Critical thinking skills can and should be encouraged in even our youngest learners. Contrary to the beliefs of some, this does not mean encouraging children to climb the ladder of skills, like having 4 year olds memorize sight words or sitting with children until they can add or subtract. These are skills that will be developed, especially if we have provided a firm foundation. That firm foundation means reading to children. It means having a rich verbal interaction with children. It means explaining our thinking about many facets of our life; for example, why are we having broccoli for dinner instead of cotton candy! Over the years, we have seen many children pushed to read, write, and calculate at a young age.
What can we do to help develop critical thinking skills, which in our analogy means giving that ladder a wider base so when a child does start to climb in, the footings are secure?
Here is one game that all families can play. Children can think about strategy while learning the concept of number. This can be played with buttons, coins, counters, etc.
We call it Pirate’s Treasure, as we like to make it fun and play with “gold coins.”
Put out 13 gold coins (red counters or objects of one color) and 1 silver coin (yellow counter or object of a different color).
Two people play. Begin with an adult and child. Take turns. Each player will decide to take one, two, or three coins/counters when it is his or her turn. The player who is left with the silver coin or yellow counter has lost.
There is a strategy to this game. Encourage children to think:
Should they take the first turn or the second turn?
Should the amount they take change based on what the other person took?
What happens if you change the number of coins/counters?
There can be a rich verbal discussion about strategy as children play this game along with oral language using mathematical concepts (“I took 2 away. How many are left?”)
These kinds of games help to build a strong base for later learning.
Children can learn to play this game no matter what language is spoken in the home. Discussion about playing it can help develop English vocabulary in a natural setting.
NAEYC – 2.B.04, 2.D.06, & 2.F.04.
Head Start – IV.A., VI.A., & X.A.