Socratic Seminar = Critical Thinking

Children sitting on a wall playing together representing Socratic seminar.

Socrates was an incredible Greek philosopher and thinker and his way of thinking has been a huge part of education for a very long time. Of course, children are naturally curious. That is an incredible attribute, but as children grow older, social norms begin to deteriorate that curiosity and self doubt creeps in. No need to fret though, there is a great resource for helping to change the way children think: Socratic Seminar.

What is Socratic Seminar?

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First, Socratic Seminar involves the process of critically thinking, talking and reflecting. The seminar is when a group of students come together to discuss an open-ended question that could have multiple perspectives and solutions. This is all about arousing curiosity, engaging in problem solving skills and critical thinking through conversation, reasoning and in the case of our youngest children, this can all be done through play!

Socratic Seminar for Younger Children

The basis of a socratic seminar is questioning everything. Again, children are naturally curious. We all know the age when a parent hears the word “why” at least 100  times a day or even in a minute! Well, here’s where the socratic thinking comes in-don’t answer them! Restate the question back to your child. Allow them to reason out loud with you. Let them think for themselves! 

Even toddlers are pretty great problem solvers. Think about it. If they want to know how something works, they try it. We have all seen food thrown on the floor as they are engaging in cause and effect reasoning. Their young minds are already processing this information, so allow their brains to think more critically by talking it through with you. For example, if your child asks “what is this?”, don’t answer them! Instead help them analyze what it looks like: color, texture, where they found it, what it looks like it does, etc. Ask them to use their senses. See if it reminds them of anything. Children will think critically about the answers to the questions they have rather than relying on someone- a parent or a teacher to just give them the answer!

Opportunities for Socratic Thinking

Critical Thinking Toys

By giving children toys that allow them to be creative and curious we allow for the Socratic method to be at work. Passive play isn’t building our kids into critical thinkers. Watch your kids build. Then ask simply, why did you add that block there? One of the great toys we’ve talked about before are magna blocks. They are great for a range of ages. What would happen if you move this block? It is all about questioning to allow them to explain their thinking and improve their ability to think on their own in a more critical way. 


Some more simple ways to increase Socratic play are by using a game like 20 questions. It requires minimal set up and is nothing more than critically questioning until an answer is found! This Is the basis of Socratic play! You could also use various scenarios, (appropriate to the age of your children) and have them solve the problem of the people involved. It could be as simple as, “A friend took the toy you want. What do we do now? Why?” Then continue questioning, “Was that the right choice? Are you still friends?” These allow children to understand the independent thinking process, but also gives them the ability to see why they feel certain ways. 


Now talking goes a long way, but why not bring in a picture. Question everything about it. How did this happen? Why are they there? Why do you think that color was chosen? Think about your journalism questions and the 5 Ws and How! Those simply guide children to discovering information on their own. 


Storytelling works in the same way. When kids create stories or use imaginative play, engage with them in a conversation about why they chose that name for their doll or why they chose to cook eggs in their toy kitchen. If a child is asked to do a chore, don’t tell them how to do it, ask them how they think they should do it. Obviously, sometimes you have to step in, but again allowing them to think the problem through builds critical thinking for the future! You never know, you might have a future president or CEO on your hands!

Overall, let your children play, think, create, and talk about the why and you will be using the Socratic Seminar techniques to build critical thinking in children! How will you use Socratic thinking and play with your kid?

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