How to Talk to Kids about Being Critical Thinkers

This podcast will focus on how to talk to kids about being critical thinkers who ask “who says?” when taking in new information, doing their own research and asking questions from different perspectives. We discuss how to spark curiosity and challenge the norms so that our kids don’t just take in what they see and hear as fact—but rather, as opinions or facts filtered through a specific lens. Dr. Robyn Silverman interviews Julie Bogart, author of the new book, Raising Critical Thinkers, and founder of the writing program, Brave Writer.

Special guest: Julie Bogart

Unless you’ve been living under a rock—and I know you haven’t—you know that kids and adults are provided with a firehouse of information every day. Kids have the information they are learning in school, what they learn from existing in their community and culture, and the incredible amount of articles, videos, books, films, online posts and other media that tell them what to think and why to think it. Of course, much of the information they gain isn’t exactly fact- they are opinions or facts filtered through various lenses and perspectives. What if we taught our children how to think critically about the information that they are receiving? How can they become aware of their biases, privileges, beliefs, loyalties and perspectives as well as those of others so that they aren’t just empty vessels to be filled up with info but people who examine what they are looking at with discernment and curiosity? That’s what we are going to talk about today—and we have the pleasure of having Julie Bogart to help us explore it.

Julie Bogart is known for her common-sense parenting and education advice. She’s the author of the beloved book, The Brave Learner, which has brought joy and freedom to countless home educators. Her new book, Raising Critical Thinkers, offers parents a lifeline in navigating the complex digital world our kids are confronting. Julie’s also the creator of the award-winning, innovative online writing program called Brave Writer, now 22 years old, serving 191 countries. She home educated her five children who are globe-trotting adults. Today, Julie lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and can be found sipping a cup of tea while planning her next visit to one of her lifelong-learning kids.

Important Messages:

