Thursday, March 2, 2017

Building Critical Thinking

Critical thinking at it's core includes: clarifying goals, examining assumptions, discerning hidden values, evaluating evidence, accomplishing actions and assessing conclusions. That sounds massive and weighty but it is much more fluid. Most professions integrate components of critical thinking and much of our current education process incorporates critical thinking opportunities. However, building critical thinking skills can start long before children enter school. Parents and nannies can play a huge role in building those skills.

Children with strong critical thinking skills are typically more resilient and are able to manage stress better. They have a confidence in their abilities and are not overwhelmed when things don't go their way. Overall they have a more positive outlook on life. A child's personality has a lot to do with how they see the world, but every child can benefit from building skills. They are already adept at asking questions which is the basic foundation of critical thinking - questioning and seeking options.

Problem Solving
Building problem solving skills boosts a child's confidence. Young children can begin working on this skill through board or card games, doing simple science projects, math games, play with construction and building materials or even in simple daily tasks. When solving problems we use previous personal experience and logic to derive possible options. Children need experiences to draw from so putting a puzzle together, solving a simple tangram, or figuring out how to build a block bridge add to those experiences. This practice leads to understanding the importance of prioritization and planning. For example if you are building a bridge out of blocks or Legos you need have a strong foundation and plan ahead about how that will happen. Both successes and failures teach children more about the problem solving process. We can help by being available to encourage, support and answer questions as they come up.

Be Creative
Imaginative play that includes children taking on different roles can bring a greater understanding about real world situations. Letting children take the lead in developing imaginative play gives them a safe way to explore and echo things they've seen parents or other adults doing. As the adult you may find that you are invited to be the audience or a participant, but remember to let the child lead the action. Books, movies or television programs can also spur on creative thinking. Discussing the actions, emotions or subjects can help children bring clarity and relevance to real life situations now and in the future. Conversations are a time to ask open ended questions. The "what if" game is a great way to get critical thinking skills going. After reading a book or watching a program you start with "what if . . . " adding a twist that would make the story head on a different path and then let the child take off with it. They may enjoy asking you some "what if" questions too.

Real Life Situations
Every day brings opportunities to talk about real experiences. Parents and other adults close to children often try to avoid talking or sharing the most difficult situations to protect them. While it's true we need to be selective, you may be surprised to know just how intuitive children are and that they are thinking about serious matters frequently. Allowing them to share their fears and past experiences allows them to work through and process information. Being a good listener is vital in encouraging children to share. This can be a great opportunity to do some brainstorming on ideas and using role play to act them out. While this can seem serious it can also have an element of fun with it.

Awareness of Others
Understanding the feelings and viewpoints of others allows children to start seeing a problem or situation from all sides. It opens up their frame of reference beyond themselves or their family. While younger children are primarily egocentric in their thinking they can still start to be aware of others. Typically when children reach about seven they start to have a greater understanding of others, their views and feelings. Getting them talking about their feelings is a first step. Young children assume everyone else thinks like them so sharing your thoughts are helpful to them seeing that others think and react differently. Participating in group play and play dates expose them to peers which gives them experience with others. Being aware of other viewpoints and ideas provides another tool in the critical thinking toolbox.
Thinking is question driven. Critical thinking skills take questioning to another level by adding problem solving, awareness of multiple viewpoints, personal experience, evaluation and assessment which lead to options for solutions. This non-linear thinking opens doors and expands ideas. It's no wonder innovative companies are seeking those with strong critical thinking skills. On a personal level it allows the individual not to be overwhelmed when challenged with a real world situation because they are seeing options not obstacles.

We're interested in your thoughts on critical thinking and encouraging critical thinking skills in children. Please feel free to post your comment below!

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