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Exercises to Improve Critical Thinking Skills

By Cara Batema ; Updated June 13, 2017

According to the University of Hong Kong, critical thinking “requires thinking about thinking.” It sounds simple, but critical thinking takes years of practice to really wrap your brain around a subject and apply it to real-life situations. Parents too often focus on teaching their children facts, or what to think, rather than how to think. By practicing critical thinking skills, you teach your child how to challenge perspectives, make decisions, answer tough questions and create their own point of view.

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Parents sometimes fall into the rut of doing everything for their children, which can be things as simple as planning meals or as complex as not letting kids make their own mistakes. One way to get out of this groove is to start asking more questions.

  2. Let your child make choices. You can teach decision-making skills by asking, “Do you want to have potatoes or corn with dinner?”

  3. Encourage your child to explain an object or topic to you. Start with facts, such as something your child observes, and follow up with open-ended questions like, “Can you explain what you see?” or “What should you do next?” These kinds of questions don’t have a right or wrong answer, so your child doesn’t have to fear rejection of his answer, and he begins to think outside of the facts and look at his own beliefs.

  4. Help your child think of multiple solutions to a problem and to think critically about possible outcomes. Ask a question like, “If your brother throws a toy at you, what do you think you should do?” Your child might come up with solutions like throwing the toy back, telling an adult or requesting an apology. He can then make a decision based on what he thinks is the best solution.

  5. Evaluate decisions after they have been made. For example, you can say, “You got into trouble because you threw a toy back at your brother. Do you think that was a good thing to do? What can you do differently next time?”

  6. Encourage your child to do written exercises. After he gives an answer, ask your child to write a justification for his choice. Writing out the rationale for an answer helps your child with writing skills and the ability to communicate his reasoning. Writing exercises also encourage your child to give a response in his own words.

  7. Engage your child in a debate, so he learns how to explain his point of view or opinions and learn how to reason verbally. Your child can start his opinion by saying, “I agree/disagree because…” You can also engage in a debate where you each take a side on a given topic and “argue” your case. Try the “devil’s advocate” approach, in which you take a side you don’t necessarily agree with for the sake of engaging your child in debate.

  8. Tip

    Keep all critical thinking exercises on a developmentally appropriate level. For example, young children won't delve into a debate, but a teenager would likely enjoy the opportunity to.

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