Using the Arts to Develop Children’s Critical Thinking Skills

It’s no doubt that critical thinking is essential to education and, ultimately, success in life, but does developing this skill have to be so hard?

As parents and teachers, we can get caught up in the “critical” aspect of critical thinking, often turning the acquisition of complex processing and problem-solving abilities into an overly serious matter of assigning elaborate math and science problems or forcing our kids to try to think in ways that their brains are not developed enough to understand. Although the development of these right-brained skills is part of the critical thinking process, we spend a meager amount of time and effort teaching the equally important creative, inquisitive thought patterns that the arts encourage.

Using Art to Harness Innate Curiosity

Children have unmatched levels of curiosity by nature, and strengthening our schools’ arts programs could be the solution to teaching the critical thinking skills that are necessary to keep the world functioning for future generations.

Think back on your elementary school experience for a moment when math, science, and the more “practical” classes were largely theoretical endeavors involving unknown variables and untouchable subject matter. The arts, however, provide students with hands-on learning, real-time problem solving and the ability to bring the hypothetical down to earth.

According to, critical thinking is “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded and informed by evidence.” When employed, critical thought enables us to make objective judgments about stimuli and information to find a solution to a given problem. With art education, students learn to take a slower, more observant approach to the world, giving them greater access to the clues that make solving complex problems possible.

Researchers at Walden University agree that guiding children to observe, examine and reflect on pieces of art, translates to a more careful analysis when problem-solving in other situations. Not to mention, growing students’ appreciation for art helps to improve tolerance, empathy, and resiliency, which are crucial to producing solutions that benefit society as a whole.

How to Implement Art in the Classroom

It’s one thing to understand the importance of art in critical thinking, but how can we take this, again, theoretical evidence and apply it in classrooms? Arts integration is a powerful method that employs the arts in every subject. When teaching history, for example, encourage students to draw upon their creative, left-brain functioning to act out important events, create theme-appropriate music, or illustrate interpretations of your lesson.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs get most of the attention these days, but recent movements make a place for art within this framework by creating STEAM (STEM + Arts) classrooms, which utilize self-expression and other arts integration techniques to create a balanced learning experience.

After all, careers in STEM fields – like computer programming and engineering – boil down to precise applications of artistic solutions to real-world problems. STEAM proves that creativity and practical knowledge can (and should) coexist in schools. Historically speaking, art drives science and science drives art. Therefore, the arts more than deserve a place in every classroom’s curriculum. How else would we nurture our kids’ curiosity and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to ponder, digest, and solve all of the world’s abstract problems?

How do you integrate the arts into your classroom? Drop a comment below to keep the conversation going!

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