critical thinking kids santa cruz
November 2019

Happy and Successful Kids Life Skill 5: Critical Thinking

By Jan Pierce

Everyday life involves a lot of problem-solving. How do you encourage your children to get along with others? What’s the best way to help your child learn to manage their time and select appropriate activities? Should you let your kids play video games and which ones are off-limits?

Without realizing it, you’re making logical decisions every day, and your kids need to learn how to make sound, logical decisions as well.

critical thinking kids santa cruz
Thinking logically helps kids get balance.

Not just in their social and emotional lives, but in their reading, their writing, and their math and science explorations as well.

In short, the child who knows how to think logically will be a better student who comprehends his or her reading at a higher level, is able to think creatively to solve math and science problems, can communicate clearly and may even score higher on IQ tests.

Critical thinking is a complex skill learned over time. It involves being able to evaluate information for accuracy, interpret information, make predictions and inferences (conclusions based on evidence and reasoning), recognize fact vs. opinion and explain one’s thinking clearly.

So…it’s kind of hard. But, there are simple ways to build these logical thinking skills and you can begin to teach them in easy and fun ways. Here are some skills to work on at home to ensure your child is a strong, clear and logical thinker.

Analyze Analogies

Analogies are comparisons between two different things. They show a relationship between two items. The skill involved requires your child to first identify the relationship and then select words demonstrating that relationship. The use of analogies increases understanding in virtually all areas of learning.

For example: day is to light as night is to _____. To solve this analogy you first see that it is light in the daytime, then supply the opposite concept, dark, to night. 

Or, book is to read as song is to ____. One reads a book. What do we do with a song? We sing it.

Analogies can demonstrate a number of relationships such as part to whole, opposites, cause and effect or degree of intensity (cool is to freezing as warm is to ___.)

Kids enjoy solving these word puzzles and you might make a family game of solving them. (vocabulary games)

Create Categories and Classify Items

Sorting items for like attributes has always been fun for kids. For example you can sort buttons by color, size, number of holes, shape, etc. You can group animals into size, habitat, pets vs. wild, stripes and no stripes, or any other categories you create. And what kid wouldn’t want to sort M & M’s by color? You can go further and help children to graph their information in a simple bar graph or pie chart. Classifying items builds both math and language skills and leads the way to simple science explorations. (classifying animals)

Identify Relevant Information

In the process of problem-solving, it’s crucial to be able to pull out the information that matters. For example, consider the following sentence and the question to be answered: Tom has four quarters and three dimes. He also has a frog in his pocket. How much money does Tom have?

Obviously the frog in the pocket is not important in determining the amount of money. But selecting only pertinent information can be very challenging. Go to and search for relevant information in math. You’ll find videos followed by simple quizzes to practice this important skill.

Test Hypotheses

A hypothesis is an educated guess based on the current information known. Your child needs to be able to consider what is known and predict what might happen next, then test it out to see if the hypothesis was correct. This is an important skill in all of learning.

When your child is reading ask: “What do you think will happen next?” Then after reading you can evaluate the accuracy of the prediction and determine why it was or wasn’t right. We can learn just as much from an inaccurate hypothesis as from an accurate one.

In math and science it’s important to make logical hypotheses and then go on to test and evaluate them. Go to and search for How do you Develop a Hypothesis?

Distinguish Between Evidence and Interpretations of Evidence (fact vs. opinion)

In this day of information overload and cries of “fake news” all around, children must know how to recognize facts from opinions of others. Facts are always true. Opinions are beliefs held by an individual and can vary from person to person. Help your children learn the difference.

More Ways to Build Critical Thinking Skills:

  1. What is the problem or issue?
  2. What is the goal?
  3. What are the possible solutions?
  4. Let’s choose one solution to try.
  5. Did that work?

Kids benefit from opportunities to practice problem solving using critical thinking skills. And don’t forget that an old-fashioned  conversation around the dinner table is a great time to pose questions that require clear, logical thinking.

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and reading specialist. She focuses on education, family life and parenting issues. Find Jan at

*Ellen Galinsky is the author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.

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