Critical thinking has become a buzzword in education. In the past, the emphasis in classrooms has been on imparting information and content — the times tables or the capitals of the United States, for example. In recent years, however, there's been a shift toward teaching critical thinking, a skill that elevates thinking beyond memorization into the realm of analysis and logic.
Put another way, critical thinking is about knowing how to think, not what to think. Teachers use a number of techniques to help students learn critical thinking, starting as early as kindergarten and ramping up especially in 2nd grade and beyond. Below are a few of the methods educators employ; you can try them at home to help your child become a critical thinker.
- Critical thinking: Ask open-ended questions. Asking questions that don't have one right answer encourages children to respond creatively without being afraid of giving the wrong answer.
- Critical thinking: Categorize and classify. Classification plays an important role in critical thinking because it requires identification and sorting according to a rule, or set of rules, that kids must discover, understand, and apply. If you play classification games at home, be sure to follow up the activity with questions about the similarities and differences between the groups. You can sort everything from dirty laundry to Legos to produce to doll clothes to promote critical thinking.
- Critical thinking: Work in groups. In a group setting, students are exposed to the thought processes of their peers. Thus, they can begin to understand how others think and that there are multiple ways of approaching problems — not just one correct way.
- Critical thinking: Make decisions. Help your child consider pros and cons, but don't be afraid to let her make a wrong choice. Then evaluate the decision later. Ask your child, "How do you feel about your decision? What would you do differently next time?"
- Critical thinking: Find patterns. Whatever you're doing, whether it's going to the park or watching television, encourage your child to look for patterns or make connections for critcal thinking practice. For example, relate a favorite television show to a real-life situation. Or, while driving in the car, have your child identify different shapes in roads signs and in the windows and roofs of passing houses.
It might be tempting to pass off the critical thinking buzz as just another fad in education. However, most teachers disagree. It's still important for your child to know his multiplication tables, but it's just as vital for him to know how and when to use them.