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How I’m teaching my 6-year-olds to be critical thinkers

Natasha Crain05.25.18

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 powwow (two 6-year-olds and a 4-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 lovedthe 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 might fall 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 6-year-olds (much less a 4-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 4-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.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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!”
  3. 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 6-year-old son for being able to verbalize that!)
  4. My twins got a birthday present that my 4-year-old really wanted to use. They told her no, but she 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.”
  5. 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.” (Yes, this really happened. I didn’t encourage it in order to have a good ending for this blog post, given the bad logic from the commenter I quoted at the beginning.)

Exactly. If only more adults understood that last one.

This post is used with permission from Christian Apologist Natasha Crain. You can access more great posts like this one by visiting her blog ChristianMomThoughts.com.