Fostering critical thinking skills in early childhood classrooms is crucial for laying the foundation for a child’s lifelong learning. Teachers in our preschool and pre-k classrooms are masters at teaching students critical thinking skills which they integrate throughout their daily activities, lessons, and interactions. Problem solving activities, storytelling, imaginative play, reflection, experimentation, outdoor play, and developing independence are all ways we grow critical thinkers in our early childhood classrooms.
Here are some examples:
- Teachers interact and communicate with students using open-ended questions. This encourages curiosity and exploration by asking open-ended questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer. These questions prompt children to think, reason, and express their ideas. This also encourages students to develop a larger vocabulary and practice their communication skills at a higher level.
- Hands-on, age-appropriate problem solving activities are provided daily. These activities can involve puzzles, math games, using building materials, and simple experiments that require children to think critically to find solutions. Students are exercising their problem solving brain muscles and also their problem solving social muscles as they collaborate with their peers to work together on a shared task.
- Students are engaged in storytelling activities and discussions daily. Through guided read-aloud time, teachers invite students to share their thoughts, predictions, and interpretations of stories. This helps develop their ability to think critically about narrative elements. This also allows students to hear different perspectives and start to learn that others have different views and ideas.
- Opportunities are integrated throughout the day for children to observe their surroundings and ask questions. This can involve nature walks, science experiments, or exploring everyday objects. Encouraging young students to inquire, predict, and explore the world around them helps to foster a critical thinking mindset.
- Collaborative learning experiences where children work together on projects or activities is another way critical thinking is developed in the early childhood classroom. Collaboration encourages children to consider different perspectives, share ideas, and solve problems collectively.
- Teaching children the importance of reflection allows their brains to process abstract concepts and ideas with the help of an adult to guide this processing until they are older and can independently reflect on their own. After completing an activity or project, teacher’s ask children to reflect on what they learned, what worked well, and what they might do differently next time. This helps them develop metacognitive skills.
- Incorporating imaginative play, such as role-playing or pretend scenarios is a critical part of the school day in the preschool and pre-k. This type of play encourages children to think creatively, make decisions, and solve problems within the context of their play.
- Teacher modeling is another way critical thinking is encouraged in our early childhood classrooms. Teachers demonstrate how to ask questions, explore possibilities, and make thoughtful decisions. Teachers serve as important role models for developing these skills.
- Curriculum emphasizes process over product. Children and teachers focus on the process of learning rather than the end result. Teachers celebrate effort, persistence, and creativity, reinforcing the idea that learning involves exploration, experimentation, and continuous improvement. This approach teaches children that there are many ways to come to a conclusion or finished product and they are encouraged to work towards that conclusion in their own unique way.
- Extended outdoor playtime. The children have ample amount of time outside each day to play, explore, take risks, discover new things in nature and interact socially with their peers and children in a younger or older cohort. This time allows children to be the decision makers of their time giving them autonomy in a nurturing and safe environment.
- Independence is a key value in the Early Childhood program. During their time in our program our students are exposed to many ways to gain independence for themselves. Independence fosters problem solving, social dependence (asking a friend for help), autonomy and agency. When a child runs into difficulty getting a coat on or cleaning up at lunchtime they have to evaluate the different options to accomplish a task, “Do I ask a friend for help? Should I ask a teacher? Could I try it this way?”. Evaluating these different scenarios takes higher level thinking that children approaching five years old can begin to contemplate in a nurturing and safe environment.