How to Get Kids to Think Critically

Inspire critical thinking by letting kids explore their world.

Children are naturally eager to understand how the world works. They start by making basic associations, such as “I call, mom comes.”  As they grow, they develop more complex ways of figuring things out. As they do, they will develop basic problem-solving skills essential for school. Encourage your kids to think critically with toys that engage cause and effect play, which will then lead to problem solving and strategic thinking. When you spark their curiosity about the world, the learning will follow.

Children are like little scientists–they are not afraid to explore and experiment. Touching, banging, shaking, filling and dumping help children understand how things work and allow them to observe basic principles that lead to math and science concepts. Comment on what they are doing to encourage observation (big, small, heavy, light, wet, dry) and to further exploration. When they start to make logical connections between things, they are ready for more advanced thinking that leads to hypothesis formation and testing, the basis of scientific thinking.

Toys such as puzzles are wonderful learning tools that encourage kids to approach challenges in more than one way. They not only help develop basic problem solving skills, but they also give valuable practice with identifying visual cues and recognizing patterns. Patterning skills are important to both math and reading.

      Learning to identify visual cues from puzzles and patterns is a basic skill for number recognition, sorting sequencing and categorizing–all important math concepts. The ability to identify the different features of objects and then group, sort or sequence objects based on those features is also an important math concept.

      Putting patterns together and recognizing a pattern are the foundations of reading, since words are simply letter patterns and letters are simply shapes with distinct features.

Once children are aware of patterns and can compare objects, they can apply this skill to material that will prepare them for school activities.  Start with simple 2D or 3D puzzles (shape sorters, stackers, knob or wooden matching puzzles). Then between 24 and 36 months, start to introduce multiple piece puzzles with plenty of visual cues or sound cues (clues that will help identify pieces that go together). Strategy games are an excellent way to enhance problem solving and critical thinking skills with older children, and as a result, strengthen math and logic skills. They will also enhance social and emotional skills when playing with others.