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A Critical Thinking Method That Helps Children Think Big

By Lydia Scaltsas

Founder LS Tuition and Private Tutor

Creative, non-judgemental, free-thinking — three words we’d use to describe our Critical Thinking space at Lydia’s Tuition.

And our learners love it too.

“It feels good when I solve the problem,” said one KS1 pupil.

Critical thinking and philosophy aren’t exclusively for university students. Everyone can benefit from pondering life’s great questions, but especially children. Their natural curiosity and eagerness to learn about the world means they question everything — even why someone gets to tell them what to do!

This questioning ability is vital in developing critical thinking skills which help children solve problems effectively as adults. It’s a key part of our holistic education programme at LS Tuition, helping children form their identities and listen from other perspectives.

Children are fearless thinkers! In a non-judgemental classroom that nurtures critical thinking and values their opinion, children often give surprisingly deep and thought-provoking answers.

Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking

What are critical thinking skills?

We use critical thinking skills every time we evaluate a situation or think through a problem.

Critical thinking involves mental, cognitive, and strategic processes.

This includes skills like:

  • Evaluating

  • Predicting

  • Theorising

  • Recalling from memory

  • Thought organisation

Everyone can think critically but it comes more easily to some than others. In most cases, removing barriers to critical thought can help learners evaluate and problem-solve independently.

Typical barriers to critical thinking include:

  • Reluctance to critique the ‘status quo’. This can result from a strict upbringing or anxiety regarding change. A fear of rejection or being wrong can also be at the root of critiquing cultural or societal norms

  • Lack of detailed knowledge. Sometimes the resistance to critique simply comes from lack of knowledge about a given subject. However, a low-stress environment where there are no wrong answers encourages learners to ask questions and get clarity on subjects they’re unfamiliar with

  • Fear of getting the answer ‘wrong’. Often the pressure to perform, achieve top marks, and get the answer right can inhibit the questioning process

  • Emotional dysregulation. Intense feelings can cloud our ability to think clearly. That’s why learning to regulate emotions is a key part of our holistic education programme

Effective critical thinking comes with practice and time. In a nurturing environment that encourages critical thought, children will naturally develop their ability to process information, reach conclusions independently, form personal opinions, and make decisions.

The benefits of critical thinking

  1. Encourages thoughtful analysis

The ability to analyse information carefully is crucial. Typically, analysis follows three main steps of examining, understanding, then sharing information.

Our Critical Thinking Activity encourages children to ask questions, recognise patterns, and question ideas to develop robust analytical skills.

  1. Improved communication skills

The benefit of good communication skills can’t be overstated. Clear communication is a tremendous boon in school, the workplace, and life generally. From conflict resolution to problem-solving, life becomes easier when ideas are communicated clearly and effectively.

  1. Enhanced creativity

Creativity and critical thought are often seen as opposites — but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Creativity allows for flexibility of thought, thinking outside the box, and the curiosity to ask questions. Equally, you don’t have to be artistic in the traditional sense to use your imagination.

  1. It’s collaborative

Sometimes the best questions are the ones no one knows the answer to. It’s an opportunity for the teacher to be open and say, “Hm, I’m not sure. What do you think?”

Showing young learners that an idea is open to interpretation inspires them to start a discussion, opens worlds of possibility, and shows children that their opinions are valued.

When children’s ideas are taken seriously, they’re more likely to state an opinion. Giving a considered opinion is a crucial skill because opinions create change and new ideas.

  1. Promotes open-mindedness

Why is it important to be open-minded when thinking critically? Put simply, we all have ‘blind spots’. Forming judgements or preconceived notions about a person or situation inhibits our ability to assess objectively. Keeping an open mind allows us to evaluate information without bias, creating more accurate and effective solutions.

  1. Boosts self-esteem and helps children form their identity

Critical thinking can be self-reflective, too. Skills like assessing, evaluating, and problem solving can be used to form positive conclusions about their identity and feelings — an incredibly useful skill. Critical thought develops empathy for others and compassion for yourself which helps to regulate emotions, reduce negative thought patterns, and boost self-esteem.

