Critical Thinking:
Building a Key Foundation for Language and Literacy Success

Did you know that school curriculums around the world are increasing their focus on critical thinking skills? Experts on early childhood development agree that the basic skills of reading, writing and math are no longer enough – children also need to learn to think critically if they’re going to be successful in today’s complex world.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking happens when children draw on their existing knowledge and experience, as well as on their problem-solving skills, to do things like:

  • Compare and contrast
  • Explain why things happen
  • Evaluate ideas and form opinions
  • Understand the perspectives of others
  • Predict what will happen in the future
  • Think of creative solutions

Why is critical thinking so important?

Critical thinking is a fundamental skills for both language and literacy success.

  • Language − Language and critical thinking grow together and nurture each other’s development. As children engage in critical thinking, their language skills expand because they’re encouraged to develop and use more complex language with words like “because”, phrases with “if” and “then” and different verb tenses. Conversely, as children’s language development progresses, their ability to think critically grows as well.

  • Literacy − To truly understand the meaning of a book, children must be able to do more than recognize and sound out letters and words. They must also “read between the lines” to figure things out that are not actually stated in the book. To do this, they must use critical thinking skills like problem-solving, predicting and explaining. Encouraging this kind of thinking early in a child’s life prepares her for understanding the books she’ll read on her own later on.

When and How Does Critical Thinking Develop?

Research shows that children begin to think critically at a very young age. These skills develop during the natural, back and forth conversations children have with the important adults in their lives.

As soon as children are able to speak in sentences, they’re ready for you − the parent, caregiver or educator − to nurture the critical thinking skills that will prepare them for success in school. Whether you’re reading a book or taking a walk in the park, any time is a good time to build critical thinking.

Tips for Building Critical Thinking – It’s all about the E’s and P’s!

Use the arrows to scroll through the E’s and P’s and get a fun tip from the 2016 Calendar for promoting each one!

  • Explain
    Talk to children about why things happen and encourage them to draw on their existing knowledge and reasoning skills to come up with explanations, as well as the reasons for their conclusions.
    Tip for parents Tip for educators
    While pretending with stuffed animals, join in with your own animal and have your animal ask the other a question that could have many fun explanations. For example, "Why is your fur purple?" or "Why do you have such big teeth?" Have the children pretend they're going on a trip to the desert and tell them they have only one suitcase to bring with them. Ask each child to name an item they'd put in the suitcase and explain why they think it will be important in the desert.
  • Evaluate
    Encourage children to offer opinions about their own preferences and the relative merits of different objects, events and experiences.
    Tip for parents Tip for educators
    Using plastic food items, pretend you are judges in a food competition. Start by offering your own opinion with an explanation. For example, "I don't like this pasta because it's too salty" or "I like this soup because it has lots of carrots and they're my favourite." Encourage your child to offer his own opinions along with his reasons for them. Show the children the Sports section of a newspaper and point out the different sports that are mentioned. Ask the children which sport they think is the hardest to play, and ask them to explain their reasoning.
  • Predict
    Make comments and ask questions that encourage children to make plausible predictions about what will happen next.
    Tip for parents Tip for educators
    When finished reading a book, encourage your child to think about what might happen next if the story continued. For example, "What do you think will happen tomorrow night when it is time for Mortimer to go to sleep again?" Ask your child to explain why he thinks that. When introducing a new book, talk about the title and the illustrations on the cover, and ask the children what they think might happen in the story. Make sure to include a follow-up question like, "What makes you think that?"
  • Project
    Encourage children to project or put themselves into other’s minds with questions like, “How do you think he feels?”, “What do you think she’s thinking right now?” or “Why do you think he wants to do that?”
    Tip for parents Tip for educators
    During pretend activities, take on a role and make comments that show your child that you're thinking about how your pretend character feels. For example, "I'm just a little teddy bear in this big department store all by myself. I feel really scared." Encourage the children to take on pretend roles and think about how their pretend character feels and what they might do. For example, "Oh no, Little Bear, your chair is broken! How does that make you feel?"
  • Problem-solve
    Take advantage of daily opportunities to encourage children to solve problems. Help the children to describe the problem and draw on their knowledge and experiences as they think of alternative solutions and decide on the best option.
    Tip for parents Tip for educators
    Draw your child's attention to problems as they arise and provide her with opportunities to think of solutions. For example, "Uh-oh. Your lunch bag is missing. What else can we use to carry your lunch?" While on a walk, point out a problem and encourage the children to think of a solution. For example, "There's a lot of litter on the grass around here. What do you think could be done to stop people from littering here?"

Helpful articles on critical thinking

More Than ABCs: Building the Critical Thinking Skills Your Child Needs for Literacy Success
Get more fun tips on building children’s E’s and P’s during book reading.
Read article

Teaching Children to Think: Meeting the Demands of the 21st Century
Learn more about the evolving role of early childhood educators and what governments around the world are doing to increase the focus on critical thinking.
Read article