Encourage Critical Thinking in Young Children

Encouraging critical thinking skills isn’t a classroom strategy that should wait until adolescence. Current research in early childhood development infers that critical thinking should be explicitly taught to young children starting at a very early age.  Even with the belief that critical thinking should be encouraged in the early childhood classroom, many educators do not know what critical thinking looks like for young children.

Critical thinking is often confused with abstract thinking.  Abstract thinking is the ability to think about objects and ideas that are not present in a physical way.  Critical thinking is about the processes of gathering information through observations and experiences, and then using that information to think and reason through a problem in a thoughtful manner (Marigliano and Russo, 2011).

Critical thinking is important in making thoughtful decisions throughout life. It is needed to make good judgments about everything from friendships to careers.  Some essential components of critical thinking include:

  • Identifying a problem exists
  • Finding possible solutions to the problem
  • Making predictions about the results of the problem
  • Testing predictions and solutions
  • Establishing beliefs based on experiences and facts

Early childhood educators can foster the development of critical thinking with children in their classrooms. Educational games and activities are important for encouraging critical thinking, but children really need modeling and examples of critical thinking from the adults in their lives. Below are some tips to explicitly teach and foster critical thinking in your classroom:

    • Encourage questions – Children naturally ask questions about many things. Encouraging them to continue to question rationale and solutions to problems feeds their natural sense of curiosity.  The questions they ask will grow into evaluations of their own judgement by thinking about their own thought process.
    • Ponder all types of problems – While finding solutions to academic problems (ie. Science experiments and inquires) promotes critical thinking skills, children should also consider problems that exist outside of an academic lesson. Reflecting on problems that arise during other moments in the day, such as sharing toys or dividing snacks, helps children to think critically in everyday situations.
    • Consider many alternatives – Encourage children to think about alternative solutions to a problem. There isn’t always one way to solve a problem.  Children that consider alternatives develop open-mindedness and adapt well to difficult situations and problems.

Critical thinking is a process that children can practice very early. With the tips above, your children will become great problem-solvers and use critical thinking to analyze and evaluate their world!

Marigliano, Michelle L. and Michele J. Russo. 2011. Building bodies, building minds: Foster preschoolers’ critical thinking and problem solving through movement. Young Children, 66 (5), 44-49.