global generation 9: teaching critical thinking for kids

“Developing the mind is important but developing a conscience is the most precious gift parents can give their children.” john gray.

I purposefully selected the quote above to open my discussion on the importance of teaching critical thinking “global generation” style within my global generation children’s education initiative.


Because most times in education discussions the idea of critical thinking is a simple “mistake, or trial & error, exercise the decision making muscle” type discussion.

And I am not just talking about that. I guess in my version (at least associated with the Global Generation children’s education initiative) is really more “critical thinking with a conscience.”


In my eyes I do believe the main learning thrust behind this Global Generation children’s education initiative of mine is teaching critical thinking.


All within a framework of ‘respect for individual choices’ (or call it “responsible choice making” if you would like).

Realistically the key to empowering ‘understanding of choices’ within an entire Generation is creating this combination of understanding, or having the basic building blocks, of critical thinking AND values/respect.

So these two things are actually inextricably intertwined. Critical thinking and conscience.

And while I will begin focused on critical thinking (and the importance) I will finish this up on why in the global generation initiative it CANNOT stop there and the fact that “respect for individual choices” needs to be incorporated.


The respect issue is an additional dimension. But it is an important dimension because children need to learn the affect of their decisions upon others (to attempt to instill a non-individualistic focus, a less selfish perspective and a more holistic view of Life decision making) to truly teach critical thinking.

Am I aiming too young for all of this stuff?

Ah. Let’s remember this is a global education initiative.

While here in America adults are slowly preparing children for adulthood many children, say in Bulgaria or Kenya are thrust into adulthood home responsibilities as early as 10.

And with the intent of this initiative to affect an entire generation from a behavioral standpoint it would behoove us to begin preparing all children globally at a similar pace.

Too early for “American kids?” (some may argue … as I have said before … “let them have their youth”)

No. not too early.

And I believe how you say it (how it is taught) can allow them to have fun and enjoy learning (and I will show some existing live examples later on).


Back to critical thinking.

Or understanding logic.

The pluses and minuses of a decision (not arithmetic).

Thinking things through and making choices.

This is about making mistakes and encouraging curiosity.

This is about freedom of learning.

This about teaching about freedom of choices AND repercussions of choices.


Maybe this discussion boils down to an interesting word – mistakes. Because if we don’t teach kids how to manage mistakes then one ‘mistake moment’ could be the first step in discouraging curiosity.

Well. It could be worse actually.

In some cases … a mistake won’t discourage … it will be a stop sign (just watch kids as they try a sport like tennis at a young age and quickly see mistake after mistake of not being able to put ball between lines … and they never pick up a racquet again).


Maybe how first mistake in some addition equation (which had nothing to do with their brain power but rather a simple mistake or not understanding) moment feeds into a belief they are not good at math.

Therefore the worst outcome of not understanding mistakes (or management of mistakes) is that they are encouraged to do nothing.

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
~ George Bernard Shaw

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”
~ James Joyce

I do find it interesting that this entire discussion about teaching critical thinking and ‘making mistakes’ makes for interesting (and tough) discussions as you discuss the right & wrong words to use with children.

One great discussion I had the other day with a couple of people, who have more experience teaching young kids then probably most of the people in the world, centered around this idea.

We talked about the word ‘fail.’

Or failure.

The context was part of using games to teach.

At a young age the issue with a children’s game is that it has to be easy enough to be attainable … but hard enough to make them think and be challenged. In order to do that a significant number of kids will be failing (or not being successful) a number of times before they achieve the next level in an educational game.

Look. I don’t believe there is any debate (at least when it comes to critical thinking skills) that losing (or failure) and how you deal with it … is an important lesson.

So. How do you tell a kid it is okay to fail?

Especially in a game.

Especially across cultures where some parents find mistakes unacceptable.

How do you teach very young kids that sometimes the success comes from the attempt?

And that failed attempts is learning and are stepping stones to future thoughts and ideas … and sometimes success. And if not success maybe just another other failed attempt.

Critical thinking at its most basic level is trial & error.

And it behooves us to teach an ENTIRE generation this beginning at as early an age as possible.


So maybe this is a “chicken/egg” discussion where I am going to put mistakes first.

I will tell you that there are some incredibly talented web based thinkers out there who are attacking this issue (and also have the personal passion to be doing some awesome stuff).

My friends at Flying Rhinoceros in Portland Oregon have a variety of kid’s online games and this is one example (of which I would use in a second as part of the Global Generation children’s initiative):

There is also a great source called “free for teachers” which is kind of a portal to some great kid’s critical thinking educational tools and games:

In addition Crickweb in England also offers an awesome collection of critical thinking (and other) games for young children. On Crickweb you can find games for students to practice and learn the basics of numeracy, literacy, geography, history, and science. There is also a collection of games for used on Promethean whiteboards.

