Nurturing critical thinking in young children

Posted on 23rd May, 2023, under News

Scéalta Blog

In this week’s Scéalta, Catherine O’Reilly, PhD research student at Trinity College Dublin, discusses how critical thinking relates to early childhood and how we can use storytelling to give children in Early Years settings the same opportunities as older children to learn how to communicate, collaborate, be creative and engage in problem-solving.

In my PhD research, I investigated the question of how to encourage young children’s critical thinking skills. The outcome was a programme titled the Storythinking Programme which aims to nurture critical thinking in children. The study is near completion and will be submitted in August 2023.

What is critical thinking?

There are many ways to define critical thinking. The definition I draw from comes from the Paul and Elder Critical Thinking Framework, which asserts that fundamentally, critical thinking is about making good decisions that improve the quality of people’s learning and life (Paul and Elder, 2019). According to Paul and Elder (2014), we all live a life determined by the decisions we make. No one fully masters getting these decisions that determine the quality of life. All of us can improve our decision-making by reflecting on our decisions, using strategies to enhance our decision making and by comparing our ideas to other points of view. From this perspective, critical thinking is not just about getting the problem correct. Instead, it is about being open to improving how you think about a problem, situation or issue.

Why is critical thinking important?

Research suggests that students with critical thinking skills have better employment opportunities. This is because critical thinkers effectively communicate and collaborate, are creative and can solve real-world problems effectively (ŽivkoviĿ, 2016). Critical thinkers do not accept information at face value; instead, they will consider the information, issue or experience from different points of view before making an informed judgement (Paul and Elder, 2029). For example, students may decide they need more information before making a decision or conclude the information is good, bad, inaccurate or biased. However, the research investigating critical thinking skills relates primarily to older students, with very little exploration of how critical thinking relates to early childhood (O’Reilly et al., 2022). Thus, my question to you is, how can we give children in early childhood the same opportunities as older children to learn how to communicate, collaborate, be creative and engage in problem-solving?

A Storythinking programme: oral storytelling and dialogic inquiry

The Storythinking programme focuses on the educator telling an oral story to the group of interested children in combination with dialogic inquiry. In this study, dialogic inquiry is used in a way that will stimulate developing critical thinking skills. Oral storytelling refers to telling a fairytale using voice, gesture and body language; no text or props are used. In storytelling, connections are built between the storytelling and the story listeners. The Storythinking Programme is a shared experience where children are encouraged to think critically about the story characters and the decisions the characters make as the story evolves. In this model, the educator tells a story from memory and engages the children in discussing the story. First of all, select a Fairy tale you can tell without any text. Encourage the children to get comfortable so everyone has enough space and can see and hear.

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Catherine (Kitty) O'Reilly
Catherine (Kitty) O'Reilly Collage

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