As I watch a gruesome gob of snot emerge from my son’s nose, I suppress the urge to shout, “Tissue! Now!”
It’s hard to believe that this adorable preschooler — with that green goo now barreling down his face — is capable of deep, meaningful thinking.
Ok, this is not his best moment — I get that.
At his best, my little guy is capable of evaluating, making connections, simplifying and inventing — let me focus on that, and not the green guck threatening to take over his face.
Really, don’t let those adorably childish mugs fool you; your kids are ready to unleash a trove of mental tools capable of empowering them for life!
Following is a parent’s guide to preschool critical thinking skills. Read on to gift your little one with some impressive abilities.
If we as parents play our cards right, not only will our spitting images be capable of keeping themselves tidy (we can sincerely hope), but they will also be capable of critical thinking, ably tackling whatever comes their way.
Caveat: don’t think your little one will happen upon these overnight. These all require some habit making for your little one, and a bit of paradigm shifting for you.
1. Praise effort not ability
Making a critical thinking machine out of an energized (and at times unfocused) little person may seem like quite a challenge, so let’s begin by laying a strong foundation.
Start by first praising your child’s hard work.
The next time he shoves a particularly glowing art masterpiece two inches from your face, take a moment to really examine what kind of work and thought went into making it.
When you say, “Whoa, I can see some deliberate color patterns there and there — you must have given that a lot of thought.”, it considers the effort that went into making his artwork.
When you say, “That’s beautiful — you’re such an amazing artist!”, the praise glows hot for a second and quickly fades away, with no meaningful takeaway for your child. This is especially the case when your little guy realizes you dole out identical praise to his siblings.
The goal is to get your child to consider his effort when tackling anything from a painting, to building a block tower to tying his shoes.
Yeah, the finished product is important, but when you put value on effort, that lifelong skill is being reinforced. After all, it takes grit (effort all grown up) to come up with groundbreaking ideas.
2. Make educated guesses about stuff
Teach your child about the value of making educated guesses in everyday life, and let them know that you don’t have all the answers.
Preface an invitation to hypothesize by saying, “I wonder why?” during a familiar context.
It’s easy for your child to categorize critical thinking as something uniquely suited for adults; after all, it seems like it’s only you that knows everything.
When it’s time to tidy up, ask your child, “I wonder what would be a faster or easier way to do this?”
You don’t have to work very hard to make this happen — preschoolers are nimble “hypothesis” machines, churning out theories at the most insignificant-seeming things
To see the value in this type of critical thinking skill, just glance around the room and consider how many products or inventions were the results of someone hypothesizing, asking “I wonder if/why?”
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3. Have them restate and explain
Ask your child to tell you about her day at school and you’ll be left in silence.
Ask your child to tell you how her favorite game works or what her favorite TV show is about and you’ll have her talking for days.
Yeah, I know the talking goes on for hours once they get going, but guess what? They are not only exercising some key language skills, but they are also learning to analyze their worlds.
The skill of restating and explaining enhances critical thinking as it forces children to synthesize what they know in order to allow somebody to see and learn from their perspective.
4. Make connections
Those sprightly preschool brains connect dots where many adults fail to see anything at all. Capitalize on this naturally occurring critical thinking skill now!
One day, after a particularly exhausting Saturday afternoon, I sat my kid down in front of the TV for a few hours minutes. Later that same day, as we sat for dinner, he excitedly proclaimed something about making an acute angle with his fork and knife.
At that point I was positive I was burnt out. No way this kid is citing the basics of geometry with eating utensils!
My husband later explained that as he was passively listening (read: eagerly enjoying) the show my son was watching, he heard mention of angle types. That little guy made a connection that allowed him to apply a quick fact to something real and useful.
Now, while this simple incident may not point to him being the next John Nash, the connection is significant enough. Think about it, if you sat down with your child with the express purpose of teaching them about angle types, just how long would that take? And how bored would you be?
Add meaning, and help build on naturally occurring connections by asking your child where and why this might be useful.
5. Encourage Evaluating
Children face a barrage of information, false facts and the efforts of shrewd marketing campaigns (targeted at children and aimed at destroying their parents’ life savings) on a daily basis.
It’s easy to take everything as true until you consider that it’s often not.
Teach your child the critical thinking skill of evaluating new information.
Have them consider if what they are seeing is true or even important to them. Pause the image or stop at the ad and point to the fine print. Who is sending them this message?
Getting your child to consider the purpose of pictures and messages will make them astute adults, capable of sifting through noise to find exactly what is relevant to them.
Consider that being the most “informed” generation is actually more of a burden than a gift.
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome to have everything at your fingertips, but it’s even more awesome to have the ability to know which of those things are actually useful.