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Preschool/Kindergarten Products: Building Thinking Skills - Beginning, Mathematical Reasoning - Beginning and Level A, and Thinker Doodles Clues & Choose: Think, Draw & Color - Level A1 Review by Lisa Kjeldgaard

Critical Thinking Press
P.O. Box 1610
Seaside, CA 93955

Young children love to learn and Critical Thinking Press has a line of products that make it easy to capitalize on the eagerness of young students while allowing early learning to be fun and productive. This set of four titles, Building Thinking Skills Beginning, Mathematical Reasoning Beginning and Level A, and Thinker Doodles Clues & Choose A1 creates a course of study for young children that when added to a simple phonics program, can form the foundation for a solid preschool curriculum.

Building Thinking Skills Beginning is written for children ages 3-4 and is a 218-page book with large colorful pages. The book is the first in a series of titles aimed at teaching children to, "apply an organized, analytical method to finding solutions." Critical Thinking Press believes the activities will help develop the critical thinking skills necessary for success in future academic subjects. The pages are designed to be completed with a teacher or parent's help and take just minutes to complete. Many of the pages ask the child to point to the solution while others require the ability to use a pencil. The activities vary widely as students progress through the book generating good motivation for the child eager to see what each day's lessons involve. This book covers the following concepts: colors, logical connectives, lines, corners, geometric shapes, behind & in-between, above & below, measurement, half & whole, left & right and open & closed figures. It's important to keep in mind that children's brains develop at different rates and the publishers suggest that care be taken not to frustrate your student. My three-year-old son finds many of these pages too difficult while my three-year-old niece can complete all of them with ease; care should be taken to gauge your child's readiness. The front of the book has a helpful chart that lists developmental skills and the corresponding pages that build the given skill. Parents will find this especially helpful if working with a child with some skill delays. Working through this book with my preschool sons is a fun part of our day. They enthusiastically look forward to each lesson and I know skills are being developed that will help them in the future while they think they're just having a fun time with mom!

An equally enjoyable part of our day is the time my five-year- old son spends using the Mathematical Reasoning books. Designed in much the same manner as the Thinking Skills book, the Mathematical Reasoning Beginning (Pre-K) and Level A (Grade K) has kept my son begging to do more math! The goal of the Mathematical Reasoning series to is "bridge the gap between computation and mathematical reasoning" by "helping children devise strategies to solve a wide variety of math problems." This goal speaks directly against the traditionally popular programs that focus on drill and practice while saving the goal of understanding until upper grades. The Mathematical Reasoning process of discussing with your student the strategies needed to solve the problems allows students to complete mathematical problems far beyond the scope of traditional math programs at a much younger age. This program has challenged my ideas about math. For years our family has used a math program that systematically teaches math facts in the early years but not reasoning skills. As a classical educator, I was comfortable knowing that they were acquiring the, "grammar" of math and that reasoning skills would be acquired as they reached the logic stage. However, Mathematical Reasoning teaches skills at a much earlier age and I've been amazed at how simple it's been for my younger son to grasp these concepts and beg for more. Mathematical Reasoning will continue to have a place in my future curriculum choices; while I'm not discarding my traditional math, I'm thrilled with the analytical skills my son has gained.

Here's some practical information that might help you decide if these books have a place in your student's course of study. Mathematical Reasoning is written in a spiral method. The books cover a topic for a few pages and then repeat that topic after a gap of time allowing the student to develop a little more math maturity before dealing with more complex aspects of the skill. For this reason, it is recommended that children proceed through the book page by page. The use of base ten blocks and number lines are recommended and the introductory pages include directions for making your own simple manipulatives including a fun "walk on number line" that is sure to keep kinesthetic learners very happy. The Beginning book covers these math skills: counting, identifying, matching, ordering, position, comparing & estimating, addition, subtraction, locating, writing, grouping, patterns, geometric shapes, measurement, data/probability, and fractions. The Level A book cover addition, bar graph, calendar, capacity, coins, count, fractions, language, length, likelihood, match, number line, odd/even, order, pattern, real world problems, shapes, subtraction, time, weight, and whole numbers. All of the pages in Mathematical Reasoning have copious illustrations that clearly demonstrate the problems and help students solve for the answer. Children really can't help but be challenged and further their understanding of math with this well written program. However, I do see this as a supplement, not a replacement for a traditional math program. Math does need to be practiced and drill has it's place; but when you're ready for your children to gain problem solving skills, you don't need to look any further.

Further problem solving opportunities await students with Critical Thinking Press' Thinker Doodles: Think, Draw & Color series. Within this series, the book A1-Clues & Choose is a 45 page black and white workbook written for children ages 4-5. The puzzles within these pages "help students develop deductive reasoning, observation, classification, and fine motor skills." Each page has a number of illustrated objects at the top of the page and unfinished duplicates of those objects on the bottom of the page. Students are to look at the top illustrations and then find the equivalent unfinished picture below and draw in all of the missing parts. Students must go through a series of deductions to decide which objects create a match and while this may be a new skill, and therefore a little difficult, students will use these skills for the rest of their lives. At the bottom of each page are very specific questions on how to color the illustrations giving the student practice in following directions and deciding how to follow them. The book mentioned about, Building Thinking Skills Beginning, has some of these problems and would be a great way to determine if you think this activity may be of help to your children.

For many years I've been intrigued with the products published by Critical Thinking Press and I believe with these titles I've found some excellent products to help my younger students develop skills that will benefit them for many years to come.

Product review by Lisa Kjeldgaard, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April, 2009