The importance of critical thinking for young children

Critical thinking is essential life skill. Learn why it is so important and how you can help children learn and practice these skills.

It is important to teach children critical thinking skills.

It is important to teach children critical thinking skills.

We use critical thinking skills every day. They help us to make good decisions, understand the consequences of our actions and solve problems. These incredibly important skills are used in everything from putting together puzzles to mapping out the best route to work. It’s the process of using focus and self-control to solve problems and set and follow through on goals. It utilizes other important life skills like making connections, perspective taking and communicating. Basically, critical thinking helps us make good, sound decisions.

Critical thinking

In her book, “Mind in the Making: The seven essential life skills every child needs,” author Ellen Galinsky explains the importance of teaching children critical thinking skills. A child’s natural curiosity helps lay the foundation for critical thinking. Critical thinking requires us to take in information, analyze it and make judgements about it, and that type of active engagement requires imagination and inquisitiveness. As children take in new information, they fill up a library of sorts within their brain. They have to think about how the new information fits in with what they already know, or if it changes any information we already hold to be true.

Supporting the development of critical thinking

Michigan State University Extension has some tips on helping your child learn and practice critical thinking.

  • Encourage pursuits of curiosity. The dreaded “why” phase. Help them form and test theories, experiment and try to understand how the world works. Encourage children to explore, ask questions, test their theories, think critically about results and think about changes they could make or things they could do differently.
  • Learn from others. Help children think more deeply about things by instilling a love for learning and a desire to understand how things work. Seek out the answers to all of your children’s “why” questions using books, the internet, friends, family or other experts.
  • Help children evaluate information. We are often given lots of information at a time, and it is important we evaluate that information to determine if it is true, important and whether or not we should believe it. Help children learn these skills by teaching them to evaluate new information. Have them think about where or who the information is coming from, how it relates to what they already know and why it is or is not important.
  • Promote children’s interests. When children are deeply vested in a topic or pursuit, they are more engaged and willing to experiment. The process of expanding their knowledge brings about a lot of opportunities for critical thinking, so to encourage this action helps your child invest in their interests. Whether it is learning about trucks and vehicles or a keen interest in insects, help your child follow their passion.
  • Teach problem-solving skills. When dealing with problems or conflicts, it is necessary to use critical thinking skills to understand the problem and come up with possible solutions, so teach them the steps of problem-solving and they will use critical thinking in the process of finding solutions to problems.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the MSU Extension website.

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