Critical thinking skills teach children how to go beyond memorization and comprehension to understand the significance – the “why” and “how” of the concepts they explore. Kids that develop strong critical thinking skills are best prepared for their future lives; the problem solving and evaluation skills associated with critical thinking enable them to apply what they learn to real life situations, come up with new ideas and see viable ones through to completion.
The more exposure your child has to critical thinking opportunities, the more they learn how to analyze, synthesize, judge, and express themselves. Critical thinking activities at home as well as in school can help your child develop these skills from an early age, and provide added scaffolding for children that have a harder time with critical thinking.
1. Puzzles. Puzzles help your child with both analysis and synthesis. To successfully put together a puzzle, the child has to work with both individual, disconnected parts, and a picture of the whole.
2. Felt Boards. Cut shapes out of different colored felt strips. Pick and theme, like foods, landscapes, school or home, and cut a variety of shapes that can be put together into objects that belong to that theme. If you show the child the board already put together, they can strengthen their analysis as they take it apart and learn what parts comprise the whole. Then, they practice synthesis as they try to put the board together, and creativity as they come up with different ways to piece the board together.
3. Classification. Classification skills also contribute to analysis, synthesis and conceptualization: your child discovers the relationships between individual entities. Games like Go Fish and Uno combine classification with fun for kids.
4. 20 Questions. Guessing games, where one player thinks of an object that pertains to a certain set, and the other plays have to ask yes/no questions to guess the object, helps kids fine tune their thinking skills as they try to come up with more meaningful questions in order to identify the object in as few questions as possible. This combines skills of analysis, synthesis, classification and creativity. If you then have a discussion regarding what questions were asked and other questions that might have been more effective, evaluation comes into play.
5. Search Games. Activities like “Finding Waldo”, identifying what’s wrong with the picture, or finding subtle differences between two nearly identical images help your child develop attentiveness and the ability to pay attention to and identify details that influence or define the bigger picture. It also strengthens their ability to concentrate and focus, leaving aside unrelated elements to focus on the essential.
6. Chess. This game involves critical thinking by requiring each player to develop a strategy, and adapt their strategy as they go in response to reality (influenced by the involvement of their opponent). This game also fosters judgment skills (evaluation), risk taking the ability to predict and take educated guesses.
7. Other Board Games. Games like “Ticket to Ride”, “Monopoly” and “Risk” again foster all critical thinking skills by requiring players to develop strategies for both short term and long term success, and to effectively respond to unplanned circumstances that arise due to the other players.
8. Legos. Using Legos, or other similar blocks helps young children learn basic classification (color/size), and analysis and synthesis skills – design/model, as they learn by trial and error what combinations of pieces do or do not fit together and how to build something without it toppling over. Older children can continue to improve critical thinking by using Legos as a creative outlet and design tool.
9. Business. Starting a business endeavor, like a lemonade stand or small garage sale, requires planning, analysis, prediction, flexibility, evaluation and creativity, among other skills.
10. Jeopardy. Turn class reviews into a jeopardy game. Give the children various answers and require them to ask the question. This develops mental agility as the child works backwards. It also takes assimilation, as the child can potentially think of more than one valid question for the same answer.
11. Crossword Puzzles. Crossword puzzles mainly help with comprehension, one of the basic thinking skills that serve as a foundation for higher level critical thinking. Click here for a free online program that allows you to custom make crossword puzzles and other similar word games for your kids.
12. List of Statements: Give your child a list of statements and ask them to identify which are opinions and which are facts. In addition to analysis and evaluation, this simple exercise enables kids to practice justifying and supporting their ideas as well.
Let your kids be creative too! I’m sure they can come up with plenty of other ways to practice these skills as well, even applying them to household tasks and responsibilities.