According to Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, creative and critical thinking skills fall under the highest level of cognitive development. To think creatively and critically, we have to use both sides of our brain and understand many aspects of basic knowledge first. Both skills are extremely important for achievement and success in the world today, and there are easy things that parents and teachers can do to build these skills in children.
In their book, "Teaching Strategies," Donald Orlich, Robert Harder, Richard Callahan, et al. define creative thinking as blending different elements to form a new and unique entity. It's the process of combining parts in such a way as to constitute a pattern or structure that did not exist before. Creative thinkers are able to put ideas together in new or unique ways or create new idea configurations. We often think of artists as being creative, which is certainly true, but scientists, legislators and engineers are also highly creative, because they seek to use research and data in new ways to find cures for diseases, design new cars or computers, or draw up new laws for health care, for example. You don't have to be artistic or whimsical to be creative--just imaginative and able to think outside the box.
Some obvious activities that can encourage a child's creativity are writing, painting or drawing, and playing music. As Orlich et al. write, another type of creative activity is developing a plan to create a tangible object, such as how to build a robot. Another creativity-building lesson involves working with a set of observations to create a new pattern or product. For example, students might look at different constitutions from various nations and then draw up a workable constitution of their own. For teachers, creative thinking activities are less measurable in terms of quantity and quality and require more subjective judgment. Before assigning creative activities, teachers should identify a solid set of objectives that can be measured. For an art project, for example, objectives might be: variety of colors used, neatness, effort, or an explanation of what the project means to the artist.
Toddlers are great creative thinkers; they are constantly using their imaginations to hold "conversations" with toy phones, make "soup" with empty bowls and plastic spoons, brush their teddy bear's teeth, etc. As we grow up, our creativity sometimes becomes inhibited because we fear failing or looking silly. But without creative thinkers, we wouldn't have Van Gogh, Dickens or Spielberg, let alone Bill Gates or Henry Ford. Creative thinking isn't just about imagination; it's also vital for problem solving. When kids encounter a new problem and they are able to find a way to solve it without being told what to do, they show maturity and development. This is why it's so important for parents to encourage kids to be creative in many ways: coloring books, dance lessons, listening to music, and playing with manipulative toys like Legos. Parents should also encourage kids to problem solve on their own instead of swooping in to guide their every move.
According to Orlich et al., critical thinking, or higher-level thinking, involves analysis and evaluation of observations and materials. Analysis involves taking apart complex items, such as speeches, written communications, statistics, or machines and explaining their underlying organization--figuring out how they work or what they are really saying. It is more than just understanding an object or concept, but looking below the surface to discover how different parts interact. Evaluation requires making decisions on topics and substantiating these decisions with sound reasons. In order to evaluate an idea or object, we must first set up appropriate standards or values by which to make a judgment and determine how closely the idea or object meets the standards or values. In other words, we use critical thinking when we make decisions and solve problems. Good critical thinkers don't accept information at face value, but look inside it for hidden agendas, things that are left out, and underlying bias. Journalists, lawyers and educators are just some of the professions that require a lot of critical thinking.
Orlich et al. write that learning critical thinking skills can result in high levels of student achievement. Some lessons that incorporate critical thinking are: identifying relationships between elements, deducing implications from data, inferring motives from speakers or authors, making interpretations, and identifying issues. Other activities include discussions that involve empathy, for example, "What would you do if..." or "How would you feel if..." or discussions that involve making judgments, such as, "Which is better, A or B? Why?" or "Which argument makes more sense? Why?"
We make lots of critical judgments every day, from mundane choices like which shampoo to buy or what movie to watch to important decisions like whom to vote for or how to discipline our children. It's important that we have the skills to make informed, educated decisions instead of believing everything we see on T.V. or the Internet. Since advertising is so prevalent in our society, even kids need to know how to analyze what they see and hear, and this means they need strong critical thinking skills. It's imperative that leaders are good critical thinkers, and leadership experience is a must for college admission, employment and advancement in the workplace.