  • Seeking new ideas. How do I have the beliefs I have? Which communities created them? Why am I so protective of them? Why are others protective of theirs?
  • Raising self-aware thinkers.
  • How does my body feel when I read this or listen to this? Check in with your reactivity- that’s one way to tell if you are dealing with bias. Read an article and skip over information so you can pull out a flaw.
  • Why is the writer framing it in this way? What is in it for them?
  • Lay the foundation. Lower stakes. Build way to ask similar questions in higher stakes issues.
  • The Three Little Pigs story. Vs. The Wolf’s perspective (the true story of the three little pigs) More than one perspective of the story! Repetition carry’s the truth. Satire- unreliable narrator. Is it true? Controlling child through the adult response. Laughter. What would have happened if he heard the wolf’s version? What version would have been the truth? Heard the wolf’s story first- truth?
  • First question, “says who?” Who is telling the story? Whose story is being left out? Whose story would be interesting to hear? What would it sound like if someone outside the story was telling the story versus someone who is living it?
  • What is the source and why do I trust it- or not trust it?
  • Three Pigs: What body clues do we have that someone is telling the truth? Why do we believe them?
  • Same situation in Wicked and Wizard of Oz. Wonder. The Last Duel. Same story through different perspectives. Run, Lola, Run.
  • Brave Writer. Gather different version of fairy tales. Rapunzel. Golden Books, Disney, different versions. Narrate your own! Jot down their version. Draw it from multiple sources. Critical thinking is about getting more views.
  • Think bigger and wider.
  • Joel Best. How to Evaluate Statistics. “A bad stat is harder to kill than a vampire.”
  • Encourage more risk-taking.
  • Some parents might let a child quit. Some won’t. But let’s not forget, this is a critical thinking moment. Not binary.
    • What about cheer no longer works for you? Can you describe that for me?
    • Tell me more about that.
    • Child might say something that surprises you. “Last week we had a new coach and I was really uncomfortable.” She’s having a new experience and is uncomfortable- not really about quitting at all.
    • Might take a while. Ask- have you looked at where cheer might take you? You’ve been with the same troop for 6 years, might you just need a change?
    • Parent who is pushing an agenda or who caves- doesn’t get there, take risks in thinking.
    • There are other ways to do this.
  • “I don’t wash my hands.” Propaganda from parent. When it might be they don’t like the feel of the water on their hands. Might be another solution.
  • Explore every once in a while.
  • “I want to play video games for 24 hours straight.” What about that is enticing? “24 whole hours…” Think through. Go down the road. Lean in as experiment. Quick to do things for our kids that they don’t get to develop their own data.
  • Gaming research- was fraught with negativity. Imagination- emersed in a world where lawlessness is risk-free. Can you imagine if this was reality?
  • Go where the information takes you. For example, “finish what you started.” But- if the child hates it, is finishing something you hate the model that you are trying to relay?
  • Being an awesome adult: Shaming kid about things they do like being late- because one day they won’t be able to be late as an adult- and make adulting look awful. Need to show that adulting is great! Growing human. Look forward. Aspire to besides weary responsibility.
  • EXPOSE KIDS TO NEW WORDS AND PERSPECTIVES: games and card games as a tool for negotiations in those games. Change the rules. Break the rules. How do you fail at the game? Introduce contradictions. How does that change the game? And the strategy? Baseline. Mess with it. Everything the same color at dinner. Start with dessert. Don’t just read about another culture. Visit pockets of the culture in your closest city. Elevate experiences. Introduce encounters. Can’t just read about violin! Put it in your child’s hand. Enslavement? Don’t just read about it. Go to the museum. Go to the safe houses. Meet the people. Ancestors. Change the knowledge base. Books that show different kinds of people, different topics. Graphic novels. Pair visual media (that’s very now) with the written word. Great for struggling readers to get them interested but also great for everyone. So many topics explored. Hereville- how Mirka Got Her Sword. Exposed to another perspective. George Takai- They Called Us Enemy. Introduce new world to reader. Persepolous. Authorship, Perspective, Genre (poetry, fables, stories, fairy tales, nonfiction, fiction, graphic, myths/legends, other religious perspectives). Other ways of seeing things. Be a well-rounded human being. Learning and knowing how people exist in different worlds. All different ways of thinking.
  • Keep observation: Greater appreciation fostered by deepening vocabulary. Array of objects on table. Five senses. Generate. Perception from deeper investigation, keenly observe. Black book with white writing- reflection, window.
  • Who we are, how others see us, and who we want to be. Shaped by context and how we interact with context and how the context is shaped by us.
  • Let’s say you live in a family and a community where your race is celebrated- you feel really good about where you come from and what your skin color says about you VS living in a family, community or school where your race is looked down upon. Through these filters, how is identity shaped and how is our critical thinking shaped? Acknowledge individual differences in those experiences. Julie grew up believing all opportunities were open to her- despite being female in 50s and 60s- saw self represented on TV and other media. “Didn’t occur to me that others weren’t represented.” Grad school- I was in second grade about the founding in the US. But teacher, black man, whose story was that NOT? I sat in my 2nd grade class knowing my people came over in a different way. The Native American is not hearing their story either. Messaging receiving invisible. Popping you out of this invisible understanding and realizing there is a different perspective. “Knapsack of white privilege” bring out of shadows. Peggy Macintosh. Privilege is the sense that doors are open for you in whatever category. Bread story- you don’t know how to make bread? You are not a woman. You are still a girl.” Privilege- means your spoken language, behaviors and actions are going to benefit you.
  • Lack of privilege- you have to overcome obstacles to get the same opportunities as those who have privilege get. Some might choose to put themselves in these situations deliberately. But imagine a child who is growing up in this situation- this is their home- living like an expatriate all the time. Nothing you can do to make it so.
  • We see billboards, films, books, social media and all kinds of other media that shapes who we are—and, often, who we want to be. Look at this multi-billion dollar diet and beauty industry. How do you see media as it impacts body image and what we want to look like and our own ability—and how can teaching critical thinking assist with these problems? Social media can be a double edge sword. It can reinforce those issues. Tons that make us feel terrible. But many accounts are body positive- counter narrative. Focus on feeling good in body and what you wear. Following accounts- how filters are used, how manipulations happen to graphics. Changed how see bodies. Not just antagonist. Choose new inputs that can change perspective. If trying to get child to eat vegetables and never introduce them to veggies that taste good, just get resistance. Make a pumpkin pie! Get him to eat veggie. See the process- this is a veggie not just a pie. Body image spiralling. Address it in meaningful way. Show alternatives that they don’t even know exist.
  • Get off social media for a little. There needs to be a new practice. Read. Without assault. Don’t need opinions. Let opinions live unsupervised for 7-10 minutes per day.
  • Make home a safe place for risky thinking. Don’t want to drive kids underground- want home to be their safe place.

Notable Quotables:

  • “Critical thinking starts with self-awareness.”
  • “Critical thinking is not about getting the right views- it’s about getting more views. It’s ex expanding the field of vision, inviting other voices, asking who is being left out of the conversation, seeking original documents not just reports on original documents. This is how we grow a mind.”
  • “Critical thinking is helping your kids take risks in thinking, articulate their truths and find a receptive audience who can ask follow- up questions that can help them feel more and more comfortable with the thoughts they are having.”
  • “Sometimes we are so quick to do things that are good for our kids that we forget to give them the opportunity to develop their own data.”
  • “We change the knowledge-base when we add experience, and we create encounters for our kids. Do activities that help them with identity.”
  • “Research is just academic code for intimacy. Not certainty. Knowing the subject more with more of ourselves.”
  • “Privilege is that your spoken language, your behaviors, your actions are going to benefit you. Lack of privilege is that you have to overcome barriers to get those same opportunities.”
  • “The most important thing we must do to raise critical thinkers is to be curious and fascinated more than convinced and persuaded.”
  • “Make your home a safe place for risky thinking.”


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