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Problem solving and critical thinking skills - blogpost

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

Critical thinking and problem solving in children’s development.  A concern that has been puzzling scientists for a long time. Let us talk about the importance of critical thinking and problem solving in early childhood education. Do you ask yourself how important it is to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills during the children’s education process?  Read our article and find out why this issue is so necessary.


Table of contents:


You should also, check out our “How To Use Critical Thinking in Your Classroom” practical handbook. You will find it here: old.photon2.thecamels.plTeaching children to think critically and solve problems can go hand in hand with the currently very fashionable STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) methodology. Learn more about the importance of STEM in the education process on this page.


Critical Thinking – definition

Critical thinking is:

    • an attitude of being ready to consider in thoughtful manner problems and objects that are within the scope of experience,
    • knowledge of logical methods of reasoning and inquiry,
  • some practice in using these methods.

The critical thinking attitude requires a relentless effort to re-examine each belief or other supposed form of knowledge in the light of the supporting evidence and the subsequent conclusions to which it leads.


The statement about critical thinking.The statement by Michael Scriven and Richard Paul, presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, in the summer of 1987 was as follows:

Critical thinking is a disciplined intellectual process that involves:

  • active and skillful conceptualization,
  • using, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information obtained from someone or formulated independently,
  • observation, gaining experience,
  • reflection, reasoning, and communication.


This process determines what beliefs we hold and what actions we take. Typically, this process is based on universal intellectual values that go beyond the subject of our thoughts, such as clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, rationale, depth, momentum, and honesty. Creative thinking is about creating new ideas, combining existing ideas, and seeing the world anew. This way of thinking complements critical thinking.


Examples of skills related to creative thinking:

  • Fluency – proposing as many ideas as possible without evaluating them (brainstorming).
  • Flexibility – creating as many possible uses as possible,
  • Transformation – transforming the original object,
  • Originality – proposing unusual and unknown ideas, 
  • Creative problem solving – proposing solutions to the problem, 
  • Integration – combining two or more objects creating new quality, 
  • Networking (problem map) – analyzing ideas to build a network of logical connections according to the given topic,
  • Building dependencies – finding connections between ideas and objects.


Critical thinking – why it’s so important?

Critical thinking includes both logical thinking and the ability to ask questions and look for evidence for one or another claim. The arguments of a person who has command of critical thinking are as accurate as possible and exclude the possibility that they will be misunderstood.


Critical thinking predicts a person’s ability to consider one factor from different points of view, and to judge the causes of certain phenomena. It is also inseparable from honesty because it excludes emotional prejudices about the situation that has arisen. By showing an emotional approach, we resort to self-deception. However, in difficult moments in life, it is worth trying to think without prejudice. It is necessary to consider the situation from all possible points of view, this will help to successfully solve the problem.


Thinking for yourself is a set of different skills that help us learn to make decisions. It is the ability to analyze information and determine whether it is good or bad, useful, or not. To think critically about a problem is also to be open to various solutions and to search for them. As a child grows, these skills allow him to think, evaluate and make decisions independently of parents and teachers.


Critical thinking skills options - graphic


World Economic Forum report

The 2016 World Economic Forum report indicates that 65 percent. children who start primary school education will in the future work in professions that are not yet available on the market, related to new technologies, digitization, and artificial intelligence.  Our key competencies include communication in the mother tongue and foreign languages. The third language we should teach is communicating with the computer. On the other hand, the youngest ones need to be taught openness to changes, creativity, taking up challenges, crossing borders, not acting in patterns.


Problem Solving – definition

The Oxford Dictionary defines a problem as: “a situation in which we are reluctant to find ourselves and perceive it as harmful, in need of resolution or overcoming.

Girl which solving some problems - article graphic


All problems have two things in common: goals and obstacles. Every problem involves setting a goal or state that we want to achieve, or an event or situation that we would rather avoid. Why the obstacles? If we had not encountered them on the way to achieving the given goal, there would be no problem. Problem-solving is about crossing or overcoming the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of our success.


Problem solving is one of the key competencies that we need not only in our professional but also personal life. No matter where and in what position you work, every day you face problems that require solutions.


Problem Solving why it’s so important?

Problem solving is a fundamental skill that we should teach our children. Thanks to this, in the face of a crisis, he will not react helplessly but will start acting to deal with the difficult situation as soon as possible. But how to teach a child to successfully solve his own problems?

Children may face various difficulties every day: lower grades, quarrels with siblings and schoolmates, the ability to say no, and deal with stressful situations. We must prepare the youngest to deal with the above situations. Learning to solve problems is one of the most important lessons that we teach to the youngest in the early stages of education.


Critical thinking & problem solving skills

Here are examples of skills that make up critical thinking and problem solving.


#1 Inference

The student recognizes and examines the available information to point out what may be true.

  • Determine what you know about it, what data you have.
  • Identify similar situations.
  • Make a conclusion based on the above points


#2 Searching for similarities

The student finds similarities between two or more objects.

  • Familiarize yourself with each object.
  • List as many of its features as possible.
  • Identify common features.


#3 Comparing and contrasting

The student finds similarities and differences between two or more objects.

  • Familiarize yourself with each object.
  • List as many of its features as possible.
  • Find common features.
  • Find distinct features.
  • Organize and describe the similarities and differences.


#4 Analysing

The student divides the problem into its parts and examines each of them.

  • Look at the issue.
  • Find the most important items.
  • Describe each item.


