Explaining critical thinking to my preschooler by using fancy words and a vocabulary way out of his reach would only cause us both to tear our hair out.
And I might even have a tantrum.
After all, the definition of critical thinking can be complicated for even an adult to understand: It has to do with the process of observing, applying and evaluating information.
In other words, critical thinking is how you learn from interpreting and experiencing the world around you.
Although the terminology seems daunting at first, there are some simple techniques you can use to explain critical thinking to your kiddo who needs these abilities to interpret this fast-paced world.
As a teacher, mother, and researcher, I have learned a few ways to trick your tyke into understanding and practicing critical thinking skills.
So if you’ve been wondering how to explain critical thinking to a child, here are a few techniques that might keep you both sane.
Encourage free play
We live in an age with so many distractions that sometimes we forget how important it is for our kids just to play.
When a child plays on her own, she will face some challenges that she will have to overcome.
For example, my son remains obsessed with his toy cars and trains. Sometimes a wheel falls off, or the train doesn’t connect right away, and that little boy gets angrier than a hungry rhino.
He’ll expect me to fix it immediately, but most of the time (we all have our moments of giving in, and I am no saint), I tell him that this is his independent playtime, and he must try to figure it out on his own.
I’m not trying to be harsh, but my son would have me putting those trains together every two seconds if I didn’t set some boundaries.
Sorry kiddo, but Mommy has some other things to do.
If he still struggles after a couple of attempts, then I will show him how to complete the task, then tell him to try again next time.
Free play provides one example of how to explain critical thinking to a child by problem-solving a real-life conflict.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also set up real-life scenarios. These scenarios can be as basic as playing the old-school version of house.
Your child can even retrieve some pots and pans, and in addition to banging on them, pretend to be a cook.
Your kid could also bust out that fake toolset that grandma got him for Christmas.
For more about this topic, check out one of my other posts: 8 Critical Thinking Activities for Preschoolers that Encourage Imagination.
During play, your child will discover real-life skills that are needed to identify a problem, resolve a conflict, and take action.
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Hypothesize: ask questions and brainstorm possibilities
Hypothesize is a big word, but if we break it down, this term just involves asking questions and brainstorming possibilities.
I find myself doing this with my daredevil son daily, mostly by accident: What would happen if you climbed up then stood on that tall stool?
How will you feel after eating a whole bag of chips?
After I ask these questions, my son does take a second to think about the answers.
Does he always come up with the right conclusion? No. But that’s okay. He’s at least evaluating the situation and learning from his own unique experiences.
You can hypothesize with your child in a way that works for you.
Maybe your kid loves sports: You could ask her what would happen if you kicked the ball hard against the tree? What would happen if you change your batting stance? And so on.
Asking questions and forming hypotheses are simple ways to explain critical thinking to a child.
Think about thinking – get down with metacognition
When I taught, the word metacognition was thrown around a lot during professional development classes.
Don’t worry – all this term means is thinking about thinking.
Parents and children alike are usually running around like crazy chickens with their heads cut off.
We cram in all these activities, and we’re on a mission to do so much. So often, we rarely stop and think about thinking.
Pick a subject – any subject – and you can use metacognition.
For this example, let’s say your child is learning his ABCs. Talk to him about strategies that may work to fulfill that goal.
Perhaps you ask Little Johnny what helps you to remember your ABCs? And he responds, “I love the song.”
He might also say that he likes learning chunks of the song at a time because he can only remember a few letters at a time.
Or, as my son told me, read the book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom over and over and over again.
Bless his heart, and if only there were more hours in a day.
Asking your child about learning strategies that work for your child offers insights that are valuable for both of you.
Plus, there have been studies on metacognition that proves that when you think about thinking, you retain more information. Visit this site for more details on this concept.
Explaining critical thinking to a preschooler and a 12-year-old is very different because they both have different interests and unique mental capacities.
But no matter what their age, they can always learn something from play, hypothesizing, and thinking about thinking.