How to Teach Problem Solving in Kindergarten
Teaching kids to be independent thinkers is a huge part of education. We want students to be able to solve their own “problems” without relying on adults for help. While many kindergarteners aren't ready for complex problem solving, we can teach them how to address their own challenges on a smaller scale. Keep reading for some tips on how to teach problem solving in kindergarten.
Tips for Teaching Problem Solving in Kindergarten
Learning how to problem solve is an advanced skill that people work on throughout their lives. We definitely shouldn't expect children to be perfect in this skill! However, your students can definitely start to understand that they can solve some of their small problems without adult intervention. Here are a few tips for how to teach problem solving in kindergarten.
1. Focus on Common Kindergarten Problems
When people think of solving problems in kindergarten, they often focus on conflict resolution between students. However, in kindergarten, there can be a wide range of challenges that students experience during the day. For young students, this often means turning to an adult for help.
Procedural – Kindergartners are very routine-oriented. When there is a small bump in the daily routines and procedures, the default is to ask the teacher what to do. These problems could include school supply issues or misplaced items.
Personal – Whether it’s untied shoes or complicated emotions, there are a variety of personal challenges that students experience throughout the school day. These could include personal injury, self-care challenges, and emotional regulation difficulties.
Interpersonal – Kindergarten can be a challenging time for students who are learning to interact with their peers! Students might experience problems related to turn-taking, making shared decisions, and working in groups. These are often the small problems that result in tattling.
2. Identify Your Preferred Solutions
Before teaching problem-solving skills to your students, take some time to identify the solutions that would be preferable in your classroom. For example, when a child finds a lost school supply on the ground, would you prefer that they try to find the correct location for it, put it in your classroom Lost and Found bucket, or set it on your desk?
Since many of the challenges kindergartners experience can be procedural, it’s helpful to teach them appropriate solution options that fit within your classroom management system . For interpersonal problems, you might want to identify solutions that fit within your school’s conflict resolution procedures.
3. Teach the Steps of Problem Solving
Once you’ve identified the problems and solutions you’d like to discuss with your students, it’s time for the instruction! Teach your students the three easy steps of solving a problem:
First, they need to stop what they are doing. This helps them focus on the challenge they are facing.
Next, they need to think about the problem and possible solutions. Problems and solutions at school can often be different than those at home or other places.
Finally, they need to choose the best solution for their problem. They should consider how their solutions impact those around them.
These simple steps are easy for students to remember so they are more likely to use them! It's a good idea to keep these reminders posted as visual support in the classroom so students can reference them throughout the school year.
4. Practice with Real-Life Scenarios
Now that you’ve introduced the steps to problem-solving, it’s time to practice using real-life examples and scenarios! Introduce a common problem that your students might experience in the classroom, on the playground, or even in the lunchroom. Discuss the problem so that all students can understand the challenge that needs to be addressed.
Once your students can identify the problem that needs to be solved, you can discuss possible solutions. It’s helpful for students to learn that there can be different ways to solve a problem. Sometimes students are hesitant to address challenges without adult intervention because they want to know what the “right” thing is to do.
Finally, it’s time for the students to choose the best solution. Students should think about how their solution will impact those around them and find the best option. You can discuss why this particular choice is the best option for the scenario.
After discussing this real-life scenario together as a class, you can also encourage students to practice independently. Invite your students to complete an independent practice worksheet to show how they would solve the problem.
5. Repeat and Remind
It’s an ongoing process to teach students how to be more independent thinkers and problem solvers. This process of discussing real-life situations will be ongoing in your classroom. Take opportunities to repeat your instruction whenever you can!
Consider modeling for your students when there is a problem that you need to solve as a teacher. This helps them see that you go through the same three steps of problem solving! If a challenge arises that involves the whole class, you might also decide to discuss this together.
If you created an anchor chart during your class discussion of scenarios, you can keep those on display in your classroom. Problem solving posters can serve as a helpful reminder to your students when they find themselves in a challenging situation.
Problem Solving Printables for Kindergarten
Would you like to help your students become more independent in addressing their own challenges? I have created a resource to make it easy to teach problem solving in kindergarten.
These posters and worksheets will help your students practice problem solving with engaging and relevant scenarios. Every classroom is different and each teacher sets specific classroom expectations. This resource is editable so that you can customize the problem solving scenarios to fit the needs of your classroom.
Would you like to take a closer look at everything included in this resource? You can find it in the Teaching Exceptional Kinders shop or on Teachers Pay Teachers .
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5 Activities To Teach Your Kindergarten Child Problem Solving
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Problem-solving abilities are crucial cognitive abilities that your children will often develop during their early years. Even without the assistance of an adult, your children will learn how to come up with workable ideas to solve issues they face on their own.
They will also have more faith in their capacity to use creative problem-solving techniques and come up with their own answers when faced with challenges. There are plenty of advantages to teaching your kids problem-solving techniques, as these techniques can support your children in handling challenging circumstances successfully.
With this in mind, here’s what you need to know about problem-solving for Kindergarten children and what you as a parent can do to help them along this journey!
The Importance of Learning to Problem Solve
When a challenge presents itself, a person's problem-solving abilities are put to the test. While some challenges call for applying multiple abilities, others can be straightforward and just call for one or two.
