Handcart list- critical thinking box

We live in pioneer country; this list is the result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners. This list focuses on critical thinking and various ways to include it in your studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-282013.)

Discovery level-

  • Household cleaning/sorting items to learn order, pattern, and classification.  Whether your young children are helping you put away their toys or scrub the bathroom, they will be learning how to create order and follow through on a multi-step process.  Consistency and effort are both requirements of thinking with clarity and purpose.  (Who knew having a clean bathroom or loaded dishwasher had so many benefits?)
  • Facts and vocabulary dealing with the world around them.  Without clear and correct information and verbiage, children cannot learn to draw valid conclusions and articulate them.  Give them data with which to work.
  • Word games i.e. Mad-libs, word searches,  crosswords- Early exposure to the fun side of language allows children to experiment with words and enjoy playing with them.  Vocabulary is more easily expanded when learning new word is enjoyable.
  • Math games i.e. tangrams, pentominoes, etc.- Visual and spacial skills are developed as children examine parts of the whole.  Learning to visualize how things go together to create an object helps with science and math studies, and can make the wonders of our Creator even more amazing.
  • Puzzles- Spacial skills again.  And developing the habit of close examination.
  • Picture books without words- When children have the opportunity to tell the story in their own words, they learn to find the words they need.  Watching the pictures closely can encourage them to express not just plot, but also emotional content, and can give them the opportunity to discern positive and negative behaviors.  Besides, they’re just good fun!
  • ThinkFun and Smart Games products- We have a number of critical thinking activities from these two companies.  They make great gifts, and it is not uncommon for the adults in the house to want to “help” the children work through them.  I find them from Timberdoodle and on  They are also sold by toys stores and educational supply companies.

Analysis level-

  • Conversation that requires thought and clarity.  Teach your children to speak clearly and articulately.  One of the most effective tools for critical thinking is exposure to contrasting points of view followed by discussion of the merits of each argument.  While this may not be helpful during the discovery phase, it becomes vital as youth grow and prepare for adulthood.
  • Logic problems- sometimes called quizzles or mind benders.  I learned to love these puzzles-on-a-grid as a child.  You can find them for every learning level from The Critical Thinking Company.  If you have an advanced or gifted learner, I would begin them in mid-late discovery level.  Others will do better waiting until they’re 10-12 or so.  Start slowly.  They require inference skills which have to be nurtured.  But be warned.  They can be addictive!
  • Crossword, sudoku, and other brain teasers- Much critical thinking ability is developed through looking at the world in different ways.  That requires thought and concentration.  Brain teaser puzzles help keep us mentally nimble.  These games are great to introduce when children are young, but have great impact as they enter the teen years.
  • Editorial section of the newspaper- Current events can be disturbing, but having only partial information makes things worse.  Teaching your older children what is happening, and helping them learn to think through the challenges of the modern world can allow them to process what is happening.  We read editorials (those from syndicated columnists and those from the local populace)  each morning as part of group time and then dissected them.  Do you agree or disagree? What is the premise of the article?  Is there a flaw or uninformed statement?  What words are the most persuasive?  The most inflammatory? Makes for some focused, in-depth discussion.  We also love editorial cartoons!
  • Games which encourage multi-step and/or logical thinking (ThinkFun and other companies) keep learning fun and low-key.  Rush Hour, Cool Moves, Q-Bitz, Labyrinth and other such games are favorites for our family.  There are always new fun things to find.  Have fun!

Application level-

  • Introductory Logic published by Mars Hill Press- Written from a traditional Christian perspective, this course is well-thought-out and teaches the basics of formal logic.  It will make you think! Purchase both the student and teacher texts.
  • Anything in the analysis level list- just keep them thinking!

For more ideas on critical thinking, see my blog post on April 17, 2013.

Home and Family, Homeschooling

Teach them to think

As we teach our children, teaching them critical thinking is paramount!  It cannot be done with in a vacuum, or without assistance.  Teaching critical thinking is also difficult if it is not practiced by the adults in the child’s life.  Do your children hear you discussing the “pros” and “cons” of a certain activity?  Are current events discussed and reviewed?  Are you thoughtful about the decisions made for your family, or do you regularly take the path of least resistance?  Remember, children learn what they live!

