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How to Help Kids Become Critical Thinkers and Problem-Solvers

by Cara Batema

According to Scholastic, critical thinking is teaching kids how to think rather than what to think. Parents often want to help their kids succeed, and, in doing so, they might give their children the answers to questions, remind them about responsibilities or not give enough opportunities for making decisions. This trend does not allow for a child to develop critical thinking or problem-solving skills, which are necessary for independence later in life. Foster these skills at home though some techniques that let your kid do some of the work for himself.

Ask open-ended questions rather than ones that have a single correct answer, as suggested by the Duke Talent Identification Program. If your child is interested in cooking, ask him what ingredients he thinks should go into dinner for that evening. The nature of open-ended questions allows kids to respond without the fear of giving an incorrect answer.

Practice categorizing and classifying with your kid. These skills are necessary to critical thinking because they require identification and sorting to a set of rules, Scholastic reports. Kids can use these rules and apply them to other scenarios.

Allow your child to fix his own mistakes. If your kid spills his cup of milk, rather than picking it up and cleaning it for him, say “Uh oh, you spilled your milk. Now what do you do?” With little or no prompting from you, your child might pick up the glass and move it further from the edge of the table so he will be less likely to knock it down.

Ask questions that give your child opportunities to make choices. Say "Do you want to wear the blue or red shirt today?” instead of just laying out the clothes for your child.

Let your child make decisions you feel might be the wrong choice; later, you can evaluate your child’s decision by asking him how he feels about his choice and what he might do differently next time. Alternatively, give your child three solutions to a problem and ask him which solution he thinks is best and why or whether he can think of any other possibilities.

Encourage your child to play with toys or computer programs that encourage thinking or problem-solving skills. Building blocks, for example, encourage creativity while addressing problems like how to get the blocks to stand up without falling down or how to make patterns.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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