Breaking The Cycle: Promoting Critical Thinking In Children

Do you think the world would be a better place if more people were critical thinkers?

If you do – what are you doing about it?

It is great to have meetings and share drinks in a bar but, you need to get out there and help people.  You must do something!  The forces of woo are strong and spend a lot of time and money selling their lies.  Confusion can be very profitable to those that are morally challenged.

There are many groups, local and national that are doing great work and helping educate people.  However, we need to do more is with young adults and children.  It can take years of effort to help a 40-year-old free their mind from a life time of sloppy thinking.  With a kid you may only need a spark.

I call this “Breaking The Cycle”.

Yes!  I am suggesting that we free the minds of kids.  We need to fight back, we need to do a better job, we need to get to the kids!   Use the simple ideas below to help your kids, grand kids, younger siblings, nieces, nephews, your kid’s friends or your friend’s kids.  Do not be afraid to fight back.  The world needs your help.

Keep in mind your relationship with the kids and / or their families.  Do as much as you can and push the limits but, don’t over do it.  You don’t want others to take away the only sane voice the child may have.

Ideas to promote critical thinking in children.


If you know the kids well enough and have their e-mail address or are friends of facebook, you can send them links to blogs.  Try to find posts that are fun and lighthearted.  If they like space try something like Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy.  Kids love space and most of his posts are about that but he also takes on serious issues.  Other good skeptical blogs are Skepticblog or Skepchick just to name a few.
If they have questions about religion you can try something from Freethought or the Friendly Atheist.  You could also challenge them with a quiz about Easter or Christmas as found at SkepticMoney.  With a little luck they will like the author and go back for more – on their own.

Fun With Science

Teach them about science and the scientific method in fun ways.  Steve Spangler Science is a company that makes fun science toys and games.  Use them to create a party theme or give them as gifts.   At one party we used these really cool beads (photo left) that are all white in house lights but turn different colors in the sun or a black light.  The kids made friendship bracelets and we talked about UV light from the sun and then had some fun with a black light.  The kids loved it and the learned some cool science.

Here is another cool idea from Steve Spangler Science….

They set the World Record for the worlds largest science lesson.


Science Shows

Watch shows like “Evolution” , “The Universe” or  “Planet Earth”.   You can buy, rent or stream.  Make sure they know how the world really works before the woo ruins the magic.

Please don’t sit them on the couch and force them to watch it.

Make it fun!  Create an environment where they can play in the same room while the shows are on.  Don’t push or they will push back.  Just let it soak in.  Let them associate science with play time.


Scooby Doo!

How can you go wrong with a show that is designed to show you how to find real answers to the things that go bump in the night.  (I guess it is just the old Scooby Doo – I have been informed that the new ones are not as good.)


This show changed my life but is look VERY dated.

Coming Soon…. The NEW Cosmos staring – Neil deGrasse Tyson (Squeeee)



Encourage the kids to ask questions – lots of questions.  Teach them that this is a noble activity.  Listen to their ideas and allow them time to think through tough questions on their own.  Don’t just hand them answers but, I they ask a direct question – give a direct answer.
Their views should be tested and will need to stand up to questions!  As my kids were growing up we would often talk about TV commercials.  I helped them question how the commercials were trying to get them to want something.   The commercials would use music and emotion to control their thoughts and actions.  A slick presentation can get a weak mind to believe almost anything.


Remember we can have some fun with this.  Buy them a Season of Dr. Who
or Stargate SG-1!


My favorite is Greek and Roman but, you can teach about Norse myth or any other.  My son just won a state wide contest on mythology – Yeah!  You can try books like the one shown on the right for younger kids or you can get movies like:

or Clash of the Titans (1981 version because the new one sucked).
You can also buy comic books or computer games that feature mythologies (Age of Empires:  mythologies).  As a kid I wondered what happened to all of these gods.  Where did they go?  As we learned more – they were not needed.  The original god of the gaps?

Here is the trailer for Agora….



There is so much great skeptical music out there.  Here are just a few….

Tim Minchin – Storm

Shelley Segal – Saved

George Hrab – Skeptic

Roy Zimmerman – Creation Science 101


Mentos & Diet Coke

Again…. Make science FUN!


Julia Sweeney

Listen to “Letting Go of god” by Julia Sweeney.  This two hour monologue is funny yet sensitive.  She takes you on an entertaining search for the truth.  You can get the CD or audio download for about $10.  You can also watch her perform on DVD.  The beauty of this performance is that almost everyone will laugh along while she makes fun of some crazy idea.  This is one of my favorites and helped my son think about the way the world works.

