaching atmosphere open to ideas so that your child is willing to take a chance. You want your child to feel free to experiment with new ideas and not be afraid to make a mistake.
  • Consider a wrong answer as a learning opportunity. Never criticize!
  • Realize that although sometimes the process may seem to take longer, the impact of the discovery is greater.
  • Keep a notebook handy to record questions that require some research. Seek out answers together when you have more time available.
  • Have your child verbalize their thought process. This will help you understand the way they think and become familiar with their learning style.
  • Respect your children's opinions and encourage them to have their own ideas.
  • Help your child to be well informed about a topic before coming to any conclusions.
  • Limit your child's time spent watching television and playing video games, which take away from creativity and time spent exploring.
  • Remember most importantly to have fun and enjoy your time together so that your child grows up loving to learn.

Further Online Resources

Improving Your Child's Thinking Skills

Family Education has posted an article from the Council for Exceptional Children that gives examples of how to ask the right questions using the six major thinking skills defined by Bloom's Taxonomy.,1120,59-11493,00.html

Types of Questions to Encourage Critical Thinking

By Barbara Fowler, Longview Community College

Varied Definitions of a Critical Thinker

Article: "Stop And Think About It"

Dr. Labush lists the attributes of a critical thinker and ways to enhance critical thinking in the classroom. Many other resources listed.

"Critical and Creative Thinking"

Published by the Government of Saskatchewan, it includes definition, teacher's roles and types of questions to ask.

"Teaching Thinking Skills"

Kathleen Cotton provides a detailed analysis of the current research on thinking skills.

Learning Style Quiz

Determine if your child is primarily a visual, auditory, or physical learner.

Inventive Thinking Lesson Plans

Inventors Guide adaptation of USPTO materials.

A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking

More articles from the Center for Critical Thinking

Susan Jarema is the founder of Googol Learning, the Crazy 4 Math Contest,, New Earth Marketing and Kidzinfo. The Googol Learning Website has many free resources to inspire mathematics and family learning in your home through music, games, stories and layered learning.

This article may be reprinted with the above author credit and website link.

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