Must-Ask Questions That Help Children Think Critically

Critical thinking is important. Schools need to develop critical thinking in our next generation of people. Educators around the world agree that critical thinking is increasingly crucial, especially in a time where we look to problem-solvers, innovators, and discerning leaders as the future of humankind. Amidst a world saturated with information and misinformation, even the ordinary man needs a healthy ounce of critical thinking to navigate this earth responsibly.

The problem is, how do parents and educators instil this oh-so-important thinking skill in our children and students? Critical thinking is not something one can just impart to children by going through a textbook, which makes it notoriously difficult to ‘teach’. Well, there is hope yet.

Instilling critical thinking can start with small actions. One of the simpler, more practical pieces of advice for parents and educators is this: begin with the things you say to the children. With these questions as your framework, it sets your children on the right track to think deeper and develop their critical thinking skills.

1. “What do you think will happen if…”

Critical thinking involves the ability to think beyond the face value of what is in front of you. These type of questions encourage children to explore, experiment, and extrapolate information from what they know. Learning to form hypotheses is also a crucial component of scientific thinking, which students will need to grasp when they embark on research projects.

Parents can ask children ‘What do you think will happen if…’ questions naturally during play sessions or during discussions of a storybook, for example. From there, they practice gathering information and forming informed opinions, beliefs, and guesses independently.

2. “Why do you think that happened?”

While the first type of question makes us extrapolate, ‘why do you think that happened’ questions makes us trace back. When applied onto a problem, finding out why an error or issue occurred is the first step to solving it. Thus, knowing how to figure out ‘why’ is a key skill in problem-solving.

In terms of discovery and learning, ‘why’ questions help children make sense of the world. It is through these questions that we find out how things work, identify motivations, and understand why things are the way they are. Parents who pose these questions to their children are giving them a chance to reflect and think through problems, rather than feeding them answers.

3. “How do you know this?”

The dangers of fake news and misinformation are very real today. Part of critical thinking is to be a discerning receiver and transmitter of these pieces of information. That is why learning how to question the source and basis of what you know is essential.

Ask your child ‘how do you know this?’ questions to lead them to reflect on the accuracy of what they have heard. Through these questions, you can also get a glimpse into their thought process and how they arrived at their conclusion. Sometimes, simply asking these questions will trigger children to think more deeply about what they know, and helps them see the loopholes in their thinking.

4. “What other ideas can we try?”

Critical thinking is placed in high importance because of its relevance in problem-solving. To develop a spirit of problem-solving in children, you need to give them opportunities to generate ideas independently. Don’t be in a hurry to provide all the answers – let them try, even if it means failing at first, or taking a longer time.

When you ask your children ‘what other ideas can we try?’ they gain the valuable chance to think of alternative ways and be creative with their solutions. Additionally, there is an element of perseverance involved when you encourage your child to try again.

What textbooks cannot teach, parents and educators have to make up for it in the way they talk – and walk the talk – with children. When it comes to an essential skill like critical thinking, it is always a good idea to be on the same page with your child’s school in helping your child grow.

The Canadian International School is one of the top international schools in Singapore, and not for no good reason – they truly believe and commit to bringing up children with critical thinking skills and other essential 21st-century abilities. Through their inquiry-led IB primary years programme up to the academic rigour of the IB diploma courses, CIS is dedicated to developing critical and creative thinkers who are future-ready.