Log in to:
Printer Friendly

Problem Solving Activities: How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills in Kids

Problem solving activities for developing critical thinking skills in kids Learning to think critically may be one of the most important skills that today's children will need for the future. Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making, includes critical thinking on her list of the seven essential life skills needed by every child. In today’s global and rapidly changing world, children need to be able to do much more than repeat a list of facts; they need to be critical thinkers who can make sense of information, analyze, compare, contrast, make inferences, and generate higher order thinking skills.
 

Exercises to Improve Your Child's Critical Thinking Skills

There is no one strategy to support and teach your child how to think critically. As a parent, your role may sometimes be to ask open-ended questions to guide the thinking process. In other cases, it may be more appropriate to allow your child to experiment and refine her theories on what causes things to happen. Guiding your child’s critical thinking process can have a positive an impact on her problem solving skills.

Here are some tips and ideas to help children build a foundation for critical thinking:
  • Provide opportunities for play
  • Pause and wait
  • Don't intervene immediately
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Help children develop hypotheses
  • Encourage critical thinking in new and different ways

Provide opportunities for play. Testing how things work informally is crucial to developing critical thinking. It is during play that children explore cause and effect. What happens if I drop a spoon over and over again off the side of a high chair tray or roll two marbles down a chute at the same time? How can I get the block to balance on the top of this tower? By providing indoor and outdoor space for playing, along with time for pretend play, you provide open-ended opportunities for your child to try something and see the reaction; and then to try something else and see if he can create a different reaction. These hands-on experiences provide an integral foundation for later abstract critical thinking.

Pause and wait. Offering your child ample time to think, attempt a task, or generate a response is critical, but not necessarily easy to do. Try counting (silently) to 60 while your child is thinking, before intervening or speaking. This gives your child a chance to reflect on her response and perhaps refine, rather than responding with her very first gut reaction.  

Don't intervene immediately. Instead, try counting to 120, or even longer, and observe what your child is doing before stepping in. As challenging as it may be, avoid completing or doing the task for your child. For younger children, patiently readjusting and maneuvering to grasp a toy on their own encourages continued problem solving and develops executive functioning skills. For older children, ask critical thinking questions and provide enough information so they don't get frustrated, but not so much that you solve the problem for them. 

Ask open-ended questions. Rather than automatically giving answers to the questions your child raises, help him think critically by asking questions in return: "What ideas do you have? What do you think is happening here?" Respect his responses whether you view them as correct or not. You could say, "That is interesting. Tell me why you think that." Use phrases like "I am interested to hear your thinking about this."  "How would you solve this problem?"  "Where do you think we might find more information to solve this problem?"

Help children develop hypotheses. Taking a moment to form hypotheses during play is a critical thinking exercise that helps develop skills. Try asking your child, "If we do this, what do you think will happen?" or "Let's predict what we think will happen next."

Encourage thinking in new and different ways. By allowing children to think differently, you're helping them hone their creative problem solving skills. Ask questions like, "What other ideas could we try?" or encourage your child to generate options by saying, "Let’s think of all the possible solutions."

Of course, there are situations where you as a parent need to step in. At these times, it is helpful to model your own critical thinking. As you work through a decision making process, verbalize what is happening inside your mind. Children learn from observing how you think. Taking time to allow your child to navigate problems is integral to developing your child's critical thinking skills in the long run.

More on This Topic

  • Get ideas for enhancing the way your children engage with science, technology, engineering, and math.
  • Critical thinking often happens when children have time to practice making choices, plan their time, or create from nothing. Learn how you can increase free time opportunities for your kids.
  • Learn about the brain building basics and discover activities that help foster brain development in your infant, toddler, preschooler, and pre-kindergartner.
© 2017 Bright Horizons Family Solutions LLC All Rights Reserved