How to Use This Guide

How To Use This Guide

How To Use This Guide

The ability to think critically and independently is at a premium in today’s world. Acquiring critical thinking skills is vital for children’s general development and for the health of society as a whole.

Young people are especially vulnerable to the many distractions and influences that can impede critical thinking and cognitive development. Building healthy habits of mind can help children overcome these challenges and provide a lifelong foundation for effective thinking. 

This guide strives to provide parents with an understanding of what critical thinking is and how to foster it in their children. Critical thinking is not a peripheral skill but central to the development of children’s language and reasoning skills, to their relationships with both their parents and peers, and even to their very sense of self.

Critical thinking cannot be taught exactly the way arithmetic or vocabulary is taught. To a certain extent, children must develop the habits of independent thought on their own. But there is still a great deal that parents can do to encourage critical engagement in their children, help them develop long-term interests and habits, and warn them against the numerous obstacles to clear thinking they will face.

This website is divided into three sections by age group:

We recommend first reading through the general introduction, which lays out a definition of critical thinking and the different stages of development. Each age-group page includes its own brief introduction describing important developmental landmarks. Finally, there are more detailed sections describing how parents can help their students achieve progress along the different dimensions that make up critical thinking at a given age. These sections include specific case studies—examples, scenarios, and exercisesthat you can use in your own parenting. 

Critical thinking skills cannot be acquired all at once and strategies for acquiring these skills will differ depending on the age of the child and his or her individual needs. Trying to force knowledge on a child that has not yet taken the foundational steps can be counter-productive. The guide therefore tries to help parents help their children build critical thinking skills step by step. Critical thinking starts in more rudimentary everyday reasoning, self-esteem, emotional stability, and intellectual curiosity. Each stage of development builds off and reinforces the skills, knowledge, and confidence of the preceding stage.

This is also a good opportunity for parents to refresh their own critical thinking skills and to reflect on the habits of mind they have developed over the course of their lives. Critical thinking often involves making certain habits, questions, and thought processes explicit to oneself. Parents who are confident in their own reasoning are most likely to succeed in instilling these qualities in their children. This means being open to new ideas; eager to argue rationally and dispassionately; and aware of how one thinks, what mistakes one is prone to make, and what biases one is prone to indulge.