The Importance of Critical Thinking for Kids: Why It Matters for Academic and Real-World Success

It may become tiring when your students continuously ask “why?” throughout the school day, but that simple question is one of the first signs of critical thinking for kids.

American philosopher, psychologist, and educator John Dewey referred to this concept as “reflective thinking.”​​ Dewey defined critical thinking as persistent, active, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge. It requires actively subjecting ideas to review and challenging what you’re told, rather than passively accepting them as truth.

With this thought process being a major part of your students’ brain and cognitive development, it’s important to help nurture it in the classroom with critical thinking activities for kids, so they have the chance to use logic and self-control to solve problems and explore their own creative points of view.

ChildCare Education Institute (CCEI) provides a collection of courses for early childhood educators seeking more guidance and training on how to promote critical thinking in the classroom. We realize that these skills will not only lead to lifelong academic achievement but they also help your students understand how to excel in the real world.

As we consider the importance of critical thinking for kids, we must first denote the foundational skills needed for critical thinking, then consider ways this thinking positively impacts problem-solving and supports academic success. We’ll also share some suggestions for fun projects that connect creativity to nurturing young minds that think critically.

Bloom’s Taxonomy: Levels of Critical Thinking

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a core part of the curricula we use to teach early childhood educators about critical thinking.  It’s also a vital tool teachers use in their day-to-day interactions with children. Bloom’s Taxonomy is laid out as a pyramid, with foundational skills at the bottom and more advanced skills higher up. The lowest phase, “Remember,” doesn’t require a great amount of critical thinking. These signify skills kids use when they memorize things like the alphabet, math facts, sight words, etc. Critical thinking starts to take off in the next steps of the pyramid

Understand – Understanding goes beyond memorization. It’s the difference between a child repeating the rote concept of “2+2 is four” or learning the days of the week versus understanding that when you add 2+2 it’s the same as multiplying those same numbers. Or a child understanding Saturday is the day after Friday and so on. Pure memorization has its place. Still, when a student understands the concept behind something, they’re able to apply what they’ve learned.

Apply – Application widens the world of knowledge and reasoning for young minds. Once they recognize the concept they’ve mastered can apply to other examples, you’ve helped them expand their learning greatly.  Math and science are where this level of critical thinking can easily be recognized, but its present in all subjects. Take sight words, for instance. Students originally memorize these words to help them read. However, once kids learn the phonics of words, they can apply that to tackle new words.

Analyze – Analysis springs your students into the next phase. Analyzing is where that incessant question of why stems because at this point they’re no longer taking things at face value. Analysis leads to students finding their own facts that stand up to inquiry, even when the facts don’t support what they thought. In the instance of your student beginning to question their belief that babies come from storks. Analyzing requires exploring, asking you questions, comparing and contrasting, research, and several other concepts to find the facts. Though they previously let their favorite fairy tales guide them, they now have to determine the best primary sources for information about babies’ birth like their teachers, parents, videos, and reading. Adults who find success in life have to use this skill set daily, and critical thinking for kids at this phase also becomes a routine.

Evaluate – Nearing the top of Bloom’s pyramid is evaluation skills, which provide the opportunity for kids to synthesize all the information they’ve learned, understood, applied, and analyzed, and to use it to support their opinions and decisions. The student has taken in all the information about babies, so now they have to remove their bias to make a choice on whether babies come from their mom or a stork. Evaluation moves beyond their beliefs that were supported without the proper elements of critical thinking.

Create – In the final phase, students use every one of those previous skills to create something new. For example, many kids in this age range create and express themselves through art. By starting with understanding and progressing to evaluating, they uncover how to apply the knowledge of how to mix primary colors (blue, red, etc.) to make other hues like purple, brown, etc. Beyond that, they can take their paints and easel to make a portrait that highlights the mixture of colors.

Why critical thinking for kids matters

Students making their way through each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy will think independently and understand concepts thoroughly. Students who know how to analyze and critique ideas are able to connect those skills to several subject matters  to make connections in various disciplines, see knowledge as useful and apply that and comprehend content on a deeper, more lasting level, according to the book “Critical Thinking Development: A Stage Theory.”  With that deeper understanding, your students will not always rely on you and their class time for guidance. Instead, they will seek out information and become self-directed learners in their daily lives.

At such a young age, it may seem difficult to promote critical thinking in the classroom, since it’s more of a habit that falls onto the individual student. However, early childhood educators are best suited to introduce critical thinking to little learners. In a 2018 Reboot Foundation survey, 20 percent of respondents said that critical thinking skills are best developed in early childhood, children ages 5 and younger.

At all ages, there’s an undeniable impact from providing lessons that nurture critical thinking in kids. For academic purposes, your students will be more ready to problem-solve and evaluate the lessons they learn in class. For their own benefit, forming their personal opinions based on deep critical thinking will allow them to find their own interests. When students are truly passionate about a topic or pursuit, they are more engaged and willing to experiment. The process of expanding their knowledge brings about a lot of opportunities for critical thinking. You have the chance to encourage this action and witness the benefits of the child investing in their niche interest in insects, performing arts, space, and more.

How to make critical thinking for kids fun

Critical thinking is all about sparking and responding to curiosity. There are a number of critical thinking activities for kids that have been proven helpful for early childhood educators.

Below, you’ll find a few fun ideas for your classroom:


Journal Time

Journaling may seem like a simple task but offers a daily or weekly opportunity to get your students in an imaginative mindset. You can incorporate just five minutes of instruction time each day to ask kids an open-ended question they can respond to using written words, a drawing, etc. For example, “What did you like about the experiment we did today?” or “What’s your favorite day of the week, and why?”

The kids may use words and pictures, depending on their level of writing skills, to answer the questions.

Lego-theme Party

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a student that won’t quickly say yes to a Lego party. This party is an opportunity for each student to use their imagination to create their own scene or theme based on one-word prompts. Just ask your students to create a farm, a store, the school, etc. using Legos.

The Lego creations allow them to use their imagination to create various themes, but they may have questions about what to include. You can give them helpful hints (like mentioning animals on a farm), but make sure your students are responsible for the final outcome. After everyone’s done, you can see how each student applied their critical thinking with very little guidance.

Make Your Own Menu

This food-themed critical thinking activity is sure to be a treat.

Gather artificial food items and sit them in front of the class. For this activity, ask each student to pick which foods they want for their personal menu. The students might ask how to spell the names of items or ingredients, but they’ll be fully in charge of what concoctions they create.

At the end, each student can present their menu and explain why they chose their food items. Not only will the students have a better handle on critical thinking, but they’ll also learn their classmates’ favorite foods.

These critical thinking activities for kids give your students the opportunity to question, analyze and evaluate in creative ways on topics that relate to them. Though critical thinking is a nuanced lesson, CCEI has designed courses that can help teachers inspire and guide students toward long-term academic success, such as Critical Thinking Skills in the Preschool Environment.

Click here to learn more about how to promote critical thinking in the classroom and discover our entire catalog of more than 200+ online courses that cover an array of trainings.