Critical thinking is one of the favorite buzzwords of the last five years. Employers use it, teachers use it, and it’s something we should all be striving to master. What critical thinking boils down to is the ability to use reason, logic, and past experiences to make correct assessments or decisions and to be able to apply all of it to new experiences or problems.
One great way to help your nerdlet develop critical thinking skills is through play. After all, play is a child’s primary learning tool. In play, children are allowed to fail without devastating consequences and to win, by doing so gracefully. This allows them to maintain their relationships with peers, while creating and following rules. Face it, few of us have the time and energy for things like continuous playground activities or an elaborate make-believe game. But, we can still participate in play, and help our kids develop critical thinking skills using board games.
What some parents forget (and I am guilty of this, too) is that before the age of 14 or 15, our children’s brains do not yet have the sophistication to grasp some of the more subtle shades of meaning when applying past experience to problems or situations. For most elementary school-aged kids, thing are black or white, good or bad, true or false, with very little in between. This doesn’t mean that teaching them critical thinking skills is hopeless before age 12. But, understanding which aspects of it they can and cannot grasp helps us to manage our expectations during their development.
Preschool children are naturals at getting to the bottom of things. I am convinced that the 5 Whys problem-solving tool was inspired by a curious tot. After all, asking “Why?” over and over again is how kids between 3 and 5 learn about their worlds from those whom they adore: parents.
This is a wonderful time of development, when their minds are like little sponges, sucking up every tidbit of knowledge we put in front of them (and anything you say with emotion behind it becomes a repeatable sound byte). It is the perfect time to instill the critical thinking skills of rule following, why rules are needed, what morality is and why it is important, and the concept of structure.
You might think that an obvious choice of a board game for preschoolers would be checkers, but the rules of checkers can sometimes be too complex for this age group. But, Skippity is a good alternative for a bright toddler. The rules are more flexible than checkers and the learning of colors is reinforced in part of the game’s strategy.
Hisss is another good game for critical thinking, and short in duration, which is especially good for the toddling one. Cards are placed picture-side down on the floor and only cards with color matching snake pieces can be used. This game requires logic, structure skills, memory skills, and planning ahead.
Finally, there is an especially neat game developed for kids by a kid! The Ladybug Game applies emphasis to the critical thinking skill of taking turns and why doing so is important.
Elementary school kids are ready to learn more sophisticated critical thinking skills like strategizing and logical reasoning. Their better memories, better sense of time, and life experiences allow them to start learning and mastering the use of relatable experience in their play.
From about the age of six until I was about eight, my dad and I would spend warm nights on the porch, two German Shepherds at our feet, playing checkers by candlelight. I always had a glass of milk and a couple of fig bars, while my dad usually had a can of Olympia for refreshment. I think, for him, I was more fun to hang out with when I got a little older because we could relate to each other more. He was a very logical man.
Checkers helped me develop the skills of strategy, and how to lose graciously; my dad refused to insult my intelligence by letting me win, which made the gratification of kicking his butt all the sweeter. Checkers helps kids to master rule following and develop new critical thinking skills like planning, strategy, and persistence.
Zingo is a matching game that encourages quick thinking and memory. It is a lot like Bingo, only icons are used instead of letters and numbers. Tiles are dispensed out of a slider to reveal the icon being “called.” The best part of the game? There is a “hard” side of the Zingo card and an “easy” side, so if you have a preschooler and an elementarian at home, everyone can play.
Dominion is a game recommended for those who are at least eight years old because of the excellent strategic skills one needs to win. Each player is a monarch who is looking to expand the kingdom and competes with other monarchs for unclaimed land. Skills developed using this game, in addition to strategy, are planning ahead and persistence. This credible game was awarded the 2009 Mensa Select Award.