Teaching children to think critically will help them develop a skill that will benefit them their entire lives. Here are some ways that other parents have trained their kids in this important cognitive area:
Correcting a Child’s Confusion
Recently, my 5-year-old proclaimed that she had leprosy. Naturally, I assured her she didn’t.
She retorted, “Oh, yes I do because I heard my friend say that leprosy makes your skin itch, and my skin itches, so I have leprosy.”
That is when I taught my young daughter that before repeating a new word or phrase to others, she needed to ask herself a few questions:
- Was the information meant for her?
- Where did she hear it?
- What was the context of what she’d heard?
Finally, she needed to tell Mom and Dad what she’d heard and ask us what it meant before spreading a misunderstanding to others.
My children and I made an I Wonder book. We jotted down questions about daily observations. We didn’t answer any of the questions. Instead, we wondered out loud, talking together and brainstorming possible answers. If a certain question led to serious interest and conversation, we might get books on the topic or research it online.
By wondering, we created a habit of observing, which led to analyzing. It was the first step in teaching my kids the critical-thinking process.
A few nights a week, I present my kids with simple questions or discussion topics relevant to each child’s season of life. Silly, spontaneous questions are my favorite, but we also talk about more serious topics.
- If a raccoon (my son’s favorite animal) could be a schoolteacher, what subjects would it teach?
- If you could ask the president one question, what would it be?
These questions trigger imaginative answers based on my kids’ knowledge, developing worldview and problem-solving skills. They also create opportunities for the kids to analyze each other’s answers and offer additional insight. But we don’t allow harsh criticism. Our dinner-table discussions come with an Ephesians 4:29 rule: Each family member must avoid “unwholesome talk,” only making comments that build others up and help the solutions being discussed.
Ways to Cultivate Discerning Readers
Here is how I help my kids select good reading material:
- I model healthy choices in what I stockpile on my nightstand.
- Casually, I recommend worthwhile reads. I explain what I liked — interesting plot, deftly drawn characters, a redemptive theme.
- Sharing a Kindle account helps me keep tabs on what’s being downloaded. And it’s a great method for sharing the books I find worthwhile.
- When a movie is based on a book (and is acceptable to see), we talk about the merits of characters’ actions. Then I encourage my children to read the book.
- I point out how, or even if, a book’s content exemplifies a biblical worldview.
—Jane Johnson Struck
Books and Critical Thinking
Our children will eventually come to understand that not everyone in our communities, our country or the world share our beliefs. There will be times when kids read opinions that directly contradict what they’ve learned at home and in church.
As a parent, you can help your child build a strong foundation in critical-reading skills. And you can help him or her examine exactly what messages are being communicated:
- Inform your child about different beliefs. Explain that a worldview is behind everything he reads. It requires careful thought to decide whether the source is trustworthy.
- Point out loaded expressions and terminology. Ask your child, “How can words sway our thinking, either positively or negatively?”
- Encourage your child to discuss ideas she’s read. The time spent contemplating different beliefs with discernment will strengthen and develop your child’s faith.