  1. Creates powerful problem solvers

Last but by no means least is problem-solving. We’ve spoken before about the importance of developing problem-solving skills early. Key problem-solving skills are paying attention to details, making decisions unassisted, spotting patterns, evaluating a situation without bias, and using initiative to reach effective solutions. Superpowers in our opinion!

Sample questions from our classroom

Every week our Critical Thinking Activity poses a new question for learners to ponder. The aim is to generate discussion and develop the skills listed above.

Here are some sample questions:

  • Which Hogwarts house would you be sorted into and why?

  • What makes you different?

  • Who are your friends?

  • Can computers think?

We ponder the questions as a group and encourage the children to write their answers on the whiteboard. The variety of responses to the same question lets children see that it’s ok to have a different opinion from their classmates or teacher — and that there are no right or wrong answers.

For example, we had wonderful responses to the question “What makes you different?”:

“I am tall.”“I am good at puzzles.”

“I was born in a car.”

Focussing on, and celebrating what makes us different helps children form their unique identities and understand others’ perspectives.

By choosing thought-provoking and entertaining questions, children sharpen their critical thinking skills and learn the importance of reasoning.

Critical thinking skills and holistic education

At LS Tuition our educational approach is to nurture the whole child.

That means looking beyond academics and developing a child’s sense of self. It means understanding that every child has unique strengths and challenges to overcome. It means teaching your child to ask questions!

While Maths and English are crucial to success later in life, it’s also important to prioritise a child’s social and emotional development early on.

Our mission is to support our learners in developing their understanding of the reasoning behind the skills they are learning, so that their time with us can truly be a holistic learning experience rather than an activity of memorisation.

Our aim is to enable our young people to build their autonomy, critically analyse the world around them and find solutions to problems.

In short, LS Tuition provides a holistic approach to your child’s education. Above all, we want kids to enjoy learning because learning is fun!

How we help children to develop critical thinking skills

Our holistic school helps children develop the ability to analyse facts and arrive at sound conclusions based on logic and reason. This is a crucial skill for children to develop as it will benefit them throughout education and the workplace. In fact, a recent study revealed that problem-solving is the number one skill coveted by employers.

Critical thinking also strengthens interpersonal relationships, allowing us to work with perspectives that differ from our own.

We do this in several ways:

Encourage healthy debate

A key feature of critical thinking is the ability to agree or disagree. We encourage children to give their opinion but also to explain why they agree or disagree with a topic. When prompted to give a reason for their opinion children, engage with a topic on a deeper level and become aware of any hidden biases in their answers.

If you visit our classroom you’ll often hear a Tutor ask, “Do you agree?”

This question prompts children to evaluate someone else’s idea and teaches them that they are capable of making up their own minds. As far as possible, we encourage children to take a position instead of simply agreeing. This develops independent thinkers with the ability to see different perspectives and alter their viewpoints accordingly if necessary.

The most important question – why?

In our classroom, we like to emphasise the why alongside the what.

Sometimes children make bold claims — “Maths is boring” or “I hate school.”

Rather than take their first answer as complete, we ask “Why?”

This simple three-letter word gets their cogs turning. Children think a little deeper and look for evidence to back-up their unsupported claims.

For example, a fuller answer might be, “I hate Maths because I have to memorise times tables.”

This might lead to a discussion about practical and fun ways to apply Maths, instead of rote memorisation (a technique we’re not a fan of). This in turn opens up a child’s perspective on a topic and helps them make new discoveries e.g., they might be a visual learner who needs to see Maths concepts in a real-world context to understand them.

The goal is to think of our students not as receivers of information but as users of information, and collaborators in the learning process. We support our students in becoming active members of society who can critically think for themselves, solve real-world problems, and create a better ‘tomorrow’.

If you’d like to learn more about how our expert Tutors nurture critical thinking and problem-solving skills in children, book a call for an initial assessment.

We also run a summer school programme for children who need extra support over the holidays.