Critical Thinking

Discover the skills that every child needs.

Critical Thinking

Discover the skills that every child needs.

What is Critical Thinking?

This Life Skill is the ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions and actions. Critical Thinking involves executive function skills, including using what you know to search for information (working memory); seeing information in new ways as you seek to deepen your understanding (cognitive flexibility); and not going on automatic and reverting to outdated information but using the information you have obtained (inhibitory control).

Critical Thinking is essential in making sense of the world and being a problem solver. It follows a developmental path, emerging in children over time, but its use must be promoted.

Promoting Critical Thinking

Here are some research-based ways to help improve children’s Critical Thinking:

Everyday Routines

Use a problem-solving process to help children with everyday problems (such as a fight among friends):

  • State the problem: “When you got upset with your friend, you didn’t like it and your friend didn’t like it either.”
  • Involve children in coming up with solutions: “What ideas do you have that would help you calm down when you get upset?”
  • Have children list ideas. Write them all down.
  • Evaluate each solution and ask the children to reflect about whether it would work for them and the adults.
  • Pick one to try. See if it works. If it doesn’t, withhold punishment or judgement and meet again to identify a new solution.

Playful Learning Activities

  • Take turns telling an adventure story with a twist: After the story is started, say “OH NO. There’s a problem!” Share what the problem is and see what imaginative and thoughtful solutions children come up with.
  • Invite children to play pretend games where they are detectives and have to solve mysteries.

Learning Strategies

When children ask a question in which they could figure out the answer, don’t answer right away. Help them pursue the answer for themselves to spark their curiosity and critical thinking.

  • Say “I wonder how we can find out the answer to that question?” and see if children have ideas.
  • If they don’t have ideas, guide them by asking questions, setting up an experiment, looking in a book or on the Internet together.
  • Ask them to evaluate their answers rather than telling them something is right or wrong. Come up with answers together!

Critical thinking is the ability to step back and look at what you’re doing, to look at the dimensions of the task, and to evaluate.

Frank Keil

Yale University

Get More Tools & Resources to Build This Skill

Skill-Building Book Tips

These free, downloadable resources offer tips for building the Seven Essential Life Skills based on classic and diverse children’s books that promote the skills. Designed for three age groups, infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age, Book Tips are available in English and Spanish.

See Our Full List

Skill-Building Opportunities

Picky Eating, Bedtime Fears, Meltdowns, Constant Crying, Sibling Rivalry! We’ve researched the questions families and teachers most frequently ask and created short free guides, available in English and Spanish, for professionals and families to help turn common behavioral issues into opportunities to promote critical life skills in children.

See Our Full LIst

Vroom Tips

Vroom, another program of the Bezos Family Foundation, translates the science of early brain development into 1,000+ free tips for adults with children ages 0-5, turning any moment into a brain-building moment.