Thinking. We all do it. But, what about in the critical sense? Well, you do want your preschooler to go to Harvard someday. Right?
How could this possibly ever happen without properly developing her critical thinking skills through a series of worksheets, flash cards and college level courses that are trimmed and cut down for a 4-year-old’s mini mind?
Sarcasm apart, you CAN teach your child critical thinking skills. Right now. Oh yeah, and minus the dribble of drool that will eventually fall from your child’s sad, sad, sad mouth as she drifts off to dreamland while you fill her precious ‘lesson time’ with free downloadable puzzles (a.k.a. eye rolling-ly dull worksheets).
So, how do you get your soon-to-be the youngest college grad ever (just joking, we know you’ve still got years before going into debt for a liberal arts education that will eventually land your child the coveted position of coffee house barista) to open up her mind, problem-solve, reason and think in a way that puts more than one perspective into play?
1. Open with an open-ended question.
Walk into any mid-level retail store at the mall and the smiley greeter will hit you with an open-ended question within 15 seconds or less (really). Why?
When you hear, “What can I help you find today?” there’s no way to answer, “no.” Sure, you want to say “no.” But, unless you want to look like someone who can’t understand a simple sentence, you can’t.
The same goes for your child. Go ahead, ask her something, anything, that she absolutely, positively can’t answer with “yes” or “no.” What’s going to happen?
Your child will need to think before she speaks. Seriously. She’ll have to.
Ask, “Why do you think the sky’s blue?” Um, “no” isn’t a logical answer. Try, “Why do you think that big dusty book that we used to look up words before the Internet existed (um, a dictionary?) falls to the ground faster than a feather?” Again, “no” won’t work here.
Now you’ve got your child thinking – and in a critical way (at least, if she wants to answer the question).
2. Make a decision.
Ah, decisions, decisions. They’re all around us. You’re playing mommy tyrant right now and deciding almost everything for your child.
You pick what goes into your child’s breakfast bowl, choose what she wears (and, it’s not going to be a tutu over a superhero suit – or will it?) and tell her when she’s going to her mini masters art class.
Yes, you are the queen decision-maker in the fam. So, let’s stop it. What? Why?
Maybe because you don’t want your child to mindlessly follow everything that anyone tells her for the rest of her life. Yep, you want her to think critically.
Except when it comes to bedtime. Bedtime is a non-decision. Always (you need a break too).
Short of bedtime and anything that’s a safety issue, start letting your little one make some decisions. The grocery store bagger asks, “Paper or plastic?” – let your child decide. There are five choices of differently shaped chicken nuggets on the restaurant menu – let your child pick whether she wants the dinosaurs or the circus animals.
Of course, saying what the decision is in itself won’t encourage critical thinking. The key here is to have your child also explain why she’s deciding whatever it is she’s picked.
3. Constant connections.
The chemical pink hue of your child’s mega-bubblegum ice cream cone is identical to her bedroom’s accent wall. Connection.
The letter ‘A’ starts both your child’s name and Anna from Frozen’s name. Connection.
Oh the connections – they’re everywhere. Figuring them out takes critical thinking and problem-solving skills. So, keep your child on the lookout for chances to make mental connections, and ask her to explain them to you.
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4. Like vs. different.
We’re constantly categorizing and classifying. Those moms are total helicopters, these ones are pushovers and the ones over there are – oh, wait that’s judging (and even though it’s in a totally categorizing way, we aren’t going to give in and do it).
Okay, so not every classification/categorization is a good thing. But, when it comes to your child, it can help her to think critically. Pick less buzzworthy topics, and let your learner classify away.
Take clean-up time for instance. She’s freaking out and whining that she can’t put her dolls, blocks and stuffed animals away. Sure she can. And better yet, she can sort and classify them as she goes.
5. Throw out the worksheets and flash cards.
Yeah, that’s wasteful. But, they really squash creative thought way down.
Alright, you don’t have to trash them. Instead, upcycle those rote notes into something way more fun. What? Just about anything else.
Give your child a bowl of glitter, a tub of school glue, a cardboard box, some tape and a rainbow of tempera paint. Toss in the worksheets and flash cards (as art materials) and let her have at it.
Not only are you nixing the dullest of dull in ‘educational activities’, but your child has to problem-solve and think outside of the box when she’s figuring out how to magically transform her A,B,C cards into art!
6. Build a puzzle.
No, this doesn’t mean put together a ready-made puzzle (or download a printable one that someone else made).
Instead, have your child make her own puzzle.
Grab an old cardboard box (like one of the random ones that you tossed into the back of the garage after your child’s birthday unwrapping session). Cut off the front – your child can make any shape they want.
And now it’s drawing time! Give your crafty kid a marker and let her go wild with the design.
OK, so now you’ve got a fairly awesome drawing. But, no puzzle.
Solve this, um – puzzler right away. Your child can create puzzle pieces right on top of the drawing. Make them look puzzle-shaped or let her go crazy and make interlocking amoebas or connecting clouds.
Next, get out the safety scissors and let your little learner cut apart her carefully prepared drawing.
If you’re really into amping up the thinking skills-factor, take those puzzle pieces and toss them into the air. Yep, into the air (just don’t let anyone get hit).
The surprisingly staggered array of pieces makes it more of a challenge to put back together.
7. Solve a problem.
How many problems does your child bring to you in a day? Ten? Twenty? A zillion?
She can’t find one of her Minnie Mouse socks. Her brother keeps taking her favorite doll.
These are problems that you could figure out how to solve. Or, your child could do the figuring. That’s right. Let her solve some of those daily quandaries.
After all, critical thinking doesn’t only happen in the pages of a workbook. It happens in real life!