Critical Thinking Activities That Make Kids Smarter

Published by Penny Hagerman on

Children’s brains constantly absorb and process information. To do that effectively, they need critical thinking skills to help them analyze what they’re learning and make sense of it all. But did you know that this type of reasoning actually makes kids smarter? It does, because engaging in critical thinking teaches students how to think, which in turn opens up pathways in their brains and increases their mental capacity. 

If you’re looking for ways to build your students’ brain power, we’ve got some critical thinking activities you can practice at home together. With some quality time and positive feedback, you’ll find your students grow smarter, their brains process information faster – and they approach and solve problems better!

Training Kids’ Brains for Critical Thinking

Every year on October 13, we celebrate a holiday known as National Train Your Brain Day. Created to make everyone aware of the brain’s capacity to innovate and solve problems, we encourage parents everywhere to participate with their children. It’s a wonderful opportunity for learning, growing and increasing brain power together as a family. Further, we hope parents like you will use this day as an impetus to practice critical thinking exercises each and every day.

The mind is a powerful tool. It can be trained to think and react in specific ways, interpret thoughts and ideas along a particular path, and analyze situations to choose the best possible outcome. 

That’s where training kids’ brains early on becomes so important. Because they’re young and growing, youngsters’ minds are still developing. As a result, they’re much more open to learning, trying new and different ways to solve problems, and receiving positive feedback and suggestions that help them reach valuable conclusions. 

That leads to better decision making, greater understanding of the consequences of their actions, and an increased ability to solve problems.

Those kinds of critical thinking skills not only make them smarter, but also transform them into mature, capable, self-assured adults who can face anything life throws their way. Don’t we all want that for our kids?

Why They Should Practice Critical Thinking

Spending just 90 minutes each week on critical thinking exercises can help:

  • improve cognitive skills
  • speed up thought processing
  • improve communication, and 
  • increase problem-solving abilities  

Think of all the times your children get frustrated at home and school because they don’t understand the material. Besides being hard to watch, most of us can identify with those feelings because we’ve faced them, too. Depending on the support system we had in place growing up, we may or may not have received the coaching or positive feedback we needed to deal with tough situations.

But we can change all that for our offspring. When we see them experiencing feelings of frustration or anger because they don’t have the critical thinking skills to push through, we can teach them how to use those mega-processors to do just that!

Here’s the best news yet. Teaching kids critical thinking often results in:

✅Better performance in school

✅Improved focus and concentration

✅Increased ability to problem solve

✅More developed study habits

✅More refined communication

✅Quicker, more efficient thought processing

✅Elevated creativity

Feeling a little overwhelmed and not sure where to start? Read on for some top critical thinking activities to do with your kids at home – and get ready for smarter, more capable students!

Critical Thinking Exercises for Kids

Start practicing the following strategies to grow kids’ brains before they reach adulthood.

Activity #1: Ask Questions & Give Positive Feedback

Maybe your little one is constantly asking questions. Well, how about turning the tables on them? The next time you’re reading a book or driving down the street together, start asking them ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘where,’ ‘when,’ ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions about what they see or hear. These will get them engaged in critical thinking.

For instance, you might refer to a story you’re reading by asking, “How do you think [character name] is feeling right now?” Then ask, “Why do you think that?” followed by “What would you do if you were her?”  Encourage your student as they answer. Questions like these force kids to use logic and reasoning to state an opinion and justify their answers.

Activity #2: Make Predictions Using Hypotheses

Teach your kids to make predictions about what will happen using ‘if/then’ statements. This is known as hypothesizing. For instance, “If I do my homework, I will make better grades,” or “I think that, if [character name] does the right thing, her parents will be proud of her.” 

When students make predictions and observe the results, they get a chance to see logic, hypotheses and conclusions in action. This helps them use critical thinking to better understand the best path toward problem solving – a skill they will use their entire lives.

Activity #3: Use Visualization to Induce Critical Thinking 

When you’re reading with your child and you encounter a particularly vivid scene, ask your youngster to close their eyes and imagine it. Once they have a clear picture in their mind, ask them to describe it to you in detail. If you’re trying to help your student solve a problem, ask them to picture themselves working to solve it in their mind. Then ask them to describe what that looks like and encourage them to talk it out with you.

This technique promotes good imagination, communication and concentration. It also helps kids use critical thinking skills to understand things, like how setting and characters affect a story, or how they can use focus and logic to problem solve.

Activity #4: Make Up Stories

When kids make up stories, several things occur. First, they get creative, refine reading and writing skills, learn new vocabulary and perfect language usage. Second, they learn to sequence events in a way that makes sense. Third, they train to revise their work until they get it just right. And fourth, they improve reading and writing skills, as they write their stories down and read them to family members.

Making up stories with your children promotes critical thinking skills like focus, concentration, communication, creativity and problem-solving. It may also lead to merriment and lots of belly-laughs! 

Activity #5: Play Critical Thinking Games

How strong is your memory? Do you remember playing tic-tac-toe, hangman, number games, Scrabble, brain teasers or word puzzles with friends as a child? Or maybe you enjoyed chess? Games like these not only encourage socialization; they also force kids to use strategy, good planning, reflection and memory to accomplish a goal – all of which require critical thinking. 

For instance, how did you decide where to place your X in tic-tac-toe? Well, you observed your opponent’s moves, evaluated the spaces left on the chart, mulled over your choices and the effect of each one, and finally made your move. That process is a perfect example of critical thinking. As a side effect, we’ll bet you loved the positive feedback you received when you won the game, too!

Activity #6: Build Things

Some kids spend hours building things with just a bucket of blocks or LEGOs. Others prefer building with craft sticks, playdough or match sticks. Any way you cut it, the result is the same: creating something big out of something small. 

Constructing and building things requires planning, spatial skills, careful analysis and deduction. For example, if your child removes a block in one space, what effect will that have on the entire structure? If they remove a window and replace it with a wall, what effect will that have on lighting inside? If they use all-purpose glue, instead of wood glue, what might the result be?

We recommend getting down on the floor, building things with your kids, and posing questions like these as they work. You’ll help them build critical thinking skills – and have a blast doing it!

Activity #7: Create Art

If you want to grow kids’ brains, gather the art supplies and let their imaginations go wild. With no set limits, watch as they create, decorate, compile and construct all kinds of art. Better yet, participate yourself! From drawings and paintings to pottery and sculptures, artistic bends require critical thinking to make things work.  

To draw or paint, students must think about scale and proportion. For instance, how large should a person’s nose be in comparison to the rest of their face? What colors best accomplish shading and tone? When making a sculpture, what materials should they use and how will each one affect the final product? All these questions require logic and critical thinking.

Critical Thinking & the Growing Brain

Sometimes, children amaze us with their creativity and ingenuity. But sometimes, they need a helping hand learning how to think.

Critical thinking activities like these help parents like you do just that. With some time, attention and training, you can help your students reap all the benefits of a well-trained brain. 

KidzToPros can help! Our after-school enrichment programs help youngsters learn better focus and concentration, increase brain processing speed and promote creativity – all in one place. 

We hope you’ll join us after school this year and make the most of your children’s formative years. They’ll become wiser adults for your efforts!


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