Critical Thinking is the process of evaluating and analyzing information in order to solve a problem most effectively and efficiently. Students with a weakness in critical thinking tend to think rigidly or in a disorganized manner.
We Teach Critical Thinking Strategies
At The Family & Learning Center, students are taught Critical Thinking strategies based on patterns of structure and organization. Using these strategies at school and at home will help students become more organized.
In order to improve critical thinking, students need to rehearse the strategies until they become habits. Parents are instrumental in helping their children practice and apply these strategies at home.
1) Read the Directions and Say Them in my Own Words
Reading directions is an extremely important strategy because it helps you understand what you are being asked to do. This is an important skill to practice at home and luckily there are many ways to do it. For example:
- Ask your child to read the washing and drying directions on clothes and sort them into piles based on the washing cycle
- Have your child read the directions to a recipe as you make dinner together
- Write down step-by-step directions for chores
- Play a scavenger hunt game, but give specific walking, biking, or driving directions to your child on how to get to the next clue or item
- Ask your child read the directions to a game and explain them to the family before you play for the first time
2) Planning Ahead
Does your child jump right into a new task without thinking it through? Planning ahead is an important strategy because it allows children to slow down and think about how to approach a task before attempting it. This essential ability can be practiced by everyone at home. For example:
- Create a list of what to pack for vacation and decide who will take specific items in their bag
- Plan what ingredients are needed for dinner and how long it will take to cook
- Pack a lunch and pick out clothes for the next day before you go to bed
- Write down everyone’s important events (birthday parties, sports games, field trips, etc.) on a monthly calendar that is displayed where everyone can see it
- Hold a family meeting every week on the same day to plan out where people will be and how they will get there (this way no one will miss a play date, practice, or be late for work!)
- Plan mini due dates for larger projects and add them on the family calendar
Brainstorming helps you generate ideas and a plan before jumping into an activity or task. It can be very helpful to create lists or to talk through ideas with your child. Here are some ways you can practice brainstorming at home:
- Brainstorm a list of places everyone wants to visit for the next family vacation
- After a fight, low grade, or sports game help your child brainstorm how they handled the situation well, or how they could have handled things differently
- Create a list of fun family activities and post it on the fridge and don’t forget to cross them off as you accomplish them
- Generate a list of items that need to be packed for school, vacations, parties, trips, etc.
- Make sure your student brainstorms before starting an essay or speech
4) Be Flexible
Does your child wear the same clothes each day or eat the same meal over and over? Do they have trouble adjusting if their plan changes unexpectedly? Flexibility is the capacity to think about different ways to approach a task or problem and adjust to unexpected changes. You can build flexibility at home by trying some of these tips:
- Give your child two or three options for homework break activities, dinner, or chores
- Encourage your child to pick out different types of clothes if they tend to favor just jeans and a t-shirt, or to try new foods as a family if they eat the same thing every day
- Discuss respecting differing opinions of family members or friends
- Give your teen a time frame instead of an exact time that you want them home (4:45-5:00 instead of 4:45 exactly)
- Give your child ample notice if their daily routine is going to change for any reason such as a doctor appointment
- If a change in the schedule changes unexpectedly, talk with your child about how to handle it
- Discuss alternate ways to solve a problem. For example, if the restaurant is really busy and everyone is really hungry, what are your options?
The chunking strategy is used to break difficult or long tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. There are many ways to model this for your children or to ask them to break down tasks. For example:
- Make dinner together, but follow the recipe one step at a time and allow your child to read them to you
- When reading together, have your child read a paragraph or two and then summarize the main points for you
- Explain your expectations for chores, school, or behavior in clear, step-by-step explanations
- When working towards fitness or sports goals, have your child break it down into mini goals to help them reach success
- Have your child explain the plot of a book or movie in time sequence (beginning, middle, climax, and resolution)
- Break down large projects or essays into smaller pieces with due dates along the way (Don’t forget to put them on the calendar too!)
