We all want our children to think critically about the ideas they encounter. To help this along, we often add a “critical thinking” class to the other subjects we cover. While there is undoubtedly good that can come out of certain types of critical thinking skills developed in isolation, there is a limit.
A mother and four children age five and under were watching a television program called “Barney.” The mother asked, “Have you guys ever noticed that when Baby Bop turns around you can see the zipper in her costume?” The children were shocked at first to realize it was a costume, but it opened to them a new manner of thinking during their weekly television sessions. One week the mother walked in and heard the four-year-old say, “Well, I think they just turn off the camera, rearrange the studio, and then turn the camera back on” (to get outside quickly). The five-year-old responded, “Maybe you’re right. You can tell that it’s just a painting in the background, and the trees don’t look real.”
Those children never studied a course on observing the data, making a hypothesis, and drawing conclusions. They already have thinking minds. God made them that way. And as this mother operates, they will continue to use their thinking minds in everyday life. Later on, school subjects become a part of everyday life and children should think in those too. Math thinking in math, science thinking in science, people thinking in history and literature, and so on.
This system works better than learning to think in a separate thinking class and then expecting to transfer the skills to other classes. Transfer is limited.
Three takeaways here (other than questioning the value of watching Barney):
- Bring our children alongside us in our daily activities — talking out loud as we go.
- Teach our children how to apply their innate thinking skills to every situation.
- Teach thinking skills across the curriculum in every discipline, not just in an isolated thinking class.
While there is a benefit to teaching “thinking skills,” there obviously needs to be more applied thinking taking place. One easy way to accomplish this is through literature, which covers every area in the spectrum.
Critical Conditioning by Karen Stout provides an age-graded outline of skills or areas of study we can apply to most disciplines, but especially through literature, teaching our children to think critically about the information they come into contact with each day. The skill development includes analyzing elements of fiction and nonfiction:
- Reading comprehension skills.
- Reasoning from what you read.
- Judging what you read.
- Thinking questions as they apply to various genres.
- Understanding the elements of a story and why they are used.
- Cause and effect.
- Comparing and contrasting.
- Making inferences and drawing conclusions.
- Predicting outcomes.
- Identifying facts vs. opinions.
One of the benefits of this type of exercise is the development of basic study skills — something we homeschool moms tend to leave uncovered. Also covered are library skills, using reference books, and the SQ3R (survey, question, read, recite, and review) method of studying.
As in all of the Design-A-Study series, skills are broken down by age groups. A checklist is included in the back. Since the format is geared toward the teacher/tutor, the guide can be used for a wide range of ages.
We own most of the books in the Design-A-Study series (see our Natural Speller review) and have found them all useful for covering a variety of skills. Critical Conditioning is a great tool for those DIY handy moms who like to pull things together themselves — particularly those that use literature as the basis of their educational plan.
Other thinking activities, ideas, how-tos, and resources.