#5 Argumentation

The student provides relevant arguments, details, and examples to support a claim or conclusion.

  • Make a statement that you want to argue for.
  • Gather the Information You Need.
  • Organize the information.
  • Present your introductory statement considering new and structured information.


Steps to solve problem

For the child to understand and solve the problem in the best possible way, we need to show him the right approach and search for a solution. Experts indicate that the most important steps in solving problems are:

  • Understand the right problem,
  • Get out of the “I know everything” mentality,
  • Visualize the problem,
  • Focus on the root cause, not the symptoms,
  • Be simple but creative in your solution.


Some key problem-solving skills include: 


How to teach critical thinking – trick&tips

How to teach a child to think critically and independently?

Here are some good tips that you could use.


Observe and draw conclusions

Even a small child, based on his observations, can form certain opinions. Don’t obstruct his questions, but when he asks you “how? why? for what?” answer “how do you think?”


The power of comparing in critical thinking education

Noticing differences and similarities develop analytical skills and teach you to categorize information. Start with simple things, such as comparing an apple and an orange, and then move on to more complex objects or even stories.


– Use the story without an end

When telling / reading a child, e.g., a fairy tale, omit the ending and ask him: “What do you think was next?” It teaches information synthesis skills and activates creativity.


Socrates method in critical thinking

Socrates was known to teach critical thinking by questioning. Children are naturally good at it, but flip the card a little, as if “forcing” them to want to defend their opinion.


– Give opportunities to learn in a group.

Critical thinking skills are greatly enhanced by sharing opinions with others – and by this, children learn from each other. It is also an introduction to the ability to debate and respect someone else’s opinion.


How to teach critical thinking skills - graphic


Other examples of activities to help develop critical thinking skills:


How to teach problem solving – trick&tips

Various techniques for the systematic education of problem-solving skills can be reduced to 4 types.


1. Communicate – word clue technique

It is the oldest and best-known method of teaching thinking. It involves guiding the problem-solving process with a variety of tips (questions, commands, hints) that are heuristic in nature.

  • try to create a situation-phenomenon-device diagram and try to find several of their defects (noticing the problem)
  • examine the learning process – thanks to which you get acquainted with a given situation.
  • when you want to detect a problem in each situation (phenomenon, device), try to come up with an alternative situation – comparing the ideal situation with a real one – often allows you to see the shortcomings and imperfections of the latter, i.e., it allows you to formulate the problem.


2. Auxiliary task technique, transfer phenomenon

The transfer consists of transferring solutions to a new task, i.e., the results that were achieved while performing similar, similar tasks. Previously discovered methods, hypotheses and other ideas can be transferred to new situations.

We give the student a basic task because he cannot solve it, we formulate an auxiliary task, which in principle should be quite easy. After solving the latter, the student can transfer this method to the basic task. In other words, make a knowledge transfer.


3. Simulating student questions

The ability to ask questions plays an essential role in the problem-solving process. The right question facilitates the analysis of the problem situation, steering the process of searching for information necessary in the hypothesis verification phase. 

The question simulation program not only influences the development of problem-solving skills but also increases the child’s overall activity in lessons conducted using traditional methods. A student who can formulate questions is eager to join the discussion. The direction of the search is determined by the student himself.


4. Active solution technique

Common observations show that postponing activities for a certain period often affects their more effective and economic solution. A student who starts work immediately after receiving a math task will probably achieve worse results than the one who postpones the performance activities for some time. This treatment causes several beneficial changes in the structure of thinking.

  • reduces the stiffness of thinking,
  • reduces the concreteness of thinking (starts to perform more abstract activities) and thus increases the effectiveness of the problem-solving process.

How to teach problem solving skills - trick and tips


Critical thinking & problem solving must-watch webinars: 

  1. TED-Ed – 5 tips to improve your critical thinking – Samantha Agoos  
  2. TCT 007  – 5 Essential Components of Critical Thinking Part 1: Logic vs. Argumentation
  3. Litmos Heroes – What Is Six Thinking Hats
  4. CriticalThinkingOrg – Critical Thinking for Children – Introduction 
  5. Joyful Noise Learning: Help for Homeschoolers – how do you teach kids how to think? 
  6. TEDx Talks – How to Teach Kids Better Problem Solving
  7. Teaching Self-Government – How To Teach Problem Solving To Kids


Critical thinking & problem solving – bibliography: 

  1. https://www.skillsyouneed.com/learn/critical-thinking.html
  2. https://ideas.ted.com/critical-thinking-is-a-21st-century-essential-heres-how-to-help-kids-learn-it/
  3. https://www.kidsacademy.mobi/storytime/critical-thinking/
  4. https://www.parentingscience.com/teaching-critical-thinking.html
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/helenleebouygues/2019/09/12/how-to-help-kids-think-critically-in-the-age-of-the-internet/?sh=eeaf85d59690
  6. https://www.fatherly.com/parenting/how-to-teach-kids-critical-thinking-skepticism/
  7. https://www.pear-tree.ca/critical-thinking-exercises-for-kids/
  8. https://www.chanty.com/blog/problem-solving-techniques/
  9. https://spin.atomicobject.com/2017/12/11/active-problem-solving/
  10. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/odep/topics/youth/softskills/problem.pdf
  11. https://ryanstutorials.net/problem-solving-skills/
  12. https://social.hays.com/2017/08/16/5-ways-improve-problem-solving-skills/
  13. https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/problem-solving.html