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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Critical Thinking Co.

Last spring, while at a homeschoolers conference in Kansas City, I attended a talk on teaching our kiddos critical thinking. I was really hoping for some practical advice on how to incorporate this important skill into our everyday lessons. The talk was geared more towards convincing parents how important it is teach critical thinking, which only reinforced the conviction I already had. But how to do it? Enter the Critical Thinking Co.

The Critical Thinking Co. has been providing materials since 1958 to help train young minds to think critically. What do do they mean by "think critically"? Essentially, this is about teaching our children how to think independently. We are talking about the ability to use logic in order to problem-solve. We are talking about developing the ability to "think outside the box"---sometimes the solution to a problem is a little out of the ordinary or is not immediately apparent. And we are talking about training the brain to use some of that unused gray matter we all have in our heads.

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was given a copy of Building Thinking Skills Level 1 (grades 2-3) by the Critical Thinking Co. This is a 364 page black-and-white reproducible workbook, complete with answer key in the back. The activities within its pages are designed to exercise critical thinking skills for reading, writing, math and science. Some of the activities include sequences, analogies, spatial awareness, following and writing directions, descriptive writing, and deductive reasoning. The book is divided into 10 chapters and each chapter covers a particular area and contains several different activities that become progressively more difficult. For example, in chapter 3 the topic is "Figural sequences" and one set of activities is "Which Figure Comes Next?" In the first activity, the sequence is formed by the shape being flipped and you circle what the next figure in the sequence will be. In the last one, the sequence is more complicated to determine and you have to draw what the next figure should be.

You can have your child do it a page at a time or a set of pages at a time. And, of course, you can pick and choose. If your child has already mastered synonyms and antonyms, skip it and move onto something else. This book is definitely designed for moving at your own pace.

So, once again, David gets to be the guinea pig. The first couple of chapters have to do with describing shapes and figural similarities and differences. David seemed to enjoy these a bit, except in places where he was required to write out a description. Since I'm more flexible than he is, I let him type his descriptions instead of writing them out and this ended the groans. He seemed to like the fact that the pages are not stuffed with questions: there's only a handful on each page. He hated it, though, if I gave him more than 1 page to do in a day. And ordinarily I would probably only assign one page a day to help exercise his brain, but since we were reviewing the product and I wanted to actually get further into it, he did about 3-4 pages a day, probably a bit too much for my anti-workbook kiddo.

I have no test scores to offer and we've only used the book for a short time, but I have seen some improvement in some of his observation skills...he's learned, for instance, that just because 2 sides of a triangle look like they are the same length that doesn't mean that they are (measure it!). And he is being mentally challenged. And he's not complaining about it. These two reasons alone have sold me on Critical Thinking Co.'s products. I also love the fact that the reproducible pages are in black-and-white and with clear diagrams and illustrations that copy well. But, if you don't like a mountain of paper, and your kiddo hates writing, there is a software version available, also (I just might have to try it out myself). I did receive as a free gift from the Critical Thinking Co. their Visual MindBenders A1 software program and David loved that. It is a simple, no frills program that practices deductive reasoning through a series of 26 progressively more difficult problems (David finished the whole thing in 2 days---that's how much he liked it).

You can purchase Building Thinking Skills Level 1 directly from the Critical Thinking Co. for $29.99. Also available are Beginning, Primary, Level 2 and Level 3. Be sure to read about their 60-day money back guarantee.

To read reviews of some other Critical Thinking Co. products, click on the banner below:

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free copy of this book to review it. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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