Activities for Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Michele Meleen
Girl playing in her bedroom

Activities for developing critical thinking skills in kids can be both fun and educational. Any activity or game that includes logic, reasoning, or analysis skills will engage critical thinking skills.

Critical Thinking Activities for Preschoolers

Critical thinking skills for kids ages 3 to 5 focus mainly on comparisons, sequencing, and simple reasoning.

Found Objects Obstacle Course

Help kids create their own fun with the objects around them by encouraging the creation of an obstacle course. Keep the directions simple and let your child lead the construction, lending a hand only for moving heavy things. This activity forces kids to see new uses for common objects and create a sequence of obstacles.

  1. Choose one room in your house and limit materials to things found in that room.
  2. The obstacle course must include at least one thing to go over, one to go under, and one to go around in that order.
  3. Your child must explain how to move through the obstacle course once it's finished.

Step-By-Step Day Setup

Use your child's daily routine as part of an activity that engages their ability to gather the information they have and sequence it in the proper order. You can do this at home with your child's first five steps of the day starting from the time they wake up or at school with the first five steps they take after entering the classroom.

  1. Give your child one object for each number from 1 to 5 such as blocks or number magnets.
  2. Ask the child to put the numbers next to each step in their routine in the correct order. For example, at home the number 1 might go next to the toilet if they go potty as soon as they wake up.
  3. Have them walk you through the steps and explain what the step is.
  4. If any were out of order, have the child try to move them to the correct places.

The Why Game

Toddlers and preschoolers love asking "Why?" Turn this curiosity into a fun partner game between parent and child or small group game at a daycare center or preschool classroom. Playing "The Why Game" gets kids thinking about an object or image from multiple perspectives including comparisons and categorizations of it.

  1. Start the activity by choosing one toy or image and asking a "Why?" question about it.
  2. Prompt the first child to continue the activity by asking another "Why?" question about the same object or about your question.
  3. Go around the group until everyone has a chance to ask a question about the same toy or image.
  4. Take some time to answer all the questions as a group.
  5. Choose a different toy or image for the next round.
Teacher with preschoolers in class sitting on floor

Critical Thinking Activities for Grades K Through 2

Around age 7 kids start being able to see things from another person's perspective, tell the difference between facts and fiction, make logical inferences, and analyze basic data.

Natural Playground

Kids can identify tools and creative uses for natural objects by creating a natural playground in the back yard or at a public park. This can be an individual activity where kids investigate materials and revise their plans or a group activity that incorporates comparing ideas and forming opinions. Your only role should be helping to move heavy objects or discouraging dangerous items.

  1. Challenge kids to create a playground-like area using only found natural elements like rocks or logs.
  2. Encourage steps like brainstorming, gathering, setting up, and revising.
  3. Ask kids to explain out loud their thoughts on how and why to use each object.
Children carrying a tree branch

Predictions Rule!

If you have several kids at home, a daycare, or a small classroom you can use kids' daily subtle observations about each other for a simple prediction activity. The ability to make predictions based on what you know is a critical thinking skill.

  1. Choose a part of your daily routine such as lunch or free choice play time.
  2. Choose one child to start as the subject of the predictions.
  3. Kids can either write down their answers or move into groups based on the answer options.
  4. Ask a question about your chosen daily task such as "Do you think Eva brought her lunch today or will she buy it?" Encourage kids to think about what they already know about Eva's lunch habits before answering.
  5. All the kids who got the correct answer stay in the game and each explains why they chose that answer.
  6. Choose one of the kids who got the answer wrong as the subject for the second question.
  7. Repeat until only one child is left in the game.
  8. Remove the competitive element by keeping everyone in the game and asking one question about each child in the group.

Would You Rather? Fact or Fiction

Kids in this age group love fun "Would You Rather?" questions. Use these types of questions to help kids share things about themselves with others and use the knowledge they have of each other to differentiate between fact and fiction. This activity is best for larger groups of kids.

  1. Have each child come up with a "Would You Rather?" question that incorporates one factual thing they'd rather do and one fictional thing they'd rather do.
  2. On their turn, a child will choose either fact or fiction then ask their question.
  3. The others in the group each have to guess which option matches the category chosen by the speaker. For example, if a kid picks fact, their friends would have to choose the "Would You Rather?" response they think is a fact about the speaker.
  4. After each turn, ask kids to discuss how they chose their answer.
  5. The speaker then reveals the correct response.
  6. Let every child take a turn being the speaker.

Critical Thinking Activities for Grades 3 Through 5

Kids ages 9 to 11 are now able to understand symbols, perspectives of others, complex explanations or reasoning. They can form their own solid opinions, but are still learning to embrace an open-minded approach to problem-solving.

Children's Book Bias Activity

Students will need to use context clues from a children's picture book to explain what bias the author, illustrator, or even publisher of a picture book might have. Let kids use computers to search for additional information about the book as a way to enhance their argument.

  1. Assign a different picture book to each child.
  2. Kids should use clues like the author's name, the portraits of the author and/or illustrator, and the background of those who created the book to see what bias they might have had when writing it. For example, a woman might write about a mom character differently than a man would.
  3. Kids can present their information as an oral or visual presentation.

Contradictory Emotions Story

Kids in this age group are able to grasp the concept that someone's outward appearance doesn't necessarily reflect their inner feelings or thoughts. This individual activity that can be used as a homework assignment or simple journalling activity.

  1. Give your child an image of a person. This can be a real photo or a magazine image of any person of any age.
  2. Ask the student to make a quick list of what they think this person is feeling, based only on their facial expression and body language.
  3. Students will then need to write a back story that contradicts their original impressions of the person in the image. For example, if the photo shows a happy child the back story might be about how the child shows their sadness through humor.

Make it Work

Older elementary kids today are really tech savvy and still like learning by doing. An activity like this can be used with small groups or on an individual basis to challenge kids' ability to understand how simple machines work.

  1. Choose one small machine, such as a DVD player or handheld device, for each child or group. Start with a working machine and disconnect one or two parts so it doesn't work anymore.
  2. Give the kids tools and time to figure out how to get the machine working again.
  3. Make the activity more challenging for kids by giving them completely broken or dismantled machines they have to put back together.
School boys repairing computer

Classic Activities That Enhance Critical Thinking

Classic brain games, board games, children's activities, and even video games can help strengthen critical thinking skills for kids.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking involves using evidence to reach a conclusion and includes a variety of skills such as:

  • Predicting and hypothesizing
  • Analyzing, comparing, and contrasting
  • Questioning, revising, and evaluating
  • Forming opinions
  • Using logic and reasoning
  • Seeing multiple perspectives
  • Finding creative solutions to problems

Activate Your Brain

Critical thinking activities and learning games for kids engage the parts of the brain that deal with finding information and using it to solve a problem or make sense of a situation. These activities should go beyond obvious solutions and encourage kids to discover multiple solutions. Choose developmentally appropriate activities to engage your child's brain at every age as it grows and changes.

Activities for Developing Critical Thinking Skills