For example, children as young as five and six use counter-examples (“Not all birds fly; penguins are birds, and they don’t fly”), draw distinctions (“Heroes are not the same as superheroes”), and challenge inference-making(“Just because he’s the biggest, it doesn’t mean he should get more”).’
Here’s how to help your child hone these skills as they grow.
1. Encourage agreement and disagreement
Being able to say whether they agree or disagree with something, and why, is a sign that your child is thinking critically.
‘Be aware, however, that just because someone says, “I disagree,” it doesn’t mean they’re thinking critically,’ Peter explains. ‘For thinking to be properly critical, one needs to disagree in the right way.’
For example, you can encourage your child to give reasons or examples that show why they agree or disagree with something.
‘Ask, “Do you agree?” to encourage them to evaluate someone else’s claim or idea,’ says Peter. ‘Ask them whether something is right or wrong, true or false, okay or not okay: in other words, have them take a position, evaluate and, if necessary, eliminate.’
2. Ask why?
‘Though children are able to provide reasons for their answers, they often don’t; instead, they make unsupported assertions,’ Peter explains. ‘This is easily addressed by simply asking them, “Why?”’
For instance, your child tells you that their classmate Sam snatched a ball from someone else at playtime. They say, ‘I think he should give it back.’
You can encourage them to explain why, asking, ‘Why do you think he should give it back?’
This may then prompt them to say, ‘Because it’s not his.’
3. Question sequentially
Help your child work through their reasoning by going through a series of steps. Following on from the example above:
- Check for general principles (always/never/sometimes): ‘So, should you always give back what’s not yours?’
- Listen out for counter-examples: ‘No, sometimes you might really need it.’
- Then test the concrete example: ‘Does Sam really need the ball? So, should he give it back?’
4. Look for extracurricular clubs
Joining a philosophy or debating club is a good way to develop your child’s critical thinking skills and put them into practice with other children of a similar age. Some schools run these clubs, or there may be out-of-school clubs in your area.
You can find out more about philosophy clubs from The Philosophy Foundation. If there isn’t one in your area, The Philosophy Foundation can help you set one up. You can find ideas for topics that you might like to discuss in Peter’s books, The If Machine (Continuum, £18.99) and 40 Lessons to get Children Thinking (Bloomsbu