I make sure to do these three things frequently with my children to raise them to think critically.
“Can you tell me what program you use for the elementary story?” a friend texted me recently.
As a home educator, I’m used to answering these kinds of questions. Usually I get a quick response. Trial and error over the years has helped me discover several academic programs that my children and I all really love.
But not this time. History has been a surprisingly difficult topic to pin down, perhaps because of its importance to our family.
My husband was a history student at university and we share a somewhat obsessive interest in the subject. Due to our passion for history and our meticulous standards of teaching the subject, we have never found a history program that we truly love.
So I answered frankly to my friend: “I have never found a perfect history program. They all have their flaws and we choose from several of them, and complement them with great picture books and living books.
But I was quick to reassure her that it’s not really a bad thing. We use this blended approach to studying history to teach our children something even more important: critical thinking.
“We teach our kids to think about who is writing the book and why, and what is their angle that would lead them to say it that way,” I explained to my friend.
The conversation got me thinking about all the other ways I teach my kids to be critical thinkers. This is something incredibly important to me, especially at a time when it seems so common for people to accept problematic posts uncritically.
Here are three things I regularly do with my children to train them to be critical thinkers.
1I ask my children: “Who is the person who did this by trying to make us think or do?” »
When we see advertisements or commercials, or read certain books that have an obvious inclination, I pause and remind my kids that someone created this content and they did it for a reason.
“What do they want you to think after watching or reading this?” I ask and wait for their answers.
Maybe the content creator is trying to get you to buy a product or vote for a candidate. It may be a product we own, or a candidate we support, but I still want them to understand where it came from. Even though we agree and support the message, I want my kids to think about it critically.
I strive to make my children aware that there is always someone behind the messages they see. This awareness means they can identify that person’s goal and intent, and choose whether or not to accept it.
Honestly, this mindset is the essence of critical thinking.
2Talk to them about solving their own problems collaboratively
I have written before about how I use a “subsidiarity approach” to encourage my children to problem solve together.
It turns out that teaching children to work together to resolve their conflicts is an amazing way to raise critical thinkers. They learn to see both sides of a problem and then work together to find a solution that both parties can accept.
Need a script? I used to say something like, “There’s only one pink marker, and two kids both want to use it?” This is a really tricky problem! But I know you two are really good at solving problems. What can we do to solve this problem? I’m going to hold the marker while we listen to the ideas for solutions that you each have. »
Then I put the marker back when they have managed to come up with a solution that both children can happily accept.
3Answer their questions with Socratic questioning
There is a lot to be said for the Socratic methodand you can use it even with very young children.
Children love to ask “Why?” I very often answer my children by asking them the question: “Why do you think? Then I help them find the answer through thoughtful questions.
Asking them their own questions helps children share their relevant knowledge so that they examine their reasoning and understand the topic more deeply. It is also a way to develop logical and reasoning skills.
These are some of my favorite ways to elevate critical thinkers, and so far it seems to work. My kids often point out the subtle messages they see in books and advertisements, and they’ve also taken this thoughtful attitude to studying history. They point out who wrote certain books and why they might have described things the way they did.
I’m still looking for the perfect history curriculum, but so far our pick and choose method is working well. And we really appreciate all the books we read and the interesting conversations we have because of it!