An adult's ability to solve problems does not just appear overnight. Even as an adult, it may continue to develop slowly, although most learning takes place in the early years. Which is why the ideal age for your children to develop their problem-solving skills is in preschool.
The advantages of learning at a young age are lifelong, and the best part about learning anything at a young age is that it comes naturally. Almost every circumstance in life, work, or school involves problem-solving. A child's play is full of opportunities to solve all types of hard circumstances and come up with answers to challenges, so it’s good to nurture them at this stage.
Common Problem Solving Skills for Kindergarteners
According to research , training kids with problem-solving techniques can boost their mental health. Often, kids won't try to solve a problem if they feel helpless or overwhelmed. But if you provide them with a clear formula for problem-solving, they will be more confident in their capacity to try.
Here are just a few instances from daily life where some degree of problem-solving might be necessary:
- Resolving a disagreement over the same toy
- Circle formation with a group of friends
- Constructing a bridge to link two block towers
- Tying and untying shoes
- Creating new game rules
5 Activities to Teach Your Child to Problem Solve
Teaching your child to solve problems can be done in a way that exposes them to a variety of situations where they will encounter difficulties. Done right, these games and activities can help improve their problem-solving skills further, rather than if you just let it happen naturally.
As playing is the best way to learn, the following games are enjoyable for kids while also promoting their problem-solving abilities.
1. Survivor Scenario
Here is a game you can play without any supplies. In this game, you must design pretend-play scenarios for kids, and they must evaluate and problem-solve creatively.
Give them the following example: "You're stranded on an island, and you know aid will not be available for two days. With the resources at hand, how will you build a shelter for yourself?” By doing so, they are inspired to consider various possibilities and come up with escape plans.
2. Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are one of the educational games that every parent should introduce to their kids. The only equipment needed is what you already have at home, making it a cheap, simple, and enjoyable pastime that can be done both indoors and outdoors.
Children can exercise their imaginations through this practice while also unknowingly developing their problem-solving abilities in an enjoyable way.
Puzzles are excellent problem-solving activities for children. They are available in a variety of difficulties, and you can select the appropriate one based on your child's age.
If you give children a puzzle to solve, kids will learn to evaluate the issue or topic, consider many approaches, and come up with a solution. The exercise will also help them develop better hand-eye coordination, gross motor abilities, and critical thinking.
4. Building with Toys
Your home should always have construction toys like Legos, a good set of wooden blocks, or engineering blocks.
Every project your child constructs presents a challenge because it needs them to consider what to build and how to assemble the parts to create a design that is both functional and effective. Allow your child to build freely, but occasionally present a challenge and ask him to build a certain construction under certain conditions.
5. Completing Mazes
For people of any age, mazes are enjoyable and safe. Your children are forced to think while they work on mazes.
Additionally, the activity enhances their problem-solving, navigational, and motor skills. Consider alternatives to traditional book mazes. The internet is full of maze games. They will grow better at finding their way out with practice. You can eventually give them more difficult mazes to solve.
Problem Solving Should Be Made Fun For Your Kids
Due to the incomplete development of their prefrontal cortex, young children and even teenagers have difficulty solving problems. When we have more patience with children and realise that the part of their brains essential for problem-solving is still developing, repeating instructions may not be as exhausting as it first appears.
Your kids are doing their best. It is your responsibility to give them experiences that will support the growth and development of their brains.
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KINDERGARTEN PROBLEM SOLVING
Learning how to approach and solve problems early in life, not only helps children enjoy and look forward to sorting them out, it also helps them make and keep friends.
Preschool and kindergarten problem solving activities give children an opportunity to use skills they have learned previously and give you an opening to teach new problem solving strategies.
Introduce the vocabulary of solving problems with stories, puppets and everyday situations that occur. “We only have 10 apples but there are 20 students. This is a problem . Let’s think of some ways that we can solve this problem ?”
Use terms like, “a different way, let’s brainstorm, that’s a challenge, let’s think of some different solutions”.
How do I develop a problem solving approach?
Asking children questions such as , “How would you…?” or “Show me how you could…?”, help set the stage for teaching with a problem solving approach. Keep problem solving topics about subjects that interest the students. Kids are constantly trying to problem solve as they play.
Students are learning to:
- Identify problems or challenges
- Fact find (what do I know, what have I tried)
- Think of ways to solve the problem (brainstorm, creative thinking, generate ideas)
- Test their ideas
What preschool and kindergarten problem solving strategies can I teach?
Young children need real objects, pictures, diagrams, and models to solve problems. Start with real objects and move slowly to diagrams and pictures. Any of the following problem solving strategies will help them work through the four steps above:
- using objects
- acting the problem out
- looking for patterns
- guessing and checking
- drawing pictures
- making a graph
- teach with projects
Play creates classroom opportunities for problem solving
Perhaps a child is getting frustrated as he/she plays with blocks. To help him/her focus on the problem ask questions such as:
- What are you trying to do with your blocks?
- What isn’t working?
- What have you tried?
- Can you think of another way to stack the blocks?
- What else can you try?
Encourage creative thinking
Reinforce creative thinking, not results. The ability to solve problems and think creativity is important.
Talk about the different ways the child tried to solve the problem rather than the outcome. “Joe tried three different ways to stack the blocks. That was a great effort, Joe.”
Social classroom problem solving opportunities are