Critical thinking: what is it and why is it important for my child?

Laura Kelley, 5th Grade Teacher and Grade Level Supervisor 3rd-5th

Is your child a critical thinker? Should they be at elementary school age? How do you know? What can you do to support this essential skill?

What is critical thinking and what does this look like in children?
Research suggests that people begin developing critical thinking competencies at a very young age. When children consider more than one explanation for something (open mindedness), look for reasons to explain their world, and transfer prior knowledge to solve an age appropriate problem, they are demonstrating the critical thinking skills needed to be successful in the 21st century.    

Why is this important? 
The development of critical thinking skills is essentialas children grow into pre-adolescents and teenagers, as these skills help them make sound judgments independently of their parents. Moreover, research has shown that children with good critical thinking skills experience less anxiety in school and in life because they are secure in the knowledge that they can problem solve as they maneuver through their day.  

How is critical thinking taught and fostered? 
Critical thinking must be both taught with explicit instruction and practiced in everyday life. Teachers at Pinecrest provide explicit instruction in critical thinking by moving students beyond just memorization and into application of knowledge. This includes teaching how to transfer previous knowledge to new contexts and answer open-ended questions, real-world or “authentic” problem contexts, and structured questions that require students to go beyond memorizing previously learned information. While some memorization is necessary for school success, memorization alone does not help to foster critical thinking skills.

What can parents do?  
Good thinkers become good thinkers by thinking! Just like kids who play sports or play an instrument get better by practicing, critical thinking must be practiced, too. Unfortunately, teachers and parents can sometimes get in the way of that “thinking practice” and inadvertently become a roadblock to thinking skill development.  

Here are ways to support “thinking practice”:

1) Give them time to think and suggest solutions.
It is very easy in our fast-paced world for parents to be in a “get it done” mentality that inadvertently denies kids the “thinking practice” they need. Asking kids the following questions and allowing them a full 60 seconds of thinking time will  provide some essential practice.
  • “What do we know about this that can help us make a good decision?”
  • “What could we do to solve this problem? Can you think of any other solutions?”
  • “Why did we choose this solution?”
  • “What could you have done differently to get a different result?”
  • “What did we learn from this?”
  • “What if….”

2) Avoid completing developmentally appropriate tasks for them. 
Instead, help them to problem solve and be able to finish the task independently.  
  • Role playing is a good way to help them navigate new developmental tasks. For instance, practice how they will go to their teacher and request help with an assignment or how to go next door to borrow a cup of sugar. 
  • Relate new tasks to accomplished ones, “Remember when you borrowed a cup of sugar from Mrs. Smith? This is almost the same thing.”

Support your child’s ability to be logical. 
  • Model your thinking out loud for them and encourage them to respectfully ask questions about decisions you have made.
  • Help them see how things fit together. 
  • Question how they came to conclusions and whether their assumptions are correct.
  • As children grow, discuss age appropriate ethical and moral issues and help them think through the why’s.

Allow them to face the consequences of their actions and decisions now before the stakes get much higher.
  • Talk with them about their choices and then allow the growth that comes from facing the consequences.  
Essential critical thinking skills develop when parents and teachers give children the time to ask questions, discuss how they evaluate options, and practice making choices. 
Pinecrest Academy is a private PreK3-12 Catholic school located in Cumming, South Forsyth, just minutes from Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton and Suwanee. We serve families of all faiths seeking a Christian education for their children. To learn more about our unique educational philosophy, visit our Welcome page.

The mission of Pinecrest Academy is reflected in the word Integer, which is Latin for “whole,” or “entire,” and reflects our goal of forming the whole child as an authentic “Person in Christ.” The school motto Semper Altius, means “Always Higher,” and challenges our students, parents, staff and faculty to strive for excellence in all areas of Integral Formation® - intellectual, spiritual, human and apostolic.