Thinking Critically :: Helping Young Kids Practice an Essential Skill


As young kids grow they are naturally curious and creative. It’s a great time to get them thinking about the world around them.

There are many exploration and science activities that help toddlers, preschoolers, and beyond learn to explain their thinking.

By giving our kids chances to flex their brain power early on, we build their ability to apply this skill to more complex situations later on.

Thinking Critically :: Helping Young Kids Practice an Essential Skill | Albuquerque Mom Collective

With little kids, the best way to practice this thinking is by giving them chances to explore and create!

Using simple items you probably have at home you can help them practice critical thinking skills.

Play Dough for Thinking Through Emotions

Little ones benefit from exploring emotions. You can also mix in some thinking and analyzing skills.

Have your child use Play Dough to create faces that show various emotions. You can increase the challenge by telling a short story and having your child create a face that shows how the character is feeling.

Talk about how the face shows that emotion. What is the mouth doing? Have older kids include eyebrows.

Thinking Critically :: Helping Young Kids Practice an Essential Skill | Albuquerque Mom Collective

The Tower Test

This is a fun one! You can use blocks, magnet tiles, or recyclable items you have on hand.

The challenge is to build a tower that will stay up when you roll an object into it.

I gave the kids a height requirement. We were rolling large dice into our towers, but you could use a ball or even a lemon or orange.

If the tower falls, challenge them to build it again. Even kids as young as preschool love this task.

Shadow Drawing

This one is spaced throughout a day.

Take a white piece of paper and a small toy. Place the toy next to the paper so it casts a shadow on the paper. Then talk about the shadow. How do shadows happen? What happens if we move the toy?

Have your child trace the shadow. Then leave it and the paper in the same place for several hours.

Come back later and observe what happened. Talk with your child about why they think the shadow is in a different place.

Thinking Critically :: Helping Young Kids Practice an Essential Skill | Albuquerque Mom Collective

Color Shifting Flowers

I’m sure you’ve seen this one on Pinterest. It’s even great for toddlers!

Grab some white flowers, clear cups, and food coloring.

Have your child help fill the cups with water. Then add food coloring to all except one cup. (It’s important to have one without coloring!)

Place a couple of the flowers in each cup. Ask your child what they think will happen to the flowers. This type of thinking and predicting is something even toddlers can practice.

Leave the flowers out for a couple days. As time passes, the flowers will slowly start to change color.

Talk with your child about how they look different. Why do they think that happened? What happened to the flower without food coloring?

Practicing Thinking with Storytelling

Little kids love to tell stories. And stories help us practice thinking logically.

It can be as simple as having them use blank or lined paper. Make sure to get them thinking about the story. Why are the characters doing what they are doing? Does the story line make sense?

Drawing pictures to go with the story helps kids make connections between words and pictures. Even preschoolers can practice this. Have them draw a picture. Then ask them to tell you about what’s happening.

There are also some amazing websites you can use for this.

My Storybook is a free website where your child can add graphics, draw pictures, and add text. You can even purchase an eBook copy of your child’s book for $5!

If your child is older and really into creating stories you might consider paying for Storybird.

I used this with my elementary students, and they loved it! Kids choose a set of artwork for their stories. Then they choose pictures and add text to create a story.

Thinking Critically :: Helping Young Kids Practice an Essential Skill | Albuquerque Mom Collective

Tips to Encourage Thinking Skills in Young Children

As parents there are some things we can practice as our kids explore these skills.

Encourage them to think just as much in the beginning of exploration as they do in the end.

What do they think will happen? Why do they think that? These hypothesis skills are just as important as (and sometimes more difficult than) analyzing what has already happened.

Give them space.

Both physically and verbally. We often want to jump in and do it for them. Or we have the urge to explain why their thinking is wrong. It’s so important to allow them to be wrong. Mistakes are a big part of how we learn.

Encourage multiple possibilities.

Get them thinking outside the box. What else might happen? What if we changed something in our experiment or building? There are often multiple possibilities, so get them thinking about more than one. Don’t just stop after they’ve given one answer.

Thinking Critically :: Helping Young Kids Practice an Essential Skill | Albuquerque Mom Collective

The early years are a great chance to explore thinking about the world around us. Try out some of these activities with your kiddos!

And be sure to share photos and tag us on Instagram!