Knowing how to think critically is an essential 21st-century skill. Especially in a time where falsehoods readily disguise as news, even young students need to be discerning about what they see, read, and believe.
We can talk about teaching critical thinking skills to children all we want, but nothing will change until we put it into practice. And what better way is there than to start with actually having a topic to talk about?
One hot topic of discussion that won’t be fading off anytime soon is the topic of climate change. Just last week, Singapore’s Ministry of Sustainability and Environment (MSE) held the second iteration of Climate Action Week, which saw a slew of virtual events held, aimed at raising awareness of global climate change.
Climate change is a highly divisive topic, as some people believe it requires urgent intervention, while some don’t think it exists at all. Young as they may be, your child can also begin to learn and understand this global issue by taking some small steps. Here are some questions you can use to guide your child to think critically about climate change and help them make better sense of the world.
Ask ‘why’ & ‘how’
To any parent attempting to develop critical thinking skills in their child, the first rule to learn is this: Ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. Of course, ‘what’ questions are great for introducing a new topic. But ‘what’ questions aren’t very helpful beyond that, because the answers are easily Google-able.
Instead, you want to provoke deeper thinking using ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. These questions spur them to go beyond facts, to form connections and opinions about a subject. Some great questions to start with are:
How does X contribute to climate change?
How does X contribute to climate change?
How does climate change affect us (in Singapore)
How do you know this?’
Critical thinking requires us to question our own knowledge. By asking ‘how do you know this?’, you are prompting your child to wonder about the credibility of their sources. For example, they may have heard something from a random person on the street. In that case, how do we know if what they said was true? How can we confirm if what was said is true?
When we have a habit of acquiring information from reliable sources, we can also form more solid bases for our opinions and arguments. This makes it more convincing if your child has to explain to someone why they think global warming is a cause for concern.
Encourage them to think from different perspectives
There are always two sides to a coin, and numerous facets to any issue. For a global issue like climate change, it is expected that different stakeholders will have different concerns and opinions. A critical thinker will be able to recognise these varying viewpoints.
Encourage your child to consider different perspectives by asking them questions like ‘Why should people in country X be worried about climate change?’ That way, they will hopefully become more curious about understanding the issue from various angles.
Suggest ways to solve the problem
If there should be any end-goal for critical thinking, it is so that we have more innovators, visionaries, and thinkers who are able to lead change to better the world. So, after getting a feel of the issue, it’s time to ask your child: How can we solve this problem?
Definitely, climate change is a massive problem of a global scale with no simple solution. However, you can make it more manageable by breaking it down. Focus on addressing one factor at a time, and one approach at a time. For example, what are some ways to address the emission of fossil fuels from cars? Prompt your child to consider viewpoints from areas like politics, finance, education, and so on.
We’ve used climate change as an example, but these questions could be extended to any topic your child is learning. In fact, they also come in handy for adults who wish to hone their critical thinking skills!
The role of schools in building a culture of discovery and critical thinking cannot be ignored as well. The International Baccalaureate diploma in Singapore is one programme that really gears towards developing critical thinkers with a global mindset. Available at several international schools in Singapore, the educational framework starts children off with the IB PYP, their primary level programme.
If you believe critical thinking is an important skill for your child, make sure to choose a school that will continue to challenge your child in their thinking.