JREF In The Classroom (thanks to DJ for the reminder)

JREF In the Classroom is the centerpiece of our work to bring skepticism and critical thinking to K-12 students. The program will give educators access to a growing catalogue of grade-specific standards-focused resources including lesson modules, activity guides, multimedia materials, and more.

Participating educators promote critical thinking, science appreciation, and information literacy, and help students understand the need to critically examine unproven claims.

Students will gain an intellectual toolset needed to succeed in school and better navigate a life full of difficult decisions, confusing information, and conflicting claims. Best of all, the material examines fascinating topics like the paranormal and extraordinary claims from the fringes of science, while remaining relevant to other classroom content and addressing expected educational standards.


Teach them that things are not always what they appear to be.  When faced with an amazing claim later in life the will be more likely to look for the real explanation.  The first time we were in a magic store, my daughter saw a trick that she thought was amazing.  We got it home and read the instructions.  When she found out how it worked it did not seem like magic anymore.  Once you know the magic, it is just a trick.  A very practical lesson.

Optical Illusions

Share links to YouTube videos.  They will enjoy the illusions and may even watch a few more.  This is the famous color changing card trick by Richard Wiseman.

They may also like this video that shows how hard it is to pay attention to little details.

There are also many books about optical illusions.  Just like some of the other points above they will have fun while learning that they can be tricked.  Just stare at this image and watch the wheels turn!


Kid love YouTube.  They can watch what they want when they want on their computer or phone.  If they like the video they will often share it with their friends on facebook or via e-mail.  You can effect more young adults if you send something the is amusing or interests them.  Try something like “Mr. Deity and The Skeptic”.
Or, some other of the big names on YouTube…. The Atheist Experience, Evid3nc3, thunderf00t, darkmatter2525, Aron Ra, The Thinking Atheist.  There are many other great videos posted by different sources.  There is a great collection of freethought videos here.
Here is the funny “Moon Landing Sketch” from the BBC show That Mitchell and Webb Look.


There are so many books that can help free kids’ minds.  Start with something simple and fun like Daniel Loxton’s new book “Ankylosaur Attack“.  (shown on right)  If that goes well you can try his wonderful book “Evolution:  How We and All Living Things Came to Be.”

Another great book about the world is Dawkins’ new one called “The Magic Of Reality“.  “Bang!:  How We Came To Be” from Michael Rubin is another good choice.  If one or both of the parents are free from religion you could give them Dale McGowan’s “Parenting Beyond Belief”.

Please DO NOT under estimate the power of crazy ideas to suck kids into the madness.  You must take action and help the kids.  If you have other ideas please share them in the comments.
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18 Responses to Breaking The Cycle: Promoting Critical Thinking In Children

  1. fred says:

    Many years ago we were fortunate enough to be shocked into an early start, when our then-six-year-old daughter came home from school, distraught and in tears after being told by a classmate that she was going to hell because she wasn’t catholic. That afternoon we began our introduction to reality. Today, both of our daughters, their spouses, and our grandchildren are all well-adjusted productive atheists, and all are much happier for it.

    My own enlightenment began a couple of decades before the “going to hell” incident when a Sunday school classmate of mine asked the “teacher” if there were a “heaven for dogs.” The answer was an unequivocal “NO,” which started me wondering what kind of being this “merciful god” creature must be. I gave up on the whole god/jeebus/trinity thing about the time I realized the truth about Santa Claus, the easter bunny and the tooth fairy.

  2. joshua says:

    very nicely done. You should add David Anthony’s “what god said” to the music section.

  3. JIm n says:

    Great article Phil! Just when, after we for the first time repeated a post (Phil caught it before publishing) I was noting that you do posts on videos and I write. Wrongo! These are great suggestions. I did many of them because I couldn’t talk much about religion directly and needed an antidote to extended family episcopalianism and local new age spirituality.

  4. totanaca says:

    My WordPress site has many articles that apply to the topic of ending hereditary religion. Forcing religion on naive vulnerable children is unethical even though parents believe they are doing a noble act. There are many counter arguments presented in the blog and the facebook fan page:

    I have suggested a national bus ad campaign with signage that reads simply: God is pretend — pass it on. A graphic would show one child whispering in the ear of a younger child. Articles of jewelry, t-shirts and so forth can be part of a campaign.

    I want to be clear that my objective is simply to put the choice about religion in the hands of the person who must live with the choice rather than parents and institutions who have many self serving motives for hustling children into a religion before they develop the intellectual capacity to know what is happening to them.

    I was elated to discover your initiative and stand willing to work beside you in anyway possible to rid children of the abuse of hereditary religion.

  5. Anonymous says:

    >listing Youtube atheists
    >not mentioning AronRa

  6. Phil says:

    Aron Ra. you are so right. I will fix. thank you.

