if we want our children to thrive in this world, we need to teach them how to think.

                                                                                                                                                 – Brian Oshiro

Critical thinking is a 21st century essential. How can we encourage kids to think critically from an early age? In his TED talk, educator and teacher trainer, Brian Oshiro emphasized the importance of critical thinking as a means to readily absorb new information and respond to complex problems.

He says, “Adults have to deal with questions that are a lot more complicated than those found on a multiple-choice test. We need to give students an opportunity to grapple with questions that don’t necessarily have one correct answer. This is more realistic of the types of situations that they’re likely to face when they get outside the classroom.”

We agree! In a world plagued with misinformation and manipulative narratives, the need for critical thinkers is more prevalent than ever.

But how can we help our children build a critical thinking mentality from an early age? it’s actually easy. We just do what children love to do most. Ask questions!

Here are 4 questions you can ask your child and turn them into something actionable.

1. More than the “What”, focus on the “How” and “Why”

Let’s go back to our own school days real quick. Do you remember how your teacher would write the main topic of discussion for the day on the board? Before they taught you about it, your teacher would ask the class what they know about it.

Here’s why a question like, “What are the causes of pollution?” might actually be detrimental to your child’s critical thinking skills. Firstly, this is a question that can easily be answered using a quick Google search. Secondly, and more importantly, such questions simplify a complex issue in the eyes of your child and can give them a false sense of understanding. However, it’s likely they only know about the topic very superficially.

Also Read: The Surprising Correlation Between English Skills and Success in STEM

Instead, ask your child, “How does <insert a concept here> cause pollution?” and “Why is that important?” These types of questions force your child to go beyond that quick Google search. To answer, they’ll really need to think about what they already know as well as research to fill in their inevitable blanks.

You can encourage critical thinking in your child by associating these big concept questions with their personal circumstances. For example, you might ask your child “How does pollution affect their daily walk to school?” or “Why your local government fines people who litter?”

Asking them leading questions like these can help them connect their knowledge and ideas on a particular subject to their day-to-day lives.

2. Ask for Evidence

Don’t let your child make blanket statements without evidence! When they answer a particular question, ask them how they know. You’ll be teaching them something incredibly important—a healthy skepticism.

By prompting them for evidence, you are ensuring your child does not blindly accept any information without proper facts backing them up. It also forces your child to evaluate whether their sources were reliable or not.

3. Now, Ask Them About Other Perspectives

Sometimes, it is hard to consider that the other side’s perspective could be worth understanding. It might even be uncomfortable or hurtful. However, critical thinkers need to be creative problem-solvers, too!

To do that, your child must expand their worldview to include the people they disagree with or have trouble empathizing with or connecting with. You can help them by asking them questions like, “How does pollution affect people living in <insert a country of your choice>? or “Why do you think some politicians do not consider pollution to be a problem?”

Also Read: The Shocking Truth about Children Who Read Science Fiction

4. Finally, Prompt Them for Solutions

Make sure to frame your question within a particular context. You will want your child to offer specific, implementable solutions so you will need to ask a focused question as well. For example, you can ask your child, “How do we address and solve <insert cause> of pollution?” Help them approach the problem from a variety of perspectives – scientifically, financially, politically, and individually.

When your child comes up with an answer to this question, they are consolidating their knowledge and thinking outside of the box!

Making Your Child’s Critical Thinking Actionable

Although you do not need to be an expert in whatever subject you are prompting your child on, it does help when your child gets stuck or discouraged. This activity is to help them think for themselves and understand concepts by learning piece by piece. However, in the real world, no one is expected to learn without guidance from others who know more than us.

Help your child develop critical reasoning skills and see their solutions in action by connecting them with an expert in the subject. Find out more here.

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Posted by Irfhana Zakir Hussain

Irfhana Zakir Hussain is an undergraduate student in Computer Science and Engineering with Big Data Analytics. A lover of both STEM and humanities, she combines the two by writing analytical pieces on essential topics in education. In 2016, she was one of 15 students worldwide selected to speak at the inaugural TED-Ed Weekend. There, Irfhana navigated the complex issue of solving the effects of racism and intersectionality on educational opportunities.

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