• Mark Collier

Why does a child need to develop critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking enables a child to use existing knowledge and experience to solve problems independently. This makes it a vital skill in all aspects of education. The purpose of this blog post is to answer three questions:


  1. How will critical thinking help my child in school?

  2. How will critical thinking help in the 11+ exam?

  3. How can critical thinking skills be improved?


How will critical thinking help my child in school?


Children learn in school in a variety of ways: some learning involves knowing facts, such as multiplication tables, the range of methods for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, or the structure of a story. Some learning requires a child to call upon existing knowledge then apply mental skills to solve problems and build new concepts, for example, mathematical word problems and scientific investigations. Critical thinking enables a child to use existing knowledge and experiences to evaluate new problems, analyse information and explain ideas. Children with enhanced critical thinking skills are able to work more independently and evoke deeper thought processes, which will benefit them in their learning and acquisition of new problem-solving skills.


How will critical thinking help in the 11+ exam?


Children with enhanced critical thinking skills are better at language comprehension and problem solving. These children are more equipped to use their IQ to its highest extent: research varies on whether an individual’s IQ can be raised, however it is recognised that developing critical thinking helps an individual to use their IQ to its full potential.

Children with better language comprehension skills are able to cope with all aspects of the 11+ test more effectively. Clearly these skills aid literacy comprehension, but they also support a better understanding of verbal reasoning instructions and questions, non-verbal reasoning instructions, mathematical instructions and mathematical word problems.

Improvement in problem-solving skills allows a child to see problems from a wider perspective and to approach solutions from a variety of angles. For example, a child who is able to clearly see all the steps to solving a mathematical word problem will be in a position to select the quickest way to finding the answer, which will give time for attempting more questions.

The 11+ test requires children to process information, find patterns and apply the pattern’s rules and use problem solving skills. Critical thinking is fundamental in developing the mental strategies needed to apply these processes.


How can critical thinking skills be improved?


Critical thinking can be improved by developing deeper ways of thinking. Let’s explore this from three aspects: ‘delay intervention’; ‘open questions’; ‘predict’.

  • Delay intervention – it is important to give a child thinking time in order to help develop critical thinking skills. After asking a question try counting to ten before intervening or offering any other support. Try to provide the very minimum of support in immediately answering a question, instead adopt the practices put forward in the two points that follow.

  • Open questions – avoid giving direct answers to questions. If a child needs support try guiding them towards an answer by asking them open questions such as ‘What are your thoughts?’, ‘What steps might we take towards finding the answer?’, ‘How might we solve this problem?’ If a child continues to find a question challenging try prompts such as ‘Could we try…?’ or ‘Have you thought about…?’

  • Predict – closely linked to the previous point is to ask a child to make predictions by asking ‘If we tried this what do you think might happen?’ or ‘Let’s see what ideas we can suggest might happen next?’ This approach is particularly useful in comprehension activities.

Having found a solution to a question encourage a child to explain their answer, using questions such as ‘How do you know this?’ or ‘How did you work out that answer?’ This process helps you to assess the extent of the child’s understanding and it helps them to articulate their thought processes, which is vital in extending critical thinking skills. This ‘thinking about thinking’ is known as metacognition and research shows that it significantly enhances a child’s approach to problem solving.

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