Critical Thinking in the Bathtub

Originally posted March 07, 2010

By Ellen Galinsky

Children are born with a drive to understand—to be curious— but this drive can be weakened or strengthened by what we do.

To promote children’s curiosity, be careful not to jump in too quickly to fix things they’re struggling with, since working with the “confounding” situation is where critical thinking is promoted. Instead, where possible, help them figure out how they can resolve it for themselves.

For example, let’s say your child is working on a puzzle and just can’t get one

of the pieces in the right place. Rather than take over, help her look for clues to where the piece might go: “It is a blue piece. Do you see any other part of the puzzle that is blue? Why don’t you try to see if the piece would fit there?” Or “This piece of the puzzle is shaped like the sliver of the moon. Do you see a shape in the puzzle that has the same curved shape?”

Or let’s say that your child is trying to understand why his rubber toy always rises to the top of the water in the bathtub, even when he pushes it down hard. You can help your child create some experiments for understanding floating better: “Do you think that this wet washcloth would float? What about the empty shampoo bottle? What would happenif we filled the empty bottle with water? Here is the bottle. I’ll help you fill it up.” You are helping your child create and test hypotheses, like a scientist.

Ellen Galinsky is president of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs