Teaching Critical Thinking Skills to Young Children: A Guest Post

I am excited to present this guest post by Katie Gilmore in partnership with KinderCare Learning Centers

We often try to teach the young children in our lives the importance of practice, patience, and problem-solving. It can feel challenging to adequately arm future generations with these tools as we guide them towards a future of higher education, employment, and personal fulfillment – especially as future generations require new skills and face different means of assessment than what we may be familiar with.

As student enrollment continues to rise, higher educational professionals are taking a different approach to assessing and educating incoming generations. A recently popularized approach to measuring student achievement called competency-based education “measures analytical and creative thinking, leadership, teamwork, and digital literacy,” as explained by Maryville University’s website.

With this definition of academic success in mind, parents and Pre-K12 institutions alike need to embrace new techniques for encouraging the development of critical thinking skills at the preschool and kindergarten levels to guide young learners towards a successful future in a changing academic landscape.

Strategies for Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills tend to be taught through exploration rather than explanation. In order to cultivate the habit of thoughtfulness and reflection within children, it’s important to present them with new concepts and ideas to strengthen their ability to find connections and solve problems.

Storytelling, for example, not only puts their creative muscles to use, but presents young children with the opportunity to build on what they already know (elephants are way bigger than dogs), discover something new (elephants and dogs make unlikely friends), and how to connect the two in a meaningful, analytical way (physical differences don’t always prevent friendships). The goal should always be to introduce children to new concepts and solutions.

Caitrin Blake, a lecturer at the Writing Center of Concordia University-Portland, points out that “learning to think critically will help students examine information and not take it at face value. They will be able to draw upon current knowledge, summarize and synthesize the information at hand, and determine whether it is factual, valuable and relevant.”

Free-writing, idea analysis, storytelling, and active learning are all proven strategies to help build critical thinking skills within kids.

Robots, Oh My!

Critical thinking skills are built on practice — for young children, this means regularly catching and keeping their attention. Luckily, teaching children the aspects of critical thinking can involve some hands-on fun and entertainment.

While new technologies may be challenging as a barrier of access to some parents, novel technologies can be the hook that children need to ignite their interests – and that fact hasn’t been lost on the marketers of STEM toys, an industry that has blossomed over the past two decades.

For example, young kids can make friends with Nao, a storying telling robot that will, as explained on KinderCare’s blog, “give students the chance to develop their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills.” Nao, and other learning aids like it, are designed to help young children understand “if-then” logic, build literacy skills, and help them share ideas and problem solve.

While an understanding of STEM concepts is invaluable for young learners, being able to freely apply those ideas through toys and games will provide children a deeper, more critical understanding of these concepts from the start.

Teaching our children from a young age about the value of critical thinking will not only help them through their time in the classroom and eventual careers, but can help them feel more capable of making those important, sometimes life-changing decisions they’ll come across each day.  With the variety of tools, books, or toys available to us, we have more options than ever as parents and educators to provide children a head-start towards more successful futures.

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