How to Teach Kids to Think Critically

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Strong critical thinking skills are a must these days. With so much poor-sourced, low-quality information circulating around the web, we have no other choice but to become critical thinkers ourselves and teach our kids critical thinking skills, too.

We live in times of critical thinking deficiency. It is hard to believe but more than 80% of teenagers cannot distinguish between an actual news post and sponsored content even if the latter ad is labeled. With strong critical thinking skills, telling one from another won’t be such a problem.

Why Teach Kids To Think Critically?

If you wonder why teaching kids critical thinking is important, think of it as of protecting them from possible manipulation, fraud, and scams. Alternatively, consider critical thinking a mental skill that will help them succeed academically and professionally.

Critical thinking is what protects us from getting pulled into believing something that is not true. It is a mental tool we can use to stay safe from fake news and security threats such as phishing, scams, and fraud.

What Is Critical Thinking?  

Let’s start with a definition of critical thinking. There are many ways to define critical thinking, but this one appears to be especially direct.

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally, giving preference to facts and evidence rather than opinions and emotions.

When you think critically, you don’t just accept any argument or conclusion you’re given but rather question them to make sure they are worth your trust. Essentially, critical thinking is a higher-level of thinking, an opposite to automatic thinking.

Characteristics Of A Critical Thinker

To help your kids enhance their critical thinking, you need to know what makes a good critical thinker. Below are cognitive and behavioral characteristics of a classic critical thinker:

  • A critical thinker makes connections between ideas. This is what helps them detect patterns, categorize, and make predictions.
  • A critical thinker trusts facts and evidence, not opinions. It is an ultimate rule of critical thinking to remember that opinions are not facts, even if well-masked as facts.
  • A critical thinker is not afraid to disagree with others. It takes courage to be a critical thinker. Sometimes it means swimming against the current and saying or doing something different from what others are saying and doing.
  • A critical thinker is ready to challenge his/her own beliefs. Those with strong critical thinking skills are wired to question information, including their own thoughts and beliefs.
  • A critical thinker remains open-minded and curious. People with strong critical thinking are smart enough to understand they only know so much. They’re always ready to expand their horizons.
  • A critical thinker is passionate about accuracy and logicalness. People who think critically will never take seriously something they are not certain is true. They seek accurate facts and logical conclusions.
  • A critical thinker maintains a reasonable level of skepticism. Critical thinkers don’t think that all information is false, but they know that some of it is not true. So they maintain a reasonable level of doubt and skepticism just in case.

How To Teach Kids Critical Thinking Skills

Let’s start with some good news. Experts say that critical thinking is a skill and, just like any other skill, it can be enhanced through training. Let’s see what you can do to help your kids develop (or improve) their critical thinking.

Ask Open-Ended Questions. When you ask your kids questions that have no right or wrong answer, they are not afraid to express their opinion. Knowing this makes them feel no limits, so their mind starts to wonder. That’s how your kids learn to look at things from many different perspectives.

Give Your Kids a Topic And Time to Think About This Topic. If you want your kids to learn to think critically, give them time and topic. For instance, you can watch a cartoon and then ask your kids to think about the behavior of the main character. Why did he act the way he did? Were there any alternatives? Could there be another outcome? Ask children to think but not to give you an immediate answer. Give them time and space to practice their thinking. In a few hours, ask them to share their thoughts.

Use the 5-Why Technique. This technique is simple and genius (we owe it to the  excellent inventor and founder of Toyota, Sakichi Toyoda). All it takes is to ask “why” in regards to a particular problem five times. It helps us get to the root cause of the problem. At the same time, it makes us look at a chosen problem from many different perspectives, which enhances critical thinking in the long run.

So, imagine you’re applying this technique to situation at your child’s school—he got a lower than expected grade on his history test. You can ask “why.” Answer one: “I didn’t remember the date to the Battle of Waterloo.” Ask “why” again. Answer two: “I didn’t study the Battle of Waterloo enough.” Ask “why” a third time. Answer three: “I was more worried about remembering the timeline of the French Revolution.” And again—“why?” Answer four: “I thought more of the test would cover the details of the French Revolution.” And finally, “why?” Answer five: “We covered the French Revolution a lot during class. But I guess that’s why the teacher didn’t cover it so much on the test.” This works well if you finish up the why questions with a discussion on lessons learned.

Choose the Right Games. Certain games can be a perfect tool for teaching your kids to think critically. Puzzles, crosswords, and riddles are especially good for that purpose. Such games are known for stimulating discussion as well as improving logic and problem-solving skills. All these go hand-in-hand with critical thinking.

Practice Problem-solving. Teach your kids to think of multiple solutions to a problem. Discuss the situation and ask your kids to come up with a solution. Then ask them to give an alternative solution, then one more. After that, ask them to think about possible outcomes of each solution they proposed.

Critical Thinking Checklist

Once your critical thinking skills are strong enough, it will become your second nature to question and challenge any piece of information you are exposed to. While you and your kids are still learning, feel free to rely on this cheat sheet.

StopAd how to spot fake news cheatsheet

The Final Word On Critical Thinking

People are inclined to rely on automatic thinking. It takes little to no effort and works pretty well for the majority of trivial situations.

This default thinking, however, can get us into big trouble if used when critical thinking is needed. Given the amount of fake news, propaganda, and poorly-checked information circulating on the web these days, our thinking should be in critical mode each time we go online.