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12 Critical Thinking Activities for Kids

Critical thinking is a valuable skill and one that young children should be actively taught. The best way to teach this to preschoolers and kindergarteners is through play activities, discussions and stories.

In this article, I’ll share some basic critical thinking activities for kids.

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is one of the higher-order thinking skills and is the process of analyzing information using logic, reasoning and creativity, in order to understand things and draw conclusions. [source]

Critical Thinking Activities for Preschoolers and Kindergarteners

The preschool years are the time to stimulate your children with fun games and activities that will stretch their imaginations and their ability to think critically.

These 12 critical thinking games for kids are screen-free, traditional games that can be played with your preschooler anywhere, and with no prep.

1. I Spy

The traditional game of I Spy can be played in many ways e.g. spying objects based on initial sounds (teaching letters) or colours (colour recognition).

To test your child’s thinking, play this game by using descriptive clues that don’t involve sounds or colours.

Example:

  • I spy with my little eye something that’s soft, round and can be thrown.
  • I spy with my little eye something that grows, is smooth and is found on trees.

2. Build a Story

This game is about creative thinking and language development.

Start by making up an introduction to a story:

Once upon a time, there was a little grey cat.

Your child then adds a sentence to the story, thus changing the direction of the story:

The little grey cat was lost in the woods.

Then you add a sentence and so the story continues:

Suddenly, he heard a whisper behind him and he froze.

This game usually ends in fits of laughter and a ridiculous story but uses a lot of brainpower and imagination.

3. Rhyming Game

Play this rhyming game by challenging your child to think of words that rhyme with an easy word such as cat or tap. This game is great for developing auditory perception.

Say a sentence such as “I have a…” or “I see a…” and add in a simple word such as cat. Your child then responds with the same sentence using an appropriate rhyming word and you continue the game until you run out of words together.

Then choose a new word.

Example:

You: I see a cat.

Child: I see a rat.

You: I see a mat.

Child: I see a hat.

4. How Many Can You Think of?

Picture of different fruits to represent a category

This game challenges children to think of words that fit into a theme or category.

Choose a category, such as colours, and put a timer on for one minute. Ask your child to name as many words as they can that fit into the category, without repeating any.

Write down the words as they are said and count the total at the end. Your child will be motivated to beat the total in the next round.

Try these fun category games too.

5. Matchstick Buildings

Build 3D structures out of matchsticks and a variety of materials that can be used to join the edges – e.g. Prestik, Blu Tack, jelly sweets, little marshmallows, tape, playdough, glue, etc.

This will teach some technology skills and encourage planning, thinking and problem-solving as your child tries to figure out how to join parts together and make things stand, balance or hold in a particular position.

6. Cloud Stories

Every child will enjoy this activity. Go outside on a nice cloudy day, lie next to each other on the grass and look for pictures in the clouds.

Once you have found a few, encourage your child to tell a story by tying all the pictures together.

7. Lego Theme

If your child has Lego or other construction blocks, challenge him/her to build an entire theme that you’ve chosen.

You could ask your child to build a farm theme, complete with animals and farmhouses, and then ask them to build a space station. You will be surprised by how creative children can be when challenged to think of ways to create.

8. Tangrams

Tangrams are great for learning geometry and pattern recognition. They usually come with pattern cards to follow but this particular activity should be done without them.

Ask your child to use the shapes to create a particular image, e.g. a specific animal, and give no direction. Your child must think about how to build various parts of a body by joining shapes together.

9. Tic-Tac-Toe

Tic-tac-toe drawn on paper

This game, also known as noughts and crosses is an excellent thinking skills game and also develops planning skills.

Draw a simple table like the one above on paper or a chalkboard. Take turns to add a nought or a cross to the table and see who can make a row of three first.

Your child will probably catch on in no time and start thinking carefully before placing their symbol.

This game can also be played with coloured counters or different objects.

10. What is it?

Hold an object or toy behind your back. Your child must guess what it is by asking questions to extract clues.

Have your child hide an item first so you can model the kinds of questions allowed. Then swap and let your child formulate questions. With time, your child will learn how to ask targeted questions that narrow down the options.

Examples:

  • Is it soft or hard?
  • Can I eat it?
  • Can it fit in my hand?
  • Does it make a sound?

11. Hide and Seek

In this game of Hide and Seek an object is hidden instead of a person.

This is a variation of the game above and involves giving directions or clues for where the object is hidden.

Hide the object then provide clues such as:

  • It is far from here.
  • It is outside the house.
  • There is water near it.
  • It is in the shade.

These clues can be easy or challenging, depending on your child’s age and ability to think.

12. What Really Happened?

This game works on imagination, creativity and thinking skills. Choose a story your child enjoys reading and knows well but have him/her make up an alternative ending to the story.

Mother reading to her son

For example, Little Red Riding Hood goes into the woods with her basket but gets lost on the way and cannot find her grandmother’s house. What happens next?

Encourage your child to think of solutions to problems encountered along the way and ideas for how the characters can deal with certain situations.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these ideas!

For a simple way to develop higher-order thinking skills, ask your children these thinking questions during story time.

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Lyn

Sunday 15th of October 2023

I am a resource teacher and have been looking for these types of activities to use for my classes. I am excited to see how my students will respond...

Thank you so much for sharing...

Tanja Mcilroy

Monday 16th of October 2023

You're welcome, Lyn!

Marina

Tuesday 8th of August 2023

What a fantastic article on critical thinking activities for kids! As a parent, I'm always on the lookout for engaging ways to nurture my child's cognitive development. These 12 activities for preschoolers and kindergarteners truly resonate with me. The way you've explained each game, from I Spy to Cloud Stories, makes it easy to understand how they stimulate creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

Moreover, I found your insights on using higher-order thinking skills during storytime incredibly valuable. Encouraging kids to predict, infer, and analyze while reading is such a powerful way to enhance their cognitive abilities.

As I was reading your article, I couldn't help but think about another great resource that complements your ideas perfectly. It's an article called "Empower Your Child's Learning with Playful Critical Thinking Activities," and you can find it here: link. This article dives deeper into playful activities that foster critical thinking in kids and aligns perfectly with your approach.

Thank you for sharing your expertise and insights – your work is greatly appreciated by parents like me who are passionate about our children's development! 🌟

Tanja Mcilroy

Wednesday 9th of August 2023

Thanks for your kind comment, Marina!

Connie Strand

Saturday 22nd of June 2019

Tanja , I have enjoyed all the articles you have written! The background information is so very important. Why we teach certain concepts along with the activities ,I think, has been invaluable! I hope other parents, educators and people involved with little ones, appreciate the extensive job you have done. Sincerely, Connie

Tanja Mcilroy

Sunday 23rd of June 2019

Hi Connie, thank you so much for your kind words. I love writing about how young minds learn and it's wonderful when parents and teachers get involved and really understand the value of play for their children. Enjoy the journey! Tanja

Minaz

Wednesday 20th of February 2019

I m very much satisfied with your ansure do u take sessions I need to meet u personaly so u can help me more about my daughter eira thank you very much

Tanja Mcilroy

Wednesday 20th of February 2019

Hi Minaz, thank you for your comment. You are welcome to email me your queries at tanja@empoweredparents.co

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