(important note: I have said this a number of times about my Global Generation Children’s education initiative already but it bears repeating every time I discuss and showcase any tactics … yes … some very talented people have developed some incredible resources that are aligned with the overall concept. No. they are not all together and no they are not all aligned toward a common goal. This is about as fragmented a topic – strategy and tactics – as any industry/category I have ever seen. I also admit it frustrates me. All this talent. All these great ideas. All “wasted” in their own little corner of their world when if they could all be aligned and thrust upon the world they could have a massive positive impact.)

Anyway … moving on …

For the higher education thinkers … I am really talking about critical thinking and a didactic education for kids …. creating “crisis” moments in young kids games is a healthy way of teaching critical thinking in a game environment (where ‘crisis’ takes on a less ‘high ramification’ situation) to begin the teachings of crisis and mistakes and thinking management.  I wrote about this in an earlier post where I discussed the Heglenian thinking model.

What this means is that mistakes (which sounds slightly better than “error”) have to be built into a teaching plan or initiative. You almost have to force children into situations where they will fail (make a mistake) before they can move on. To be slightly proactive with this concept let me suggest that in the teaching games instead of a “mistake” we are seeking to create a ‘crisis’ which creates conflict and thinking with young kids.

By aggressively attacking critical thinking in this way we teach children two things:

i.                     How to deal with mistakes (learn and try – iterative)

ii.                   How to deal with crisis (decision making – patient under stress)

Here is a Heglen simple chart showcasing what I am talking about:

Whew. Crisis. Tough word when discussing kids.

Well. Here is the difficult part.

Crisis and mistakes are part of life.

I imagine the tricky part is if you have parents or a boss who forget that in their relentless (and unrealistic) pursuit toward perfection they deem mistakes ‘unacceptable’ or that anything less than 100% perfection all the time is grounds for chastisement.

In addition … many adults don’t manage “crisis” very well.

All of this leads to a lack of ‘forgiveness behavior’ which affects a child’s behavior.

How? Well.  It translates into the bad habit of not making any mistakes (or not understanding that crisis is part of dealing with day to day life).


Huh? What did I just say?

Yeah. The bad habit of never making a mistake.

Well. The only way you can never make a mistake is either:

–          never to do anything (so scared you simply follow behind others all the time)

–          so careful with everything you do you invest so much time insuring you don’t make a mistake the actual “doing” is a disappointment (the ROI is very low).

So. That means there should always be a thread of “What would I do if I had no fear of making a mistake?” when you considered taking action (versus “holy shit, don’t move, it may be a mistake”).

This became an important thought for me to write about because I saw in a recent poll, the top 3 fears that were cited by most Mine Your Resources readers were:

  • I’m worried I’ll be out of my depth and I won’t have the skills and knowledge to do those things
  • I’m scared of committing in case it’s the wrong decision
  • I’m scared I’ll start and then not finish it

The Common theme? “I’m scared I will make mistakes or fail!”


And this is adults.

So adults who are under this belief subsystem are teaching our kids today about critical thinking and mistakes.

(uh oh).


Part of the beauty of this global generation education initiative is it almost takes this issue out of human hands and lets technology take over. (that’s the web based aspect of the initiative – note: I do have a follow up post to once again address the issue that kids can learn via primarily thru internet).

Can it be done?


Give someone enough money and they can design a critical thinking algorithm kid’s game model that will automatically heighten difficulty if the child has exhibited certain decision behavioral patterns.

And the corollary would be to have the same pattern review so difficulty adjusts to level of critical thinking maturity.

Why are both important?

Developing critical thinking skills is about making a generation tide rise higher. Not force some to drown and some to swim.

So there are some basic critical thinking behavioral actions that should be encouraged regardless of the level of someone’s thinking ‘maturity.’


We want to create a program that teaches to dig beneath the surface of ideas and the value of developing questioning minds in cultivating deep learning. The game links I provided show a systematic, with depth, game interaction encouraging kids to see and assess the plausibility of things. The objective has to ultimately be to establish an additional level of thinking to ‘the thinking’ encouraging the growth of an inner voice of reason that monitors, assesses, and reconstitutes (rationally) thinking, feeling, and action. I want to create an initiative that addresses:

The Consequences of Making a Decision. In times of significance, that space in time may decide if you follow your instincts or let another factor prevent you from making the right choice. Peer pressure, overwhelming doubt, fear, and all those demons that like to whisper in our ears. You might make the wrong choice. Or the right one. But those little devils return to doubt even your hesitation and contradict themselves by pointing wildly at the other option.

Kids need to learn that sometimes making a decision (or doing nothing) has an effect on the freedom of choice they would have otherwise.