  7. suggestions says:

    Some of your ideas are not child appropriate (or conflate skepticism with atheism) do you really suggest sites which use explicit language and have adult concepts? A more critical eye than “I like them” should be applied although your enthusiasm for brainstorming is evident. Have you tried consulting any teachers about your suggestions, such as primary educators?

    Why do you include Loxton’s “Evolution” but not his decade-long series of Junior Skeptic inserts in Skeptic magazine? I notice this was recently featured on Wired too, the JREF resources

  8. Phil says:

    @ suggestions,
    atheism is skepticism applied to religion.

    age appropriate content…. children have a wide range of ages from birth up… I would hope that you as an adult can select the items that work for you. if you can’t go to a site that has potty words then don’t use it.

    Loxton….I can’t put everything in one post 😉 but you are correct his work at skeptic magazine is brilliant.

  9. Jesse says:

    I created this website to make logical fallacies simple enough for kids to understand:

    Since the posters have been up in my two boys’ rooms, watching the news has been like playing logical fallacy bingo 🙂

  10. Graham says:

    Thank you for this article. I completely share in your desire to inspire critical thinking in the young. Those of us with children, who consider ourselves skeptics, often find ourselves forced into the position of dealing with attempts of others at peddling nonsense to our impressionable children.

    We have enjoyed in my family playing the game “Real or Pretend?” Asking my five year old questions like, “Which is real and which is pretend: Dinosaurs and Dragons?” “Unicorns and Horses?”. (I’m looking forward to one day posing: “Jesus Christ and John Cleese?”)

    Speaking of John Cleese, I’d recommend Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the Monty Python films. I know I can attribute a good dose of Python to stripping away the allure that superstitions and silly traditions sometimes have. (Not all content is suitable for children.)

    In the category of MUSIC, however, I am naturally compelled to recommend the musician Bryan Steeksma. In particular his songs ‘Listen to Reason’, ‘The Galaxy’s Elegant Cinema’ and ‘I am the Satellite’. His entire album ‘Residual Soul’ is great actually. You have likely heard his music, in part, if you are a fan of The Non Prophets or The Atheist Experience.

  11. D.J. Grothe says:

    Heya, Phil, I’d also suggest JREF’s new classroom resources (which you have supported, and for which we are grateful) which many secular and skeptic homeschoolers are also using. They were recently covered by


  12. Satish says:

    Please also mention the great musical science project at My 3 year daughter loves to watch them occasionally and now she knows few things like DNA, size of human brain etc. 🙂 A very useful resource for the kids! I show it to all the kids that visit our place.

  13. Phil says:

    @ D.J. Grothe,
    ACK! How did I forget that? Thanks for the kind reminder. fixed.

  14. Kylie S. says:

    Hi – my comment is still in spam?

  15. Phil says:

    it sounds like you made a comment but do not see it here. please try again. if it does not show up send me a PM with the time you tried to put it up. I will try to find and review. I get hundreds of spam posts per day. without time info I will be unlikely to find. thanks.

  16. Shaoi says:

    okay. i think you r doing ir wrong. befor , well any age regarded as teen, u should not watch tim minchin. u should not, try so hard to convience your child to be an atheist. it dosent make him a happier, better and more sicoally aware (y english not my main langunge, sry about misspells).

    just dont preach to belive in god.

    that is .

    sadly, all it takes, and trust me having a beliver as a child is really not that much of a mess, since they are, about… 90% of the world poplation so i guess u acknowledge that u can belive there is a god and still be a person. and possibaly a great one, u are the parents;)

    if the child chooses (where is my bold?) to belive then fine. if he chooses not to, then u can have the joy, of him sharing your point of view. its not that much of importance becuase after all, we have all been exposed to relegion and survived:D

    back at my country about 30% of the general poplation define (i knew it hurts, but i just do not have the time. i comment becuase i care but i have age later on) themselfs as … google gave me Secular. some of us belive, some of us dont. we all practice the basics, celebrating holidays for example… yknow the nice stuff, and fairy unstrictly .
    we never say, oh u have to.

    and if u treat your child right, show him that Unconditional love and acceptance (which is very important. if u are athesit but say you don’t want gay couples kissing next to u ur not perfect.)

    on the overall, all my sibilngs belive, some of my friends dont, but non of them is a skeptic, and the word athesit is never at use.

    gl and hf.
    shai, 15 isreal.

  17. Shaoi says:

    on second thoght i guess beside minchin there isnt really much of a problem with all this, assuming u raised your child to have Critical thinking. sry i lashed out, again minchin curses and finals are coming and im very afriad.

  18. Sue Kocher says:

    Hi Phil,
    I might have missed it, but how about Camp Quest? We need to build and expand this great learning opportunity for kids! There’s so much more that they could be doing in so many more places.


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