Critical Thinking Skills

How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills in Kids

Written by Adele Keyser

This piece was updated on the 26th of February 2021.

Is school really that different these days compared to 20+ years ago? Are assessments getting more difficult?

Having previously written on questioning techniques, I feel the need to elaborate on the “highest” level of questioning: critical thinking and problem solving.

Critical thinking skills is the area I’m most asked about as a teacher during parent meetings. Why, you may ask?

One of the biggest reasons is that we as parents weren’t questioned on this level at school. Most of our exam papers consisted of the first two levels of questioning and if you’d studied it, you were able to answer without much thought. No more was expected of us.

Children are now encouraged to think independently and to reason through questions. They’re expected to use knowledge, facts and data to effectively solve problems. During an exam situation, this would mean thinking on your feet, assessing the problem, and finding a solution within a reasonable timeframe.

A critical thinking definition builds on active reading skills and takes this one step further into all areas of life – it’s about questioning ideas and developing your own perspective. Think about a false statement and consider your reaction to that statement. You’re using critical thinking skills to evaluate something and form your response based on things you already know about the world.

Some critical thinking examples in children include:

  • Asking questions about what they’re reading.
  • Connecting different ideas to explain why things happen.
  • Using knowledge out of context to form a new opinion.
  • Considering different points of view on a topic.
  • Forming an opinion based on presented information.
  • Predicting the future by considering past information.

When does critical thinking start to develop?

Basic critical thinking starts even at a young age, and children’s critical thinking skills improve through natural conversation with adults. As they get older, kids start building on these skills to eventually become skilled critical thinkers!

Why is critical thinking important in our daily lives?

Everyone experiences problems, challenges and issues in all areas of life at some point, but we don’t always have the necessary skills to identify solutions to these problems. Critical thinking plays a role throughout all our lives by helping us to resolve problems and difficulties. We can stop, think about things for a while and find our own solutions.

I find that if children are not taught and encouraged to think critically, that they become passive receptors of information instead of active and engaged learners. This can be a problem later in life, as without strong skills in this area, we can struggle to work through things and take an informed stance on matters.

By learning to think critically, children will be able to use good thinking as a guide by which they live their lives.

Teachers want to educate children on why critical thinking is important, including how to make their own decisions and choices. There are many benefits that kids can get from using critical thinking in school, including improved language comprehension and inventive thinking.

Unfortunately, in practice, teaching children these skills isn’t always smooth sailing!

Teachers need to allow children to become actively involved in the learning process. They need to promote the awareness of the relationship between thinking, reading, writing, speaking and listening. This helps turn ordinary thinking into critical thinking.

If you’re interested in improving your child’s critical thinking skills, you might be interested in improving your child’s active listening and comprehension skills.

What do teachers do to improve critical thinking?

Teachers are always working to improve your child’s critical thinking skills. Some of the ways children are encouraged at school to be better thinkers is through focusing on these three areas:

Point of view

This involves activities where children are encouraged to think about things from multiple perspectives. Your child will learn to consider others’ opinions and develop their own.


Discussions over topics where your child can express their own view are one thing, but being able to back up their opinion with considered thought and a compelling argument shows impressive critical thinking skills.


Comparing new information to what we already know about a topic to arrive at a conclusion is the focus of many reasoning exercises. Developing reasoning skills will help your child to solve problems in school and later in life.

Examples of critical thinking in education

Regular classroom discussions

Simply discussing a topic lets your child use and improve their critical thinking skills in the classroom. Teachers encourage discussion through questions presented to classrooms, and children are then given the opportunity to debate and resolve problems.

An example of this would be simple critical thinking questions such as “What was the most important thing you learnt in class today?” These types of questions encourage kids to form a point of view and use reasoning and argument to back it up.

Ongoing assessment

The answers to classroom questions are a great way for teachers to evaluate how your child is doing on their critical thinking journey. Teachers can structure future lessons to focus on areas that need work.

Case studies and cooperative learning

Structuring a lesson around a case study or comprehension exercise allows for a lot of freedom to focus on all areas of critical thinking. Teachers can break the classroom into peer groups, and your child can discuss and question their classmates about the case study. They can form arguments, present them to the class and explain their reasoning. Cooperative learning allows your child to work with their school friends, which increases interactivity, while the teacher can monitor critical thinking characteristics and look for areas to improve.

Writing exercises

Writing is an outstanding way for teachers to assess your child’s critical thinking abilities. At younger ages, discussion is perhaps more important, but as kids grow older, they can cement their knowledge through writing. Common critical thinking writing activities could include analysing a point of view and developing an argument in response, recognising common reasoning fallacies and pointing them out or making conclusions based on evidence.

Most importantly, critical thinking involves good questioning by both teachers and children, and it’s through a focus on this area that your child will become well prepared for the future.

What can parents do to encourage critical thinking?

Children model critical thinking skills on those that teach them. As parents, we too fit into the teaching category and can successfully teach these skills by making our thought processes clear.

By inviting your child to be a part of stimulating conversation and discussion, they can learn the skills of reasoning, evaluating and understanding varying points of view to put into words what puzzles or confuses people.

Here are some practical ways you can supplement your child’s critical thinking learning:

Develop creativity

Creativity is a playground for learning, as it’s fun and allows freedom of thought and opinion. Younger children don’t often have the vocabulary to put their thoughts into words yet, but they can draw or paint what’s on their mind quite well! Provide your child with the tools for creating art, and they can put to paper what they’re thinking about.

Puzzles, games and books

There’s not much better than getting your child to learn through fun, and games are one of the best tools for encouraging critical thinking. Logic puzzles and sorting activities help your child develop these skills, and they’ll love doing them. Think up classification activities such as sorting objects by shape, size or a category, or get your child a book with brain teasers and riddles to solve. An interesting book can go a long way to developing critical thinking when reading.

Imagine solutions to real-world problems

Think up a problem we’re facing in the world today and ask your child what they’d do to solve it. This helps their reasoning skills and lets them apply problem solving to real-world situations. They may even stumble upon something genius!

Debate both sides

A discussion about a situation with two opposing opinions can be an excellent way to spark critical thinking. Your child will need to use critical thinking to develop their own point of view and argument, explaining which side they support and why.

We as parents should be constantly encouraging our children to ask questions and allow them the time to ponder situations.

Most importantly, children need to feel comfortable when reasoning through a problem and understand that there could possibly be more than one correct answer. We need to show genuine respect for our child’s input and make them feel that their input is valuable. This will build their confidence and motivate them to continue improving their thinking skills.

Speak to your child’s teacher at your next meeting and ask them what they think you should focus on. Teachers often have insight into where your child is on their critical thinking journey and can make further suggestions to try out at home.

WorksheetCloud helps boost critical thinking through hundreds of online exam practise tests and memos based on the CAPS curriculum. We include critical thinking questions that will help your child prepare for upcoming exams and improve their problem solving potential – sign up today.

The Author - Adele Keyser

Adele has 27 years experience in teaching pre-primary, foundation phase, intermediate-senior phase and adult education. That's 27 years experience in dealing with children (and parents!). Currently teaching in Cape Town, her major focus is building classroom environments that foster healthy self-esteem and help children realise what they're capable of.

WorksheetCloud is the most exciting way to study for exams and tests!

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