Visualizing is the ability to mentally picture how things are or should be. This is an important strategy that you should tutor children with describing objects or places, and remembering important information. Here are some ways to develop this skill at home:
- Have you child describe how they want to dress or look for special events like birthday parties or Christmas dinner
- Ask your child to describe what their classroom looks like
- Ask your child to visualize what their homework will look like when it is complete and if they are missing anything before they put it in their backpack
- Work on puzzles together to see if they are visualizing how the pieces fit together
7) Pay attention to the details
Does your child ignore key details in directions or homework assignments? Or does your child hyper focus on every detail? Children often need to be taught which details are relevant to the task or problem they are trying to address. This strategy is helpful for teaching children to filter out unnecessary details and focus solely on key information. It can be practiced at home in the following ways:
- Ask your child to explain the highlights of their softball game to see if they explain the whole game in depth or if they can give you a quick summary
- Ask your child to describe their day as a “tweet” in 140 characters or less
- Play a game of describing objects-have your child explain something in depth and see if you can figure it out and vice versa
- When your child is reading have them highlight or write down the key point of the chapter in one or two sentences
8 & 9) Find Patterns and Make Connections
Though these are two different strategies, they are closely connected. Making connections to how things are similar or related is an important part of learning new information. It also helps students remember information when it can be connected to previously learned concepts. Finding patterns is to determine how things are similar or repeating. In order to find a pattern, a child must first connect how things are similar. Here are some ways you can help your child develop these strategies at home:
- Make sure your child wakes up and goes to bed at the same time every day (even weekends) to help them develop this pattern
- Help your child understand patterns within their bodies by keeping a journal of what causes them to be upset, tired, or distracted. Then develop ways to avoid situations that can lead to an undesirable situation such as a headache from hunger
- Have your child discuss how a movie is related to a book, another movie, or something they learned in school
- Find patterns in ways to beat board games or video games
- Have your student talk about different sports and how the rules are similar or different
- Ask your student what they have learned from past mistakes in every aspect of their lives
10) Do Problems in Order
Some students jump around in a disorganized manner while completing assignments and sometimes miss a problem or two along the way. These children can also forget important steps while making dinner, getting ready for school, or playing sports. It is important to help them develop an order to every task so they do not skip essential steps along the way.
- If your student often forgets homework assignments at home, create a step-by-step checklist to ensure that homework (or lunch, sports equipment, books, etc.) are packed away and put in the same place every evening
- Give your child a list of instructions for how to set the table
- Help your child complete a recipe from start to finish in order
- Give your teenager clear, specific driving directions while you are riding with them. If they make a wrong turn, they will realize the importance of following the directions in order
Do you have a child who tends to rush through everything or does your child need a push to complete things on time? Pacing helps us recognize when to slow down or speed up. Often we relate pacing to sports or exercise, but it is also important in daily activities such as budgeting, cleaning, or doing homework. Slowing down can help students avoid careless mistakes. Speeding up can help students finish work when they get caught up in the nonessential details.
- Estimate how long it should take your child to clean his room, shower, or take out the trash but make sure the estimate is realistic, and then time your child. This will give them an idea if they are going way too fast, far too slow, or just the right speed.
- Reward your child when they pace themselves properly through a task
- Talk about how your child should pace themselves during sports and then relate it to school work or chores
- Discuss with teenagers the importance of the speed limit
- Give your child or teen an allowance but review the importance of budgeting and pacing how quickly they spend their money
12) Say What I am Thinking
Almost all of us talk to ourselves out loud at some point. At the Family & Learning Center, we tutor and teach our students in the San Diego and La Jolla area to verbalize their thoughts out loud. This strategy helps them hear any mistakes in their logic and to reflect on their ideas. The best way to practice this at home is to model for your child! Many feel silly explaining their thoughts out loud but it is very helpful. Here are some ways to apply this at home:
- If your child suddenly jumps to a new topic during a conversation or simply makes a random comment, ask them what made them think of that
- Ask your child to explain how they feel and why (not just when they are upset or happy, but anytime)
- Have your child talk through a problem at school or with their siblings
- Encourage your child to ask questions when they seem confused by something
- Explain your reasons when your child is punished for behavior
13) Check my Work
In every aspect of life it is important to check our work. From budgeting to make sure we don’t overdraw our accounts to making sure we grabbed lunch before we leave the house, it is an essential skill to have. However, it is often overlooked, especially in school work. This is an important strategy to reinforce at home and here’s how:
- Run through a checklist before your child heads to school. Do they have all their binders, books, and lunch?
- Model for your children by checking your receipt to make sure you weren’t over or undercharged at the grocery store
- Once your child has helped you brainstorm a grocery list, take them shopping with you. Each time you grab an item, cross it off the list and then run through the list before checking out.
- Have your child check over new clothing for snags or rips before you buy it
- Help your child check over math work or spelling before turning it in
- Create a chore chart or list and have your child check off each chore as they finish it. Check their work together until you feel they are ready to check their work on their own.
These Critical Thinking strategies are very important for everyone. It is incredibly helpful to children when parents model and practice these strategies at home. Not only will they benefit from practicing their Critical Thinking skills, but so will you!