Why is Critical Thinking important in Early Childhood Education?

By Michael Hilkemeijer


In the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) play enables young children to ask questions, solve problems and engage in critical thinking. It promotes a positive disposition towards learning.

It occurs when children draw on their existing knowledge and experience. Problem-solving also facilitates critical thinking when they:

  • Compare and contrast;
  • Explain why things happen;
  • Evaluate ideas and form opinions;
  • Understand perspectives of others;
  • Predict what will happen in the future;
  • Think creative solutions.



Critical thinking is first developed at a very young age and these skills develop during the natural conversations that children have with the important adults in their lives.


Young children need to be able to develop skills to critically analyse and respond to a wide range of evidence about the world around them and learn about the values and the experience of being human.


Supporting the development of critical thinking

There are a number of ways in which you can support the development of critical thinking.


  • Encourage pursuits of curiosity – help them explore, ask questions, test their theories, and think critically about results and to think about changes they could make or things that they could do differently.
  • Learn from others – help them to think more deeply about things by instilling a love of learning and a desire to understand how things work.
  • Help children evaluate information – with all the information that is out there it is important that you help children learn the skills they need so that they can evaluate information. They will need to think about where or who the information is coming from, how it relates to what they already know and why it is or is not important.
  • Promote children’s interests – children become more motivated and engaged in their learning activities if it is something that they are interested in. Help them to expand their knowledge as this will promote critical thinking.
  • Teach problem-solving skills – critical thinking is necessary for solving problems or conflicts where they can come up with solutions.



Digital play and Critical thinking

Teaching digital literacy in early childhood education ensures that you will also be teaching critical thinking in a digital world.


For example, it is through making digital images that young children learn that pictures are made just as text is made and this is an early childhood learning experience that will help them to become critical consumers of visual bombardment. Just as the earlier generation become critical readers of print.


However, a better answer as to why is critical thinking important in early childhood education is that it is fundamental for both literacy and language development.


Language skills will expand as a consequence of young children engaging in critical thinking and for them to understand a book, critical thinking skills such as problem-solving, predicting and explaining are required.


Here are some examples of critical reflection in early childhood education when integrating digital technology:


Digital technology in preschool classrooms such as word processors is a valuable tool that allows writers to merge and revise ideas that is integral to creative and critical composing.


Digital play in the early years learning environment that supports inquiry-based learning can also support critical thinking in early childhood education as it offers opportunities for linking learner engagement to curriculum content.


Technology can support outdoor learning which in turn promotes interactivity, motivation, levels of physical activity and being outdoors. For example, young children could be playing with a metal detector, where they are developing their critical thinking by testing their ideas; operating the tool with precision and spatial awareness.


Another example of critical reflection in early childhood education is when young children learn to reflect on their animation product. They could determine aspects of the work which needed changes and identify features that were successful in meeting the audience’s needs and repeating these.


It is often through such productions of kinds of texts that children begin to understand texts in a critical way. This focus on the manipulation of visual images may enhance children’s abilities to read the images in a more critical manner.



The digital society where we all mostly reside in has ensured that critical thinking along with information retrieval, decision-making and communication is high on the agenda. Critical thinking in early childhood education is the catalyst for young children to be critical consumers of information and digital technology – critical skills for a future workforce.