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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

When Can Kids Begin to Use Critical Thinking Skills?

It Is Not a Planet But I Still Want to Include It

My 5 year old is a November boy, so he misses the cutoff for kindergarten. There are enough kids like him here so a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Tyree has started a kind of preschool plus — where the kids are moving towards reading and counting and getting a bit of Spanish but in just over a half day. Yesterday they performed their class play — a tour through the Solar System. Each kid wore a large cutout identifying the planet he or she "was" — and in turn they each gave some information about how hot or cold, large or small, they were. And then after Nepture spoke the teacher (wering the Sun cutout) asked, where is Pluto, what about Pluto? There was a buzz of faux disagreement, then each kid had to make a case — is Pluto a planet, yes or now, why? 
       Now the default mode was — "it is not a planet but I still want to include it" — which was very well suited to the age of the kids. But in the car afterwords I asked my son why he said that and he admitted that he’d lied — he really didn’t think it was a planet. Why? "Too small, too weak" (which may say more about his scale of values than the solar system). Still the teacher had gotten these 5 year olds thinking about scientific disagreement, and about how to present and weigh evidence. If she can do it with spinning kids wearing cutouts — classes at every age can and should take up the baton — to debate causes and consequences of just about everything. Which then, of course, opens the door for authors to have points of view — since we are training kids to develop their own, and to learn how to discuss and evaluate together.
       What is your experience — when (and how) can we get kids to begin comparing and contrasting ideas, evidence, theories — and building the skills to acquire knowledge for themselves?