Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Children












By Bright Horizons Early Education and Preschool

Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Children

Children are confronted daily with rich opportunities to solve problems and exercise their own independent judgment when they’re given the chance to safely explore the world. These problems, which might involve physical challenges, social relationship issues, or understanding how things work, often seem minor to us but provide great opportunities to practice critical thinking skills. For example:

  • An eight-month-old has crawled under a chair and now can’t figure out how to get out. He wonders what to do.
  • A two-year-old thinks: “My teacher put out tongs for us to pick up our chicken nuggets, but I can’t figure out how they work. Do I keep trying or just use my fingers?”
  • A four-year-old thinks: “I am trying to get the water in the sandbox to stay in the ‘moat’ I’m building for my castle, but it keeps disappearing into the sand. How do I make the water stay?”
  • A seven-year-old speculates: “Several of my friends are teasing a kid in our class about his clothes. Do I join in, not participate, or tell them how I really feel about what they are doing?”

Each of these problems offers children chances to exercise and build a foundation for critical thinking and are not minor to children. Learning to think critically may be one of the most important skills which today’s children will need for the future. Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making, includes critical thinking on her list of the seven essential life skills needed by every child.

Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

So how can we best support and teach our children as they are developing critical thinking skills?

  • Provide opportunities to play. It is during play that children test their thinking whether dropping a spoon over and over again off the side of a high chair tray or rolling two marbles down a chute to see which is faster. Providing space for playing, including time for outdoor or pretend play, offers opportunities to try something and see the reaction; try something else and see if you get a different reaction.
  • Help children view themselves as problem solvers and thinkers by asking open-ended questions. Rather than automatically giving answers to the questions your child raises, help them think critically by asking questions in return: “What ideas do you have? What do you think is happening here?” Respect his or her responses whether you view them as correct or not.
  • Don’t solve all problems immediately for children.Instead ask questions and provide enough information so children don’t get frustrated, but not so much information that you solve the problem for them.
  • Help children develop hypotheses.“Let’s predict what we think will happen next.”
  • Encourage thinking in new and different ways. Ask questions like, “What other ideas could we try?”
  • Support your child to research further information.Guide your children towards looking for more information. Say, “Now how could we find out more?

Learn More

In January and February, Bright Horizons Early Education and Preschool locations throughout Chicagoland will be hosting curriculum Showcase events. Families with toddler through pre kindergarten-aged children will have an opportunity to explore our classrooms, meet our teachers and other Bright Horizons families, and engage in activities that highlight STEM learning in the classroom. See how we help develop critical thinking skills every day and prepare children for elementary school. Visit or call (877) 624-4532 to find the curriculum Showcase event nearest you.