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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Larson

How Parents Can Develop Critical Thinking Skills in Their Kids

Updated: Jul 30, 2022

Critical Thinking. It is one of the biggest buzzwords in education. You see it in school mission statements and education policies. School leaders tout their ability to teach critical thinking skills to students in their open house and back to school night presentations.

And this week we’re digging into critical thinking a bit more. It’s skill #4 on our list from the Brookings Institution report about the skills kids need to be prepared for the workplace of the future.

Critical thinking has been on our radar since we first started hearing about 21st century skills over twenty years ago. Some people believe it’s one of the most important skills for people to have in order to succeed in our workplace of the future.

But many schools struggle to define how they teach critical thinking. And even more are unsure how to assess how well a student has developed this skill.

So what can we do at home to help develop critical thinking skills in our kids? Because it’s never too early to start.

What Exactly is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is about having the skills to understand, evaluate and question the material being presented. It’s about being a creative problem solver and learning how to connect the dots between concepts. Critical thinking goes beyond the ability to simply memorize and recall information.

This book by Diane F. Halpern lists specific types of thinking skills students need in order to be able to think critically about the content presented:

  • determining cause

  • assessing likelihood and uncertainty

  • comprehending complex text

  • solving novel problems

  • making good decisions

  • evaluating claims and evidence

  • thinking creatively

The author elaborates on the importance of having critical thinking skills, stating “Consider that many of the people who are alive today will be working at jobs that do not currently exist and that the explosion of information means that today's knowledge will quickly become outdated. As a result, two goals for education clearly emerge -- learning how to learn and how to think critically about information that changes at a rapid rate."

How Schools Teach Critical Thinking or Do They?

Critical thinking skills can be (or should be) found across all curriculum areas of our education system. Instead of memorizing facts and figures, teachers who focus on critical thinking skills ask open ended questions, encourage students to weigh the pros and cons of an issue and likely support group projects and discussions so students can learn from each other.

But there’s several challenges regarding how our schools put this into action.

Some educators believe critical thinking cannot be taught until students have acquired vast amounts of knowledge. They point out the challenge of learning to think critically about a specific content area when a student doesn’t yet know much about it.

Yet even our youngest learners have some knowledge of how things work on the first day of school. And these students are perhaps more naturally curious and likely to ask more questions of their teachers and peers (a key trait of critical thinkers).

Another criticism of how schools teach critical thinking, is that they simply don’t do it. These critics believe our focus on state mandated assessments have led us down a path of memorizing and regurgitating information just to pass a test. And there’s nothing “critical” about that process.

How Parents Can Develop Critical Thinking Skills in Their Kids

While we debate if and how critical thinking can be taught in our schools, there’s steps we can take at home to help develop these skills in our kids. And this can begin at any age.

1 - The Magic of “Why”

Toddlers are infamous for their endless stream of “why” questions. And I’ll admit there were times when my exhausted brain simply responded, “just because!” But asking “why” is a sign of curiosity and a desire for our kids to learn more about the world around them.

Parents don’t need to have all the answers (wish I would have realized this when my kids were young!). Instead, we should be encouraging our kids to ask why. All the time. And if you don’t know the answer, help them seek out the information they desire. Ask Siri (or Alexa or Google). Go to the library. Phone a friend. Encourage them to seek answers to their most pressing questions.

2 - Discuss How to Evaluate News Sources

“Fake news” has made headlines these past few years. And with the avalanche of information available to our children (aka having an encyclopedia in their pocket), it is critically important they learn how to evaluate information sources.

Check out this resource from Common Sense Media which provides tips on how to spot fake news and help kids become media savvy.

3 - Encourage Quiet Time

The rise of social media has led to an increased focus on immediate sharing of information. Most of our teens (and likely us parents too) spend the bulk of our day casually conversing through various social networking sites or text messages.

Yet thinking critically about a topic doesn’t mean you spew off the first idea that comes to mind. Some responses require time to reflect and ponder in order to consider various perspectives and evaluate the sources of information.

But in a world full of distractions, namely the hundreds of apps and activities on our mobile devices, we seem to be losing the art of reflection time. Encourage your kids to put down their devices and schedule some quiet time in their daily routine.

Join the Discussion

Critical thinking has been touted as one of the most desired skills in employees. And the faster technology changes and information is available, the more important it is for our kids to understand how to evaluate information, think creatively and problem solve.

But let’s not forget about ourselves. Modeling these behaviors is one of the best ways for our kids to learn to think critically. So, is quiet time part of your daily routine?

About the Author

Jennifer Larson is an entrepreneur, charter school founder and mother to four children. Connect with her @startupjen.

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