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Critical Thinking: What It Means and How to Foster it in Your Children

I recently came across an inspiring story, adapted from ‘The Star Thrower' by Loren C. Eiseley. The story was on a laminated poster of a beautiful red starfish sitting in the hands of a young child who was cradling it with open palms. The story read as such:

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

This month we are exploring what it means to be a critical thinker. What are we capable of achieving when we look at things from a new perspective? How can we achieve more when we use an empathetic approach with others? What foresight can we apply to our decisions, and how can we think outside the box to achieve greatness?

The qualities of being an IB Thinker go beyond the classroom. They are skills to use in your relationships with friends, in planning a summer vacation, or deciding how to complete weekend chores. These are the skills we challenge our learners with in all of their classes, by connecting critical thinking to having a growth mindset. So how do we foster critical thinking in our children? 

While teaching even our youngest learners about having a growth mindset, we must model the positive results that come from such. We must teach them that just because they are young, it doesn’t mean they aren’t powerful thinkers. I shared with my learners about Greta Thunberg, the activist our world has been waiting to lean on. At sixteen she is accomplishing more through her critical and creative thinking than others have done in their lifetime of work. She is the model of growth mindset, not turning away in defeat but rather persevering even more with each obstacle thrown in her way, and she does it with grace and maturity. Who better to inspire this generation of youth and who better to address the real tragedies of climate change. 

We must acknowledge the process of thought: whether the result is realistic or accurate, the process to get to it is what matters. This is when we relish in the idea of making mistakes. Our children are so fearful of this word, but when the feedback is given on the process rather than the result, they begin to recognize that they are capable of trying again. As parents, we can also recognize our mistakes and not shy away from them. When our children see us persevere, it inspires them, for we still our their greatest heroes and role models.  

The story above has an alternative ending, that goes something like this:

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

How easy it would be for our children to give up when discouraged or questioned by those around them, but how powerful it will be when our children inspire change.




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