Early discovery learners spend much of their time learning critical thinking skills automatically if they are living in a resource-rich environment.  As toddlers, they observe, and then attempt such tasks as setting the table, building with blocks, or returning books to the shelf.  By doing so, they practice creating patterns, working within systems, and comparing size and shape.  Doing chores teaches them to create order from chaos. The ability to accomplish a job even when they “do not want to” is a skill that will serve them well when faced with paradoxes and challenges as they learn.

As they grow, assist them in finding ways to classify, match, sequence, and explore.  Look for opportunities to build the following skills:

  • patterns
  • opposites/comparisons
  • classification
  • cause and effect
  • listening counting/ordering sets

Also look for ways to produce or acquire games/activities that allow them to spend time with the following:

  • nesting cups/building blocks
  • matching games, lotto boards (such as bingo), dominoes
  • phonics/phonograms
  • word games
  • dot-to-dot pages
  • hidden pictures
  • sequencing cards/activities
  • puzzles
  • picture books without words

Critical thinking games to consider for purchase:  (Consider asking for some of these when Grandma wants ideas for birthdays or holidays.  By far, Timberdoodle has the widest selection of critical thinking games I can find for this age.)

  • Learning tiles (Timberdoodle and Discovery Toys)
  • Large Pegboard (Timberdoodle and Discovery Toys)
  • Pattern blocks
  • Number/picture slide
  • Camelot Jr. (Smart Games)
  • Mighty Mind (Leisure Learning Products, Inc.)
  • Early sudoku puzzles

Later discovery learners have already begun establishing a mental picture of the way the world works.  Take that opportunity to introduce activities and habits that will assist them is building a correct, clear concept of the world around them.  Help them better utilize clearer thinking skills as they rely on an odd (sometimes humorous) logic all their own!  If they can recognize faulty logic, they can correct their thinking as they grow.  Just remember to keep things concrete and literal.  The time for abstract games will come soon enough.

  • Mad-libs
  • word searches (use while they are still learning to spell)
  • brain teasers
  • Encyclopedia Brown books
  • puzzles, tangrams, pentominoes, soma cube, sudoku, etc.
  • word problems
  • I own a game called Drive Ya Nuts (Mattel).  It is no longer available for purchase, but if you look for it on Google , there are a number of sites that have directions for making your own version.

Critical thinking games to consider for purchase (These also work for later learners.)

  • Rush Hour (Thinkfun)
  • Square by Square (Thinkfun)
  • Cuisenaire Rods and books (Cuisenaire Co. of America)
  • Wrap-ups (Learning Wrap-ups)
  • Labyrinth Board Game (Ravensburger)
  • Tilt (Thinkfun)
  • Blokus (Mattel)
  • Izzi (Thinkfun)
  • Cool Moves (Thinkfun)
  • River Crossing (Thinkfun)

Analysis learners are beginning to understand abstract thought and humor.  They often seem to question everything you say and expect.  Stay calm.  They need to learn how to challenge other’s thought processes with courtesy, and logic, and they are simply practicing on you.  As you talk them through the challenges, you are teaching them to think for themselves (which is what we want them to do when faced with the world’s logic and values!).  Now is the time to introduce current events and opinion as a regular part of their academics.  Go ahead and ask them questions for which they do not have the answers; then help them go find them.  You can also encourage their ability to pick things apart with any of the following:

  • logic problems
  • crosswords
  • vocabulary activities
  • grammar study

Critical thinking games to consider for purchase

  • Equate(Conceptual Math Media)
  • Q-Bitz (Mindware)
  • Wrap-ups (Learning Wrap-ups)
  • Visual Brainstorms 1and 2 (Thinkfun)
  • TipOver  (Thinkfun)
  • Rubik’s Cube
  • any game listed for later discovery learners

Application learners should be preparing for life after their teen-age years.  Proficiency in expressing themselves with clarity both verbally and on paper should be a major focus of their studies. Continue with the things they were doing previously, simply add the following:

  • editorial writing and analysis
  • formal logic study

We owe it to our children to equip them with the armor they will need to make moral, grounded decisions as adults.  Life will throw dilemmas and paradoxes at them and they need the tools to dissect, clarify, and analyze each situation so that they have an opportunity to lead others with truth rather than simply “follow the pack.”

(For information on the levels of learning, see posts from 02/26-28/2013.)