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April 22, 2015 / BTM

Three Small Steps Toward Building a Critical Thinking Habit

I’m starting to look at how we can incorporate small measures into our daily life to begin to teach critical thinking skills to our kids, and in particular to our tween.


Why do this?

A fundamental skill that is not being taught very well in school systems or the church is the ability think critically about the information that bombards us, and to figure out what to do with all of it.

Critical thinking helps a child to learn to think for himself.  It helps him to separate fact from opinion and to make a reasoned judgement from the information presented.

I believe critical thinking will be necessary for building a solid foundation for a child’s faith, and will be required in order to turn a borrowed faith (which is what most kids have) into a personal one.

Here are some baby steps to help you to get started.

Summarize Key Messages

Summarizing a key message involves being able to pull out the salient points of a message and link them together somewhat coherently.   This a building block toward critical thinking.

There are a bazillion easy ways to test and refine your child’s ability to do this.  Can your child summarize the main message in an advertisement?  A chapter of a book?  A plaque at the museum?  A sign posted in the neighbourhood?  A flyer in the mail?  A Bible passage that you read together?  A movie that you watched?  A conversation that you had?

Whatever you do, start simple.  Advertisements may be the easiest beginner step to take.

For example, an ad for pet food might be summarized like this: Iams pet food provides the healthiest and best tasting food for your dog, and your dog deserves the best.

You might summarize an ad for a new car by saying: Ford makes the best cars for driving in North American weather conditions.  They make sleet and snow look like fun to drive in.

Find the Message Behind the Message

Next you need to probe a bit further to figure out what the main point of the message is.  This is a bit different than summarizing the key message.  What is the underlying message that you are being asked to consider or believe?  Again, ads are a great place to start because there is always an agenda behind them!

The message behind the Iams pet food ad might be: If you love your dog, you’ll give him the best food possible.  Or, your dog won’t be as healthy and happy with any other dog food.

In the car ad example, you might say that the message behind the message is: Your current car isn’t good enough for North American driving.  Or, driving through sleet and snow in North America will be a lot easier and more fun in a Ford car.

Ask More Questions

Two of the hallmarks of a critical thinker are curiosity and an inquiring attitude.  Yes, you want to encourage all those ‘Why’ questions.  When you watch a TV program or a movie, see an advertisement, visit a museum, read a book together, etc. – ask questions about what you are reading.  In fact, I suggest that you get in the habit of asking questions about everything around you.

Here are two starter questions to branch off from:

1. What do you mean by that? 

What do you mean by ‘the healthiest’ and ‘the best tasting’ dog food?  What makes it the healthiest?  The best tasting?

What do you mean when you say the Ford car is ‘better’?  What is better about it?  Better for what?  For who?

2. How did you come to that conclusion? (How do you know that what you say is true?)

What makes Iams dog food healthier than other dog foods?  How do you know?  How much healthier?  How much of a difference does this make to the overall health of my dog?  How do you know that it tastes better?   Does loving my dog require me to buy the healthiest and the tastiest dog food?

What makes the Ford car better?  How has that been proven?  How much better is it?  Why does that make it more fun to drive?


These are simple techniques that you can use almost anywhere.  I’d love to hear about anything you’ve done or about resources you’ve used to teach critical thinking to kids!

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