Critical Thinking Skills 101

What are critical thinking skills? Why is it important for both educators and parents to understand how to build these skills in children?

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally and to understand the logical connection between ideas. Being able to think critically allows us to “think things through” by reflecting and using logic. It helps you develop your ability to reason.

Critical thinking helps children become intelligent thinkers, not just fact retainers and good memorizers!

Developing critical thinkers

At Isaac Newton Christian Academy, developing critical thinkers is a key component to the learning process. Yes, our students do memorize the “facts” foundational to learning such as grammar rules, correct spelling, and math “tables.” These facts are taught in a variety of ways, and even the easiest math lesson can be an opportunity to develop “thinkers.”

Let’s use “2 + 3” as an example. Two plus three equals five. Young children learn this through both memorizing and through manipulatives. They might also use songs and finger plays. Two blocks plus three blocks equals five blocks. It is concrete. It is a fact. But a teacher will also ask children, “Are there other ways you can group blocks to get to five blocks?” Children use their fledgling analytical skills to find that if they take those five blocks, they can group them into four and one…that is still five blocks total. That is the very beginning of applying critical thinking skills to solve a problem.

As students mature, we teach them how to solve more complex problems through critical thinking skills that can be applied to the reservoir of information they have stored in their brains. And in a Christian school setting, critical thinking becomes a powerful process that teaches children more about the nature of God.

Math facts can teach a child about the nature of God

Back to our example of 2 + 3 = 5. What does learning that 2 + 3 = 5 and 4 + 1= 5 have to do with God? Mr. Dean Ridder, Isaac Newton’s Head of School (and former math teacher!) explains. “It tells us that God doesn’t change, and that math “laws” stay the same…two plus three equals five in Africa. Two plus three equals five in any language. Two plus three equaled five yesterday, equals five today and will equal five any time in the future! God uses math to demonstrate absolute truth.

Scripture reinforces these truths; check out Hebrews 13:8; Proverbs 20:10; Psalm 104:19; Proverbs 11:1; and Proverbs 16:11, to name a few.

 Growing in wisdom through critical thinking skills

To take facts and probe a child to apply critical thinking skills at a spiritual level a teacher might ask a first or second grader, ”What does this simple math fact reveal about God?” A student might answer, “It shows us that God is orderly and precise.” Another student might chime in, “It means that God is a consistent, never-changing God.” An even older child might answer the question with deeper insight, by explaining, “If God is orderly and precise, and if He never changes…this tells us that we can trust Him. That He shows us through His created world that He is a God we can depend on.”  And as students go through algebra, geometry and calculus they see how mathematical rules are something that have been built into creation.

Critical thinkers learn how to question ideas and assumptions. They also learn how to identify, analyze and solve problems in a disciplined manner using a system, which can ultimately help develop the character trait of wisdom. We believe that Isaac Newton Christian Academy’s high standardized test scores are one indicator that we are successful in developing critical thinking skills in our students.

We will address more information related to critical thinking and how these skills are applied to literature, history and science, in the future. We will also share lots of ways that parents can help build critical thinking skills in their children.

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