Kids are inundated with information on a daily basis. So how do they learn to distinguish facts from opinion, fiction and falsehoods?
“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve,” says Roger Lewin, Ph.D., a British anthropologist and science writer.
Teaching kids to think critically is the solution. Good critical thinking skills are necessary to assess information and form logical conclusions. Here are a few ways to help your child develop problem-solving skills and foster critical thinking.
Ask your child questions
When your kid comments on or asks a question about a situation, turn it into an opportunity. Ask your child open-ended questions that require thought. For example, respond with, “What would you do to solve this problem?” or “I’d like to hear what you think.”
Once your child answers, ask him or her (in a non-judgemental tone) to defend their answer. “Can you tell me why you think that?” or “What led you to this conclusion?” This provides kids the opportunity to consider how they arrived at their responses.
Whether or not your child’s thinking is correct or logical, offer praise for their effort to think the answer through. If the reasoning is faulty, gently explain what you believe and why to correct false assumptions or misconceptions.
Use play to foster critical thinking
Encourage your kids to strategize when they play games. Have them think through their next move and consider what their opponent might do. When building with LEGO pieces or blocks, have your child consider how placing one piece will affect the placement of others and, ultimately, the look or functionality of the structure.
Take advantage of everyday tasks
When your child does chores, let him or her do it their way a few times to try to figure out an efficient way to conquer the task. If they haven’t figured it out after multiple tries, ask if your child can think of a faster or better way to do it. If necessary, you can offer a tip and ask how that might help.
Encourage outside-the-box thinking
Kids have the innate ability to think outside the box. This is known as divergent thinking. As we grow, however, thought becomes more convergent. A certain degree of convergent thinking is necessary, so we don’t give the same weight to all possibilities. But divergent thinking is still crucial to solving problems.
When a problem arises, ask your child to think of all the possible ways to solve it. Also, have him or her consider and weigh out the pros and cons of each solution to determine which is best.
Read a book that teaches critical thinking
The following kids’ books teach and demonstrate how to evaluate situations, examine beliefs and understand the scientific method. Several of these books also contain activities to help kids hone their critical thinking skills.
“Bringing UFOs Down to Earth” by Philip J. Klass (Grades 4-7)
In this fun book, kids learn fascinating facts about UFOs and how reports of sightings are investigated. Kids also learn about the rational and scientific explanations for UFO sightings and stories.
“How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial” by Darryl Cunningham (Grades 7+)
Cunningham addresses eight hotly debated science topics, including details about research and current thought on each issue. Kids also discover how information is manipulated by people on all sides to suit their views. By the end of each topic, kids are armed to draw logical conclusions.
“An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments” by Ali Almossawi (Grades 7+)
This book introduces readers to faulty arguments including ad hominem attacks, the straw man fallacy, slippery slope arguments and more.
“How Come? Every Kid’s Science Questions Explained” by Kathy Wollard and Debra Solomon (Grades 4-6)
Kids discover the answers to more than 200 mysteries and phenomena, such as why stones can skip across the water and whether they can stay drier in the rain by running or walking to shelter.
“Logic to the Rescue: Adventures in Reason” by Kris Langman (Grades 5-9)
In this sword-and-sorcery fantasy story, kids learn about logical fallacies. They also learn how to test a hypothesis and set up biology, chemistry and physics experiments.
“Flat Earth? Round Earth?” by Theresa Martin
When a school teacher passes out clay spheres to the class to decorate, one student crushes his sphere, arguing the earth is flat. Through this book, kids learn the value of questioning and not taking things at face value.
“Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything” by David White (Grades 4+)
In this interactive book, kids grapple with philosophical questions discussed and debated as far back as the ancient Greeks right on through today.
“Horoscopes: Reality or Trickery?” by Kimberly Blaker (Grades 4-8)
Kids can do tests to determine the validity of astrology through seven fun activities and real-life experiments. Throughout the book, kids learn about the scientific process and how to make deductions as they sleuth for the truth.
“How Do You Know It’s True? Discovering the Difference Between Science and Superstition” by Hy Ruchlis (Grades 7-10)
Ruchlis examines a variety of superstitions, such as astrology and the unlucky number 13. By the end, readers walk away with a better understanding of how science works.
“Sasquatches from Outer Space: Exploring the Weirdest Mysteries Ever” by Tim Yule (Grades 4-7)
This book explores the mysteries of Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, astrology and others. It also offers hands-on experiments kids can do to determine whether there’s any truth to these tales.
“Nibbling on Einstein’s Brain: The Good, the Bad and the Bogus in Science”by Diane Swanson and Francis Blake (Grades 3-7)
In this book, kids learn how to tell the difference between good and faulty science. The author encourages critical thinking through a combination of fascinating fictitious scenarios and real-world examples.
“The Magic Detectives: Join Them in Solving Strange Mysteries” by Joe Nickell (Grades 4-6)
Each of the thirty short stories of paranormal investigations in this book offers clues to help kids uncover the mystery. Kids can then flip the book upside down to read the ‘magic detectives’ conclusions.
E.B. Hirsh Early Childhood Center: Make Kids Find the Answers
By Jarrad Saffren
For Ilene Brooks, a fours pre-K teacher in the E.B. Hirsh Early Childhood Center in Pikesville, whether her lesson comes in the form of reading, play or an active experiment, she is not going to ask yes or no questions, and she is not going to give her students multiple choice answers.
Brooks is going to make them find their own answers. This, she explains, gets “those wheels turning in those brains.” When Brooks reads the class a story, she asks, “What do you think would happen if…?” In her classroom, she often just allows kids to play with blocks so they can think about the best way to stack them up. And on the 100th day of school, she had each student bring in 100 items and asked them to hypothesize about which bags would be heavier.
“That’s how you learn in life, is experience,” she says. And mistakes are good. “You can actually learn the process better when you make mistakes,” Brooks says.