Teaching Logic & Critical Thinking to Your Kids
February 25, 2011 16 Comments
It’s pleasing to know that parents are taking a more proactive role in the education of their children, whether or not they are homeschooling. I’ve been asked if I can recommend tools that could be used to teach children the elements of logic and critical thinking.
- My first suggestion is that the best way to teach children how to think critically is to be a visible model of critical thinking. Children have a far greater aptitude for critical thinking than adults credit them for. They tend to be good at inferential reasoning. Their powers are limited in part by their limited storehouse of information from which to make inferences.
- Modeling excellence in critical thinking presupposes skill in critical thinking. So parents need to be students of logic and critical thinking themselves. Unfortunately, most have not had the opportunity for formal education in these skills. But there are accessible books to consider. I’ll add a list of recommendations at the end of this post.
- If your children see you making the attempt to sharpen your skills in reasoning, this will itself be a good example to them. You can tell them what you’re learning.
- Learn the names of basic inferential moves (for example modus ponens, modus tollens) and use these labels with your children when they demonstrate their own ability to make such moves. This should reinforce their awareness of the significance of their mental powers, and affirm them in the use of their powers.
- Encourage your children to think about the implications of something they have said or heard. You’ll have to be alert to opportunities for this. But once you’ve been at it for awhile, you’ll get into a natural groove. It will eventually become a part of your routine interaction with your kids. How to do this? I’ll save that for another post sometime.
- Get your children reading at their grade level (or above!) books that exemplify and encourage critical thinking. Mystery and suspense novels, carefully selected for their sophistication and interest, can be useful. I read the Hardy Boys as a kid. I also liked the stories of the Sugar Creek Gang.
- If you’re home schooling (or not), you can include in the curriculum some materials that teach critical thinking. The Fallacy Detective is a good source for this. (See below.)
So, here are a few of the many resources available. I’m recommending those that provide a good place to start. Each title is linked to its Amazon page.
Books that inspire parents and other educators to teach children these skills:
- The most impressive books I’ve seen for this were written by Isaac Watts (born 1674), the great pastor and hymn writer. They are Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth, and The Improvement of the Mind: A Supplement to Logic, with A Discourse on the Education of Children and Youth.
Books for self-education in logic and critical thinking:
Begin with D. Q. McInerny, Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking. See my post about this book here.
- Next, study a more detailed text. I recommend Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide, by Tracy Bowell and Gary Kemp (also discussed here).
- For convenient reference, have a copy of A Rulebook for Arguments, by Anthony Weston.
- For very quick reference and review, you might want to have the Quickstudy Reference Guide on Logic.
With adequate preparation in the early years, children in junior high and high school may be ready to work through these books themselves. They don’t provide a complete education in logic, but they are satisfactory for pre-college preparation. For more rigorous study in high school, I recommend using one of two textbooks:
- Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic—available in numerous editions, this is the classic textbook for college-level logic.
- Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic—also available in several editions.
Like most textbooks, Copi and Hurley are pricey. So you may want to settle for a second-hand copy. The illustrations and exposition of old editions will be dated, but the logic will be the same! I shop for second-hand books at AbeBooks.com.
For grade school and up:
- Nathaniel Bludorn and Hans Bludorn, The Fallacy Detective: Thirty-Eight Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning.
- Nathaniel Bludorn and Hans Bludorn, The Thinking Toolbox: Thirty-Five Lessons That Will Build Your Reasoning Skills.
- Nathaniel Bludorn and Hans Bludorn, Logic in 100 Minutes.
Fiction classics for youth:
- Franklin W. Dixon, The Hardy Boys Series (complete set here; starter set here)
- Carolyne Keene, Nancy Drew Series (partial six-book set; complete set here)
- Paul Hutchens, Sugar Creek Gang (starter set of six books)
This post is cross-referenced in an interesting post here.