Asking questions stimulates language and we can increase thinking opportunities with the questions we ask. Simple yes/no questions have their place to build children’s confidence to engage with language. Who, What, When questions certainly require more thought and comprehension before answering however it is the How and Why questions which require another whole layer of thinking.
Encouraging children to think critically begins early and continues throughout their lives. What are critical thinking skills? They are higher level thinking skills that involve processing information, relating to prior knowledge, problem-solving, reasoning, analysing, predicting and making decisions considering a range of perspectives.
Stuart Shanker is a Canadian professor who writes extensively about children’s thinking, executive functioning and self-regulation. He believes that children are born with the potential for critical thinking skills but the presence of these skills and the extent to which they are evident rely heavily on their environment. (https://developingchild.harvard.edu/)
In the children’s environments, do they have opportunities to make choices and decisions, are they asked what they think or how problems could be solved, listen to others and consider a different perspective, ‘guess’ or predict what something is or what could happen next, give an opinion and say why.
Do we offer these possibilities or do we make decisions for children? Are we doing the thinking for them?
Opening up opportunities for children to think in more complex ways takes time and practice. Useful conversations starters include:
Although it is critically important to read books for pure pleasure and without an agenda, try sometimes to have an interactive conversation while reading with questions to invite thinking, responses and opinions using some of the conversation starters above.
In a familiar story, such as The Three Little Pigs, wondering together about different aspects may prompt different ways of thinking. For example:
The crazier the better!