How to improve your critical thinking…lessons from a 5 year old

Critical thinking is the ability to objectively analyze and evaluate complex situations.  Through this process, you can expect to find clarity, enhance your understanding, detect areas for improvement and create solutions to problems.

In an earlier post, I covered the benefits of keeping a swim journal which is a great way to encourage critical thinking. You can find the post here.

In this post, I would like to cover how we can teach our kids to become critical thinkers through swimming and art. Several of my young swim students love to draw after their lessons. I am sure the humongous size post-it note paper on the door is an attractive blank canvas!  Depending on the age of the child, it is free drawing time, or it may be guided by specific things we have practiced during the lesson. I am enthusiastic about drawing as a lesson finale and here are the top 4 reasons why:

  1. A chance to organize thoughts – when faced with a blank canvas, these young swimmers are being challenged to make sense of what just occurred in the pool and to put marker to the paper in a more organized way. They will take the time to think about what was most meaningful to them during the lesson, and express it in their own way. Some children will use images only, others will include key words or short sentences to process the lesson. The ability to make the details of the lesson more sticky in their minds is a huge benefit of a short art exercise.
  2. A chance to process reasoning – this is a wonderful advantage of taking a few moments to document their findings in art form. I am always amazed at the maturity of the reasoning and art compared to the age appropriate swimming movements in the water. Their minds seem so far ahead of what their bodies can do, and perhaps this brief exercise in critical thinking will help the neuromuscular system develop as well.
  3. A chance to evaluate movements – before setting the marker on the page, you can see the wheels turning….. how did their bodies just move in the water where they have no visual cues? How can that be processed and then drawn out on to the page? Usually the shapes in the art work are accurate, even if the in-water movements are not quite there yet. This gives the swimmer an ideal platform to strengthen correct movement pathways in their brains.
  4. A chance to communicate ideas – most times after the art is complete I ask the swimmer to tell me what they have drawn. The little extra verbal interaction takes another step in their minds to communicate their ideas behind swimming. My favorite part is the the usual age appropriate additions to the swimming art – from animals to other family members to added thought bubbles with written text – whatever is important to them to go along with their swim analysis. A great way to enhance understanding and express ideas in their own pictures and words.


In this illustration from a 5 year old swimmer, he expresses the shapes of his freestyle recovery arm versus his backstroke recovery arm. There are also up and down arrows which he verbally explained were the relationship of head and hips in the strokes. He is one happy young swimmer when he gets to top off the lesson with some free drawing! I am one happy coach to use the exercise to develop critical thinking. I encourage swimmers of all ages to try it…see what happens!

Coach Dinah