Teaching Our Kids Critical Thinking Skills

Teaching our kids critical thinking skills is the crux of our homeschool approach, whether we are doing a project-based initiative or a child-led curriculum, even when we unschool completely, we maintain that focus on teaching critical thinking to our children. To us, it’s one of the most important skills we can instill upon them. Critical thinking will open up their minds and their world.

the importance of critical thinking skills in a child's education

Sadly, it’s a skill that many people lack or can’t find the courage to voice. Likely from years of being bogged down with a “listen to me,” “repeat after me,” “don’t question my authority” top-down approach to their schooling. The standard public school agenda is not to teach children critical thinking skills, how to ask questions, how to be contrarians. If you’re child is born with an innate curiosity, don’t worry. That will quickly be extinguished.

What Happens When We Don’t Teach Our Kids Critical Thinking Skills?

The problem with that, is that when these children get to the real world, they cannot solve a problem to save their life. Now, this might be a math problem, which they’ve had years of education in. This might be business problem, to which they can’t fathom a revolution. I’ve had many co-workers look at me with their arms up in the air, they don’t know how to figure it out. They do not have the critical thinking skills to apply the knowledge that they learned from worksheets and multiple choice tests to real life scenarios.

what happens if we don't teach our children critical thinking skills?

How To Teach Kids Critical Thinking Skills

You see, it’s not about the AMOUNT of work we require our children to do, it’s about the APPLICATION of that work. How can we apply that to a real life scenario? How would we use this tool when we are out in the real world?

I recently picked up a a book “What Your Third Grader Needs to Know, Fundamentals of a Good Third-Grade Education.” Here in Colorado, homeschoolers do standardized testing in third grade and I want to make sure that we are covering all of the basic knowledge he should know at this age. Just reading the introduction made me pause, and almost laugh out loud. This is what it said:

The first step of parents and teachers who are committed to reform is to be skeptical about oversimplified slogans like “critical thinking” and “learning to learn”

Oh really? “critical-thinking” is a slogan that we should be skeptical of? And who would want to teach their children to “learn to learn”? Let’s just teach them to memorize instead. That’s way easier! Print out those worksheets people! Get those standardized tests going. Make sure everyone is learning and regurgitating the exact same information.

“The child, not the academic subject, is the true focus of education”, “What children learn is not important, rather, we must teach students to learn how to learn”, “Do not impose knowledge on children before they are ready to received it,” “Do not bog children down in the mere facts but rather, teach critical-thinking skills.”

I’m pretty sure that each one of these sentences could be a title of one of my blog posts. I mean, isn’t this what we want our children to strive for? To be leaders, to value critical thinking skills, to problem solve and fix things. Isn’t that how we are going to move our world forward? Without that skill, who is going to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels? Who is going to shake-up an industry? Who is going to discover the next great discovery? The book continues by saying:

Who has not heard these sentiments, so admirable, and humane, and – up to a point so true? But these positive sentiments in favor of “thinking skills” and “higher understanding” have been turned into negative sentiments against the teaching of important knowledge…

What? Why can’t the two go hand in hand? Are we unable to teach important knowledge and critical thinking skills at the same time? Is that so impossible? And why can’t “important knowledge” mean different things to different people? What’s important to me, might not be important to you. And certainly, what is important to a middle-aged teacher will be vastly different than what is important to an 8-year-old student.

Many parents and teachers have come to the conclusion that elementary education must strike a better balance between the development of the whole child and the more limited but fundamental duty of the school to ensure all children master a core knowledge and skills essential to their competence as learners in later grades.

Is that what we are teaching them? To be competent in later grades? What about beyond that? What about when they graduate? Then, will they just go work in a mundane job where their boss tells them what to do all day? And if they run into a problem, what should they do? Just sit there. No one has been taught how to solve problems. If we really live in this world, in the world that the book is suggesting, then when there is a problem, the world will stop. Innovation will cease.

intentional homeschooling integrates critical thinking skills

That is not the world that I want my children to live in

My children learn new concepts everyday, and usually by their own volition. My job, as an educator, is to support them as they explore these concepts. Ask questions, apply the concept to real life, create scenarios and problem-solve. I listen to their ideas and suggest my own. I follow the child’s lead. It might take us a little longer to explore a concept, but for us, it’s not about how much we are learning, it’s about a true gasp of the application of the concept in a way that helps our minds retain that information.

That’s the basis of child-led learning. It goes against standard education principles. It turns the public schools system on its head. We ask the children – what do you want to do today? Oh you want to fly paper airplanes? Okay. What happens if we fly two and one has the nose cut off? What happens if we put a weight on one? What if we measure the distance they fly and chart it out? Why do you think one went further than the others? We make our children “think critically”, ask questions, figure things out. We integrate concepts into interests. We create an environment for our children to love learning. We focus on “critical thinking skills” and “higher understanding”. We are the other ones. The weird ones who listen to our children. The ones who approach educations democratically.

critical thinkings skills involve a child led learning approach

Maybe my child will grow up to be a mechanic or a train conductor or a scientist or an engineer. Whatever profession they choose, it will be of their decision. They have valuable critical thinking skills in their tool belt, a firm grasp of their interests and confidence in their knowledge and abilities. They will have the skills to overcome obstacles, fix things, make things, figure things out. They will be the leaders that help move our world forward in a positive direction and that is something to celebrate.


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