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Critical Thinking

Posted on 24 November 2017

Enhance your child’s educational development with critical thinking skills

Fake news, email scams, a workplace dominated by artificial intelligence these are just some of the reasons we need to ensure our children can think for themselves, with a healthy critical mindset. The great news is that children are natural born, creative thinkers, and critical thinking is a skill that we can all learn. We’ve rounded up the latest ideas and resources from educational experts to help develop this basic life skill.

 

What is critical thinking and why do our children need it?

In essence, it’s the ability to observe, experience and analyse information in order to establish its integrity.  While critical thinking can be applied to all walks of life, its application to social media is a hot topic. Our children learn what is going on in the world primarily through social media.  While this enables them to access stories as they unfold, if it hasn’t passed through an independent, editorial filter, such as the BBC, they can get sucked into believing something that is propaganda or fake news.

In fact, researchers at Stanford University found that children of all ages from primary through to secondary school had serious trouble judging the credibility of information online. 

Meanwhile outside the world of media, we can set our children up for success in the classroom, exam hall, and beyond by teaching them to identify inconsistencies in reasoning, to understand connections between ideas, build arguments and approach problems systematically.  Doing so will help them become better learners, able to categorise information quickly and efficiently, and explain clearly how they’ve arrived at a particular conclusion, rather than memorise answers.

 

Is critical thinking taught at school?

The National Curriculum is beginning to recognise the importance of thinking as a basis for children’s learning and some schools are buying in programmes such as Philosophy For Children (P4C) as a tool to stimulate thinking skills across all lessons. As with every life skill the more you can practice it with your child at home the more proficient and confident they become at it.

 

It’s never too early to start

Young children learn through play and hands-on-experimentation.  You don’t need to buy expensive toys, everyday household items like pots and pans, measuring jugs, clothes pegs, marbles, the bath, are ideal for testing cause and effect, experimenting and pretend play.

Step back and give your child the space and time to experiment by themselves without adult intervention. The only way they’ll master a task is by trying and trying again.  Similarly they need space to reflect and come up with questions that interest them. Make learning fun with online critical thinking resources, games, designated children’s TV programmes, or activities in child-friendly publications. Parents make great role models so don’t forget to talk through your own decision-making processes.

 

For older children

Help your child to become an intelligent reader, rather than a passive consumer of news.  Point them in the direction of reliable news sources for their age group and provide practical tips for spotting ‘fake news’.

Help to develop their critical reasoning by asking open-ended questions, such as, should you forgive others? Is it better to do what you think is right or to follow the rules? Is it worth risking your life for a friend? Is the mind more powerful than reality? Is a human life more valuable than a rat’s? Can you have too much power? Agree with your child that throughout the discussion it’s OK to, change your mind, disagree so long as you are respectful, everyone’s ideas are valued.  

For a more academic approach, there are plenty of books, documentaries, games and comprehension exercises. And don’t forget the numbers! Maths word challenges based around everyday problems will work wonders for analytical thinking. And putting figures into context affords a deeper understanding of what’s going on in the world – £1million might sound like a lot of money to a teenager, but in wider socio-economic terms it may mean very little.

Finally, as with most skills parents can encourage children of all ages to practice critical thinking by, expecting it, requiring them to defend their opinions and understand how they arrived at the answer.  Model it.  Recognise when your child is doing it and reward with praise.