The disclaimer and definition of “critical thinking” used in Part 1 of this 3-part series apply to this post as well.
My Strategy to Improving Critical Thinking Skills (Continued)
6. Find words and pictures (word search and hidden picture games) — If you ask the internet to find “free word search” games, you will receive approximately 154,000,000 results. Similarly, a query for “free object search” games will result in 119,000,000 results. Word and picture games are also available in many newspapers and books that you can purchase at grocery stores, or check out from a local library. There were so many free games online, I never checked out games available at any of the local libraries.
I spent approximately 15 minutes per day, in the morning, trying to solve word search puzzles. If I was close to solving a puzzle, I spent a little more than 15 minutes. If I was nowhere near a solution, I would not continue beyond my 15-minute alarm. If I did not solve a search on the previous day I would sometimes continue the previous search and sometimes begin a new one. My objective was to exercise the brain, not solve a specific puzzle. I started solving puzzles with a pencil and an eraser. When I no longer needed an eraser, I started using a pen. When I felt confident solving a search without a pen, I completed the searches in my head. I spent approximately one year solving word searches before they became too easy and I transitioned to a different cognitive exercise.
A few months after I started solving word searches, I began object searches as well. I spent approximately 45 minutes per day on object searches (15 shortly after I woke up in the morning, 15 shortly after I woke up from a nap, and 15 immediately before going to bed in the evening. Within a year, I stopped doing object searches because I noticed the hidden and changed objects very quickly. I transitioned to a different cognitive exercise.
7. Solve jigsaw puzzles — I started solving the wooden shape puzzles very young children use. Within a few weeks, those puzzles were too easy so I “graduated” to 25-piece cardboard puzzles then 50 piece cardboard puzzles. I remember completing one 100-piece cardboard puzzle and trying (but not completing) a 300-piece cardboard puzzle before a cognitive therapist introduced me to a website that allows a user to control the puzzle picture, number of pieces, and shape (cut) of pieces. Many online puzzles are also timed. An internet query for “jigsaw puzzles” will yield 189,000,000 results. The site I frequently used does not appear to exist now, but the site Jig Zone offers many of the same features I used on the site that no longer exists.
8. Solve Sudoku puzzles — I stopped solving jigsaw puzzles when I was introduced to Sudoku. I don’t recall who introduced me to Sudoku, but my guess is that Sue or Tracy did it. Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had not heard of Sudoku. If you are not familiar with Sudoku, search for it on the internet or read one of my previous posts. I received 36,360,000 results when I used Bing to search for “Sudoku” puzzles. At first, I could not solve any Sudoku puzzles, but I quickly learned that the puzzles can be as easy or difficult as you want. Even though it took me a long time to solve, I eventually completed an Easy puzzle.
Over a period of several months, I began “inventing” techniques to solve the more difficult puzzles. Once I felt comfortable solving the difficult 9 x 9 puzzles, I began solving interconnected puzzles and puzzles with crazy-shaped boxes rather than square boxes. I thought I invented a new type of Sudoku puzzle that uses symbols rather than numbers, but quickly realized my invention had been invented decades earlier. I then started solving the puzzles while looking at them in a mirror. After teaching people how to solve the puzzles, I spent some time with the 13 x 13 and 15 x 15 puzzles. Although I solved two 15 x 15 puzzles, I can honestly say I did not enjoy solving 15 x 15 puzzles because solving the puzzles usually required many weeks. I attempted one 20 x 20 puzzle, but never solved it. One of the Sudoku sites I visited years ago and still visit today is Boldts.net which includes an introduction to Sudoku, more than 100,000 puzzles and answers, as well as thousands of variant puzzles and their solutions.
9. Solve Mind Benders — Please note that Mind Benders is a brand name owned by The Critical Thinking Company. Mind Benders books and software cost money to purchase, but many therapy programs already own multiuser licenses for Mind Benders software. Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had not heard about Mind Benders. Since they were not part of my cognitive therapy program, I could have finished the program and not known about the puzzles, but one of my instructors, Debbie, allowed me to use class time for non-curriculum activities. At first, I did not want to try the puzzles because they are written for elementary, kindergarten, and pre-K children. Perhaps I was worried that young kids could solve the puzzles and I could not. I don’t recall why I was reluctant, but I definitely recall being reluctant.
I solved the first few puzzles during computer lab classes. As the puzzles became more challenging, I could not solve them during classes and spent time after school solving the puzzles. Eventually, I finished all puzzles for all grades. I enjoyed the puzzles so much that I began writing similar puzzles, teaching people how to solve Mind Benders, and purchasing their books.
10. Play card games — A search of the internet for “critical thinking card games” produced 49,000,000 results. My guess is you will not have much trouble finding a free online card game that strengthens your ability to analyze, categorize, distinguish between fact and fiction, make inferences, and draw conclusions.