The Consequences of not making a decision. It should be one of the deadly sins. Maybe more dangerous than lust, pride, sloth, greed, envy, gluttony, and wrath put all together <Ok …I may be exaggerating a bit there>. But regardless … hesitation is the cause of many regrets and failures … as evidenced through numerous clichés in literature and media.

Because in that moment, before making a decision or taking an action, the consequences of what follows may lead to the remaining sins. And I don’t mean that hesitating before choosing whether or not to eat ice cream will result in accusations of gluttony for the cold dessert. Nothing so drastic as that.

Learning why you may not have made the right (or best) choice. Asking yourself if you could have done something differently. Maybe learning that there were other “just as right” choices. Yup. Learning that maybe, just maybe, there was more than ‘one’ answer <that is called Life>.

Coming to Terms with Mistakes (or less than the best choices). Learning that although you might not get what you expect, you learn and find something new. Regrets and fears are worse when it’s about something you didn’t do. We don’t want kids to become deranged risk-takers taking any choice that appeals to them but rather teach those critical thinking aspects.

Relating thinking and decisions to others. While critical thinking often focuses on personal choice it is good to share learnings on how to consider another individual. Maybe taking time to consider them in how the outcome of the decision will affect other people. And learning on the dynamic that exists between individuals, the group, the relationships and repercussions of decisions not just on self but in totality.

It is this last part that is vitally important to the Global Generation education initiative.

And it ties in to something that the United Nations has already dipped their toe into (so I imagine it cannot be that hare-brained an idea).

This initiative I am discussing certainly revolves around:

–          Freedom of learning.

–          Freedom to think.

–          Freedom of speech.

And government has freedom to govern within their own beliefs (so I am certainly not suggesting everyone has to be a full democracy).

Look. I don’t know what to call the “relating thinking and decision to others” other than suggesting we are trying to build in a component of human values to the critical thinking learning.


I sometimes get into trouble when I discuss this initiative and the word “values.”

But it is human values (which, yes, can be subjective).

But some guy did a study and actually analyzed the importance of human values as “attractors” (or how they can gather likeminded people into groups).

Basically the study suggests that Human values can usefully be understood and experienced as attractors.

How relatable they can be considered as attractors by different cultures/people depends on that particular group’s appreciation of the distinction between what the study identified as  four different classes of values derived from an interpretation of complexity studies.

In one sense, all values may be seen as attracting in a strange manner — especially when simplistic understanding is avoided.

Emphasis has been placed on the manner in which each class of values can be perceived as:

–          Appropriate

–          Inappropriate

–          Inappropriately appropriate

–          Appropriately inappropriate

Such distinctions are important for understanding and patterning the dynamics between advocates of particular classes of values. (note: I will write an entire article on Human Values as attractors to gathering likeminded people … let’s call it Human Values Mass Mingling).


Interestingly the UN has dabbled in this arena with the World Programme for Human rights Education.

It is a proactive education program to eliminate violent conflict.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm …

Someone (me) would call that encouraging enlightened conflict.

Who would have ever thought me and the UN would ever agree on anything? (not me).

Here was the Plan of Action for the First Phase (2005-2007)

The General Assembly proclaimed the World Programme for Human Rights Education (2005-2007), focusing on the primary and secondary school systems. “The World Conference on Human Rights considers human rights education, training and public information essential for the promotion and achievement of stable and harmonious relations among communities and for fostering mutual understanding, tolerance and peace” (Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, Part II.D, para. 78).

…  it contributes to the long-term prevention of human rights abuses and violent conflicts, the promotion of equality and sustainable development and the enhancement of people’s participation in decision-making processes.


How ‘bout them apples? At least they have thought about it.

In the end?

Critical thinking skills? Making mistakes? Making decisions?


Another way to say this is to suggest we are building confidence in decision making (ability to cope with mistakes and crisis situations as well as confidence in figuring out solutions).

One would hope if we do all of this right that we create a confident person (in fact an entire generation of them) who has a strong sense of right and wrong, is adaptable and resilient, knows himself/herself, is discerning in judgment, thinks independently and critically, and communicates effectively.

One would hope if we do all of this right that we create a concerned citizen, who is rooted to their local geographic culture, has a strong sense of civic responsibility, is informed about their own country/region and the world, and takes an active part in bettering the lives of others around them, skills necessary for children to recognize and manage their emotions, develop care and concern for others, make responsible decisions and still handle challenging situations effectively.

One would hope if I explain things well that you will see that if we create this initiative that it ends up being about developing children to treat themselves and others with respect, act safely and contributing to society and its laws and practice cooperation and peaceful problem solving.


I am not sure there isn’t anyone who doesn’t want that.

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Written by Bruce