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As the authors of the Building Thinking Skills series point out, most kids would rather guess at answers than spend the time to analyze and reason through problems to find the right solution. These worktexts are designed to offer kids the instruction and tools needed to be able to analyze and reason clearly, and to do so in such a way that they'll actually want to put those acquired skills to use. Long-established as classics, the books in this series are still among the best of their kind.
This is the only pre-logic course we carry. There are plenty of texts on our shelves that introduce the ideas of clear reasoning (many of them also from the Critical Thinking Co.), but none that systematically lay the foundations for serious logic study the way Building Thinking Skills does. And it's an incredibly solid foundation: these books are thorough, well-organized, and engaging, not just vaguely educational workbooks to keep kids pacified and busy.
How Do These Work?
A series of nine consumable worktexts cover grades PreK-12; the first four texts are not reproducible, but the other five books can be copied for single-family or classroom use. The series was intended to be used in a classroom setting, but the content is easily adaptable to a homeschool setting. This isn't a student-directed course, however, and you will need to interact with your kids throughout, especially as younger students work through the first two books.
Authors Sandra Parks and Howard Black use content from across the curriculum to present the principles of critical thinking, including social studies, math, geography, etc. The idea isn't to teach reasoning skills as a solitary subject, but to show how it applies to many situations and all school subjects. In many ways, this is like a core program to unify everything else your students are learning at each stage in their academic development.
Students are taught both figural and verbal reasoning skills through a wide variety of activities and exercises. The first four books are full-color; the rest are black and white. In Building Thinking Skills Beginning, children solve problems by pointing to correct answers in the text, responding verbally, and completing exercises in the book itself. There aren't any written exercises at this level, though there are some that require drawing, completing mazes, etc.
There are two Can You Find Me books, one for PreK students and the other for grades K-1. Both full-color texts are visually focused, and center around making connections between images. Text is in the form of rhymes which parents can read aloud, and which contain the instructions for the exercises; the second book will require kids to read limited text and identify letters. All exercises can be completed without writing, and are meant to increase kids' deductive reasoning skills.
For grades K-1, Building Thinking Skills Primary has a lot of written work, though visual problems are still the focus. Whereas in Beginning kids are mostly identifying shapes, colors, groups, patterns, and the like, in Primary they learn how to extend and complete groups and patterns, how to identify and make analogies, how to list and describe characteristics, and more. One exercise has kids grouping jobs by kind, noting the job that's an exception to the class, and explaining their answer.
Also for grades K-1, Hands-On Thinking Skills applies the same principles as Primary, but the text is black and white and students use the book as a platform for manipulatives-based learning. Using attribute blocks, pattern blocks, and interlocking cubes, kids perform a number of figural exercises (completing sequences, identifying patterns, tracking, copying, etc.). The publishers have steered people away from this text in favor of Primary, but it is still available.
As the series progresses, exercises become much more difficult. Figural exercises are more advanced and more rooted in logic and mathematics, while verbal exercises become quite complex. Students learn to construct diagrams, fill out flowcharts, identify and complete sequences, and much more, all in the name of learning to think critically and thoroughly. These aren't just time-filling assignments; they exercise specific parts of the intellect to shape logical and reasonable thinkers.
Building Thinking Skills Book 1 and Building Thinking Skills Book 2 combine both figural and verbal exercises; Building Thinking Skills Book 3 is actually two books—one for figural and one for verbal work. Book 3 is for grades 7-12, though if your student hasn't completed any previous volumes of Building Thinking Skills or another basic logic program, you'll want to have them complete some remedial work before jumping in to these last texts.
This isn't logic per se. Kids won't learn to identify fallacies or how to construct a formal argument; they will learn how to think through problems, follow directions, and analyze data, all of which are essential skills for using logic and thinking well. These books are extremely practical, with real-world application of acquired skills emphasized, and with exercises that actually relate to students' experience and knowledge.
A lot of the exercises revolve around making connections. In the early texts, kids identify members of a family, make lists of similar foods, finish pattern block sequences, etc. This is an essential element in learning to reason that frequently gets overlooked because it's so basic. These books cover it in spades, and will help shape students who not only think logically, but who are able to think imaginatively and creatively.
Plenty of the content in each of these texts easily lends itself to in-depth discussion. Once your kids have finished the exercises (and you've graded them using the answer key in the back of each text), it's a good idea to pick one or two of the exercises for discussion, to make sure kids know what they've learned, how they can apply it, etc. The point is to guide students toward capable thought, not simply to use up class time.
Our Honest Opinion
These aren't Classical-style texts, but they do reinforce many of the concepts emphasized in modern Classically-influenced education, particularly concerning the primacy of reasoning and logic skills. Because the ultimate goal is to help kids think on their own, communicate well, and be analytical, the exercises and content concentrate on skills that expand the mind even while teaching it to operate within certain parameters.
It would be hard to conceive of a better course than Building Thinking Skills for introducing and establishing the keys to good and creative thinking. The content is challenging, but intuitive; most students find the exercises engaging and even fun, while teachers often testify to their students' improved reasoning abilities. Critical thinking isn't a skill you can afford to omit from your kids' curriculum, and these books are an excellent place to start.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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