How I’m Teaching My 6-Year-Olds to Be Critical Thinkers

How I’m Teaching My 6-Year-Olds to Be Critical Thinkers

Last week, someone left the following comment on my blog post, How Secular Family Values Stack Up: A Response:

“This is your interpretation of Christianity, but not the only one. Any number of versions of God–or Christ–may exist, and not all will not punish people based on their religion. The best objective, then, is to raise your children to be thoughtful, responsible and loving.”

Allow me to be blunt for a moment. This is horribly bad logic. And that has nothing to do with the fact we’re talking about Christianity. I’m strictly talking about the thought process, which basically goes like this: If there are varying beliefs on what is true, and some of those beliefs have unpleasant implications, then we shouldn’t teach our kids any of them because reality might not be as bad as some people believe.

How about this instead:

  • If you’re an atheist, teach your kids atheism because, and only because, you believe it’s the true picture of reality. Not because people believe a variety of things about God. There’s just no logical connection.
  • If you’re Christian, teach your kids Christianity because, and only because, you believe it’s the true picture of reality. Not because you were raised a Christian, not because it makes your kids behave better, and not because it’s comfortable.

I want to be absolutely clear that this is not an issue of Christian reason vs. atheist reason. Anyone can be guilty of using bad logic for their beliefs. Just this week, I saw a Christian tell an atheist that she should raise her kids as Christians because it will bring their family closer together.

No, no, and no.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is the gift of how to think well. Because I’ve seen so much bad logic online lately, and have heard so much bad logic from my own kids, I decided to take some very specific action with them a couple of weeks ago. The results have been amazing. Here’s what we did.


Teaching Critical Thinking at Home

I sat my kids down for a little pow-wow (two six-year-olds and a four-year-old). The conversation went something like this:

“I’ve been noticing lately that you guys are having some trouble drawing the right conclusions about things. I want to help you to make better conclusions. This is something that will help you the rest of your life. It’s super important to be able to know how to think well, and even a lot of adults have trouble with it! When we draw appropriate conclusions, that’s called good logic. When we draw inappropriate conclusions, that’s called bad logic. Let me give you some examples so you can see what I mean.”

I then gave them some easy examples to think through, and had them explain to me WHY each example showed good or bad logic (getting them to verbalize the “why” is hugely important). They absolutely LOVED the challenge. Here are a few examples I used:

  • “I can see it’s sunny outside. That means it will definitely not rain today.” (Bad logic: Just because the weather is sunny right now, doesn’t mean the weather couldn’t change later.)
  • “I am too tired to put you guys to bed tonight. That means I don’t need to do it.” (Bad logic: Just because you don’t want to do something doesn’t mean you don’t need to do it or shouldn’t do it.)
  • “There’s ice on the sidewalk. That means I shouldn’t run on it.” (Good logic: We know that ice is slippery and we mightfall if we run. We have good reason to be careful.)
  • “We can’t see God. That means He must not exist.” (Bad logic: Just because you can’t see something with your eyes doesn’t mean it isn’t real. We need to look for evidence that demonstrates the reality of unseen things.)
  • “I don’t understand why God lets a lot of bad things happen in the world. That means He doesn’t exist.” (Bad logic: We don’t have God’s perfect knowledge of the world, so there will necessarily be things we don’t understand. Whether or not we understand all of His ways says nothing about whether or not He exists.)

I’m pretty sure the kids didn’t understand what logic meant from my little preamble, because it’s hard to describe this in terms that six-year-olds (and a four-year-old) can understand. But after going through these examples, they got it completely.

After that first conversation, I told them I would start pointing out good and bad logic when I saw it. I invited them to do the same.


The Results

Far from being a one-off conversation that was quickly forgotten, this little logic lesson has totally transformed my kids’ thinking in a matter of a couple of weeks.

They ask me in the car for “logic problems” every day. They call each other out on bad logic as soon as it happens (even my four-year-old can spot it!). They’ve used a lot less bad logic because they now know they’ll be held accountable as soon as someone in the house hears it (and, so far, no one has gotten upset about that).

Here are five examples of how they’ve called each other out this week, with no prompting from me.

  • My son couldn’t find his shoes the other day. He moaned, “Uuugggh. I can’t find them. They’re not in the house.” My daughter yelled from the other room, “Bad logic! Just because you can’t find your shoes doesn’t mean they aren’t anywhere in the house. It just means you don’t know where they are right now.”
  • My older daughter scribbled on my younger daughter’s art work. When I asked her why she did it, she said, “Because she did it to me. That means I can do it to her.” Both my younger daughter and son were standing there and, in unison, yelled out, “BAD LOGIC!”
  • My daughter saw a girl at school throw something at another girl. She said she now knows that girl “is mean.” Before I could even answer, my son said, “But that’s bad logic. We’re all sinners and even Christians do bad things sometimes. It doesn’t mean she is always a mean person. If she’s a Christian, she’ll want to ask for God’s help on that.” (I must admit I was especially proud of my six-year-old son for being able to verbalize that!)
  • My twins got a birthday present that my four-year-old really wanted to use. They told her no, but she went and used it anyway. When I gave her a consequence, she wailed, “But I really, really, really wanted to use it and they said no!” My older daughter quickly informed her, “That’s bad logic. Just because you want to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do.”

Before I even tell you this last one, I want to emphasize that yes, this really happened. I didn’t encourage it in order to have a good ending for this blog post (recall the bad logic from the commenter I quoted at the beginning):

  • My daughter got a math problem wrong on her homework. She answered that 5+2=8. When I told her it was wrong, she defensively said, “But I saw people in class write different answers. Some wrote 6, some wrote 7, some wrote 8.” My son caught her quickly. He said, “That’s bad logic! Just because people put different answers doesn’t mean one answer isn’t the right one.”

Exactly. If only more adults understood that.


Post update (October 2017): My new book, Talking with Your Kids about God: 30 Conversations Every Christian Parent Must Have, walks you step by step through the maze of bad secular logic that kids will be faced with today and shows you how to have the conversations that matter most. If you could use some help having these conversations, check out my book here! It’s available wherever books are sold.

24 thoughts on “How I’m Teaching My 6-Year-Olds to Be Critical Thinkers”

  1. I love how you make this so approachable with kids. When I first saw the post title, I thought “Yes, this is very important…but HOW?” And your examples and use of ‘bad logic’ vs ‘good logic’ is such a realistic and easy approach. I will be doing this with my kids. I see their bad logic all the time and point it out (usually something like, ‘You’re not making any sense! That has nothing to do with xyz), but never thought to have it be called out as ‘bad logic’. Thank you!

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  3. How are you going to approach the subject of origins? Many people simultaneously teach children that man was created on the sixth day, and that dinosaurs lived and died millions of years before humans ever existed. This was the case for me, and I never thought about this discrepancy until a cousin brought it up. From what I’ve seen of your blog, you’re not committal on young vs. old earth (you actually seemed to lean toward the latter), but your logical children might well decide that young-earth is the only view consistent with the Bible. And if you try to explain why it’s not that simple, they might find problems with your logic.

    1. Interesting question. I’m teaching them that people have varying views on the Bible and origins. As they grow older and able to understand more, I will talk to them about YEC, OEC, and TE. I will show them the case for and against each of these views, both scripturally and scientifically. I’m sure they will ask my own view, and that’s something I’ll share with them. But I don’t think only one view has a hold on logic. Just because some answers aren’t as simple as others doesn’t mean those answers aren’t logical. 🙂

        1. By the way, I thought of you in the middle of writing this post. I know you’ve encountered a lot of illogical Christian thinking so I thought, “Paul should appreciate this one.” 🙂

    2. By the way, in light of this post, I feel the need to point out that I’m not suggesting there isn’t one right answer to the question of origins, just because people have different views! I do have my own view and will be very clear with them on why I believe it. However, I don’t believe the truth of Christianity rides on one’s views of origins and want them to understand what other Christians think. In the book I’m writing, I have eight chapters (out of 40) on these questions.

  4. Great post Natasha!!
    I point out my kids faulty logic all the time. It never occurred to me to make a game out of it! Its an excellent idea not only will it reinforce good logical thinking but will help them spot faulty logic when they or others use it.

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  7. I somehow stumbled across your site in the wee hours of the night while nursing my 5 week old. I have never thought about bad logic and how my kids (ages 5 and 6) are using it. You have opened my eyes! I am excited to start working with them on this. Thank you so much for sharing!

  8. Logic should be taught more.
    I’m so glad I got a guest course on ancient Greek philosophy in when I was 14 (it was more like ‘discussion, how to form an argument’, and ‘basic logic reasoning’),

    Being able to differentiate between causality and correlation is also a good one. It is (for me) the natural ‘next step’ up from basic logic.

  9. Another good one 🙂

    As a teacher I really appreciate the small yet profound ways we can shape kids’ thinking. These exercises stick with kids.

    After reading the comments on several articles it seems like a lot of parents are stressing about their kids taking “critical thinking” too far and losing faith. I’m not a traditional Christian believer so maybe I’m not one to speak on this, but maybe you could write something about how doubting religion is a natural part of religious growth. It’s not something to fear, but a sign that the child is engaging on a deeper level with what they’ve learned. Unwavering belief from the get-go is possible for some, but it isn’t always a sign of deep and considered belief. For example, the problem of evil is profound, and I would argue that grappling with it is a lifelong task for a truly invested believer. Choosing to grapple, even with religion at its core, is a sign that a person is pursuing god’s truth with their full attention, rather than simply accepting a surface explanation.

    Per people’s concerns about their kids leaving Christianity, it might help to remember that the condition of a person’s soul isn’t apparent from outward appearance and that everyone is being sheparded on a unique path. Unless you’re willing to concede that God abandons people then you must stay faithful that no one has been abandoned.

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