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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, as well as some higher-order thinking skills activities you can incorporate into your daily storytime.

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?

Game of categories

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.

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 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

This game, also known as noughts and crosses is an excellent game to stimulate thinking and 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 it 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.

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.

Higher-Order Thinking Skills Activities for Storytime

One of the most useful activities you can do every day while reading to your children, right from the time they can understand the words, is to question them meaningfully in order to develop thinking skills.

Through the use of some very basic types of open-ended questions, you will have your child thinking, analyzing, predicting, comparing, deciding, giving opinions and deducing, amongst other skills.

There are many benefits to be gained from the simple act of reading and listening alone, however, by using the opportunity to add some questioning techniques, you will be developing important cognitive skills that will train your child to think in an advanced way.

Mother reading to child

Examples of Higher-Order Thinking Questions for Preschoolers

There are many different types and styles of questions that can be asked, each with a different purpose and to stimulate a different thinking skill.

Here are 3 examples of the types of questions you could use while reading:

1. Questions That Ask for Predictions

These kinds of questions ask children to make predictions for a story. They could predict, for example:

  • the genre of the story from clues on the book cover
  • what happens at the end of a story
  • what happens in the beginning (if you read the end of a story first)
  • what could happen if a character makes a certain decision (and other scenarios for decision making)

2. Questions That Require Inference

Inference means that details are not explicitly stated in a text, but there are clues that lead the reader to deduce the answer to the question. Children learn to read between the lines.

Take for example an illustration in a story of an outdoor scene where the sun is shining. If you ask your child whether it is day or night they may not find the answer in the text; however, they can find evidence in the illustration to prove that it is daytime.

This is called inference and is a great skill for developing critical thinking.

3. Questions Asking About the Main Idea

I have worked with high school pupils who struggle to summarize the main idea of a story or text in one sentence.

If the entire text is about the migration habits of birds, for example, many children will identify a main idea that is either too broad (e.g. it is about birds) or too narrow (e.g. saying it is about one of many species mentioned in the text, or simply referring to something that was stated in the first sentence).

Asking the question “Can you tell me in one sentence what this story is about?” will teach children to think clearly and formulate concise and logical ideas.

Asking these kinds of questions can take as little as 5 minutes a day and will make a huge impact on your child’s ability to think logically and solve problems.

I hope you’ll enjoy trying some of these preschool critical thinking activities.


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Activity Pack for preschoolers

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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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