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Critical Thinking Problems for Kids

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

In today's world, critical thinking is a crucial part of being an active and engaged learner and thinker. This lesson will give you some problems that will help your students engage with thinking critically.

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is an approach to thought development that goes beyond surface learning, memorizing, and regurgitating facts. Critical thinking can mean analyzing things deeply. It often means taking on a perspective that does not come naturally and thinking about ideas and problems through the lens of an individual very different from yourself. Critical thinking also means refusing to shy away from understanding and addressing the bigger and more difficult issues in life; in other words, it mean engaging in conflicts and working through very challenging life puzzles. Critical thinking can mean accepting uncertainty and living with the possibility of multiple right answers.

How can you get children to begin thinking critically? There are a lot of ways to go about this! In this lesson, we will look at three specific types of critical thinking problems that can be used in elementary and middle school classrooms. Follow along with a student named Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a third grader whose teachers are really focusing on helping him develop critical thinking skills.

Optical Illusions and Other Perspective Taking Puzzles

When Jeremiah gets to school in the morning, his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Popper, almost always has some sort of morning work waiting for him. Lately, Jeremiah has noticed that there are often optical illusions for him to look at. He puzzles over them with his classmates at his collaborative worktable. They talk about what they see in various images, why there is an illusion there, and why their instincts might be different from one another's. Optical illusions can seem like fun and games, but they are actually an incredible way to promote critical thinking and dialogue.

Jeremiah and his friends spend some time one morning looking at the picture below:

How might this image promote critical thinking?
optical illusion

They talk about whether they see a young woman or an old lady in the picture. At first Jeremiah only sees a young woman, but his friend Cristina shows him how to find the old lady in the same picture. By talking this through, Jeremiah and Cristina start to understand each other's perspectives on a very concrete level. Over time, exercises like this will help them appreciate each other's perspectives on bigger topics. Optical illusions are fun for children, and they also challenge the assumption that everyone will see things in the same way. Jeremiah feels like a stronger person from having to do exercises like these each morning.

Taking on Big Issues

Jeremiah has noticed that recess is a time when children in his class often get into conflicts. This happened in second grade as well, but his teacher usually handled those conflicts. This year, however, Mrs. Popper sets aside some time after difficult recesses for the class to process conflict situations together. Students who got into arguments talk about what happened, and the whole class gets the chance to weigh in and figure out solutions or stay with the challenges.

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