by Kay Chance
Nurture Critical Thinking

crolling through social media, you stop and read a heated argument playing out right there on your phone. People are saying things they would never say face-to-face with one another.

Watching a news program as the host and guest keep talking over one another, never really listening, you finally turn it off. Is someone right simply because they are the loudest?

You may find yourself thinking that there’s a serious shortage of critical thinking today.
If you’ve ever wondered whether what you are doing with your kids makes a difference, if you’ve ever questioned your impact on the world as a homeschooling mom… then stop. You are raising up a generation of thinkers, and they are in short supply. We need them more than ever—on social media, in government, at work and home, in our churches and communities.
Developing Critical Thinking Skills
Let’s consider a few definitions. Think means to direct one’s mind toward someone or something; use one’s mind actively to form connected ideas. Critical means characterized by careful evaluation and judgment.

What do critical thinkers do?

Direct their minds. Critical thinkers focus. They aren’t distracted by side issues and tactics designed to keep them from thinking about the real issue.

Actively engage. Thinkers don’t passively read or absorb information from people or media, whether it’s of the social kind or on the news or in print. They listen, and then they ask questions to understand better. They evaluate, judge, and compare. Critical thinkers talk to other critical thinkers so they can process information better.

See connections. Because they actively engage information and people, critical thinkers begin to notice connections. They do things like recognize trends, compare responses to the same types of problems through history, evaluate motivations, and consider out-of-the box ideas.

But how do we help our children develop critical thinking skills? It’s really fairly simple and can become a part of your daily life. You don’t need a special curriculum, and you may already be doing a lot of these things in your home without even realizing it.
Teaching Critical Thinking
Begin with a strong foundation in core subjects:
The Bible. Our children need to know that there is absolute truth. And they also need to know that truth and grace go together. Help them learn how to study the Bible and learn to live it out (apply it) or simply respond to what they are learning in worship.

Math. Learning math is about more than just doing math. It helps students learn to analyze, strengthens reasoning abilities, develops perseverance, and builds logical thinking skills.

Science. Science begins with observation and requires students to experiment, sometimes with success and sometimes with failure. Understanding it at a deeper level depends on students’ ability to notice connections, ask new questions, and come up with innovative ideas.

History. You’ve probably heard a variation of the idea that “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” That seems to be a bit of a pessimistic view, though. Understanding history can not only help us not to make the same mistakes we have in the past, it can remind us of the good and the excellent—those things we can build on for our future.

Language Arts. Reading with understanding and writing and speaking with clarity—these communication skills are the foundation for being able to both think critically and express those thoughts effectively. As David McCullough states, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”

“If you’ve ever wondered whether what you are doing with your kids makes a difference, if you’ve ever questioned your impact on the world as a homeschooling mom… then stop. You are raising up a generation of thinkers”
various succulents sit on a wooden board

Activities & Ideas

Interact About Current Events
Begin by reading about a current event from a variety of sources. Variety is the key. If you don’t agree with all the sources, if you feel yourself even getting angry at times, then you’ve achieved “variety” status.

Ask questions such as:

  • What differences do you see in how this event was presented?
  • What facts were selected to tell the story? Which ones were left out?
  • What vocabulary did the author choose to use in describing the event? Was it positive or negative?
  • What was fact versus opinion in the article?
  • Did the author support their opinions with research or facts? Were their sources reliable? How do you know?
  • What do you think the author’s worldview is based on how they told the story? This will include the words they chose (for example, the phrase, “pro-choice” is very different than “pro-abortion”) and the facts or opinions they chose to share or leave out.

Remember, there is no such thing as bias-free media.

Our problem tends to be when we don’t agree with the bias. No one can think critically if they don’t know how to recognize bias and evaluate the information based on that knowledge.

Many people consume much of their news about current events through social media today.
Here’s an easy way to help your kids learn to evaluate an argument playing out online.

  1. Find a post on social media where people commenting oppose one another.
  2. Ask the following questions: What responses do you agree with and why? What responses do you disagree with and why? Do any of the responses attack a person instead of giving a sound argument?
  3. Have students write out their own “social media response” in the form of a tweet, Instagram or Facebook post, or TikTok video. No need to post it… but give them practice in the medium.
  4. Discuss why it might be a good or bad idea to interact on social media about controversial topics. What are the advantages and disadvantages to this type of communication? How can we share grace and truth?
Make Reading a Habit
It’s important for students to build up their thinking muscles. Joseph Addison said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” We agree! Reading expands our vocabulary, our ideas, and ultimately our world. It helps us appreciate beauty and confront fears. It gives us a glimpse into the way other people think and shows us how the character of a person—good or bad—can affect both people and events.

Provide ample time for individual reading and reflection. Encourage students to read age-appropriate books from a variety of perspectives and genres. Have them journal through some of their reading. They can collect favorite quotes, ask questions of the text, and grapple with ideas they encounter.

But don’t stop with individual reading! Reading aloud, coupled with discussing what you are reading, may be one of the most effective ways to help teach your children critical thinking skills.

Through reading aloud, coupled with discussion, our kids learn about:
The craft of writing. Students discover how real writers communicate. For example, students can see how the use of a good metaphor helps them picture what’s going on in a story, understand a new concept, or advance the theme of the book. In Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham uses an extended metaphor throughout the book: “sailing by ash breeze.” When a ship was becalmed, sailors would have to row with their oars, made of ash, to make progress. She uses this idea to advance a theme of hard work and perseverance throughout the novel. It’s easy to help our kids develop the ability to notice literary language, how plot and character are developed, and more, simply by pointing these things out every once in a while.

Character. Reading about the character of characters in a story—both fiction and non-fiction—gives your children a chance to see how attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors affect people and events. Ask questions like, “What was Johnny Tremain’s worst characteristic?” “How did Johnny Tremain’s pride play a role in his accident?” and “How did you see him change when he was no longer able to do what he loved?” (If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes!).

Problem solving. Characters and conflict drive the plot of most books. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, the Pevensie children discover Narnia after entering through the back of a wardrobe. How will the White Witch be defeated? Who will save Narnia? What will happen to Edmund after siding with the witch? The story is rich with metaphor, characterization, and problem solving. As you notice problems that arise as you read, write them down. Then take note of how those problems are addressed or solved in the story.

pink and indigo flowers

Take Advantage of Real Life Learning Opportunities

Whether it’s home repairs, budgeting, or meal planning—the things we do in real life require us to think. We analyze, plan, make choices, and solve problems. When we don’t know how to do something, we have to figure it out.
Choose a project for your kids to do either alongside you or on their own according to their age and abilities. Here are some ideas:
Take over the meal planning for a day, week, or month. Have them take inventory of what’s in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Using that information and a sales flyer, challenge them to create a meal plan that’s both cost effective and nutritious. Then, ask them to make a grocery list, either do the shopping or help you do it, and be responsible for the cooking (or enlisting someone to help).

Do repair, maintenance work, or a home project. Students can watch you or YouTube videos to learn how to change the oil in a vehicle, fix a leaky faucet or toilet, build a deck, or tile a backsplash. Give them the opportunity to work alongside you or do one of these things by themselves.

Create a budget. Include them in the budget you use for finances overall, or allow them to make a budget for something specific like Christmas gift giving and meals, a vacation, or homeschool expenses such as curriculum, resources, and extracurricular activities. If they are teenagers with a job, they can create their own budget that includes saving for future training, extracurricular activities, or other expenses you expect them to pay for.

Let Them Have Fun!
Children learn critical thinking skills when they play, too, no matter what their ages are.

Do puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles, logic puzzles, 3-D puzzles, tangrams—they all help students build their thinking muscles.

Play games. There are so many different types of games today—cooperative games like Pandemic or Forbidden Island, strategy games like Catan or Ticket to Ride, and puzzle type games like Blokus.

Create challenges. Give your kids creative challenges. This is especially fun to do as a group with other families. Provide the materials, then give them instructions like build an amusement park out of Legos, create a bridge between two chairs using straws and tape, or make the tallest tower you can out of blocks…

Role play. Give children various scenarios they might encounter, and ask them to act out what they might do.

Teaching critical thinking doesn’t require expensive resources, but it does require intentionality. Life presents us with ideas, facts, and opinions to consider; problems to solve; and conflicts to resolve. Teaching thinking skills can be interwoven with subjects students are already learning about, activities they are already doing, and the life they are already living—it just takes a little intentionality.

Kay Chance headshot

ay Chance homeschooled her children for fifteen years. While teaching them, she discovered a passion for writing and developing curriculum resources. She loves sharing natural learning methods and creative lesson ideas with other homeschooling parents. Kay is the co-executive editor of Homeschooling Today magazine and the author of the older extensions for the Trail Guide to Learning series. She makes her home in Texas with her husband Brian.