07 Nov

How to Teach Critical Thinking Skills to Children

Majoring in Philosophy during my undergraduate studies turned a lot of heads. “What are you going to do with that?” people would ask.  Sure, philosophy doesn’t funnel you into a specific career path as cleanly as do majors like electrical engineering and computer science, but my time studying philosophy helped me develop in uniquely simple and essential ways that have had a great impact on me, and could have a great impact on young minds.  Understanding why philosophy for kids is so important can help you  teach critical thinking skills for children! It takes a lot of practice and development to be able to reason effectively, and this development is best if started young. A question that I think is asked far too rarely is, “Why do I think that?” and that’s pure philosophy.

Much of philosophical inquiry involves forming arguments. I can hear many of you now: “Trust me, my child knows how to argue with me.” But critical thinking skills aren’t simple requests or protests; they’re carefully constructed sets of arguments that support that position.  For example, when I tell my son that its bath time, he often counters with “I don’t want to take a bath.” I respond with, “Well honey, why don’t you want to?” He is only 3 and is not far along in his critical thinking abilities so he usually answers with, “Because I don’t want to”.  It requires the participant to think about the issue, understand the different components and perspectives on it, and question his or her own thinking.  An informed answer would be, “Because I am not dirty, I need more time to finish what I am doing, I choose to be dirty instead of clean.” My goal is to help teach critical thinking skills  while he grows up so that he can respond with an informed answer; not just with bath time, but with every aspect of life.

  Teaching philosophy to children is not my own invention; many schools are beginning to incorporate critical thinking skills for children by promoting philosophical stories, games, and discussions into their curriculum to begin the cultivation of the ability to process and synthesize information, form and synthesize opinions about it, and effectively reason through word and writing. Furthermore, many graduate programs are training teachers to lead philosophical activities in the classroom.

So what can you do to incorporate philosophy into your at-home curriculum? There are many resources online (I’ve linked to a few favorites at the bottom), but here are some  tips to get your little Platos and Aristotles thinking philosophically.


  • Have ethical discussions with your children. Pose a question, hear their answer, then gently challenge their thinking.  For example, ask something like, “If you needed medicine to save your pet’s life, but couldn’t afford it, would it be right to steal it?” After they give their answer, add another dimension to it: “What if the owner of the medicine needed to sell it to pay to save his pet’s life?” or “What if it was your mom who needed the medicine, instead of the pet?” (Be sure to tailor the questions to the emotional maturity of the children so as not to upset them).
  • Philosophy is often concerned with semantics, or the meaning of words. Challenge the child to distinguish between synonyms: beautiful vs. pretty, happy vs. joyful, angry vs. bothered. These distinctions help develop the child’s vocabulary and strengthen expression.
  • Ask philosophical questions about the books you read with your child. Ask the child about possible motivations for characters’ actions. Ask why certain choices were right or wrong. This also strengthens reading skills.


Resources: Maybe change the names of each resource into hyperlinks to the URLs?

  • The P4C Co-Operative (Philosophy for Children/Philosophy in the Curriculum) has a great website. Much of the material is pay-for-access, but the free samples are great as well. Look on the left side under Public Area. Explore the “Sample Resources” for lots of activity ideas, materials, and lesson plans.  (www.p4c.com)
  • The University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children has a thorough “About” section, as well as lesson plans and an extensive literature list. (http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/index.html)
  • Teaching Children Philosophy is an award-winning page focused on teaching philosophy through children’s literature. There are “Book Modules” (guides) available for a wide range of popular children’s literature, categorized by philosophical subject matter. (http://www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/wiki/Main_Page)


Submitted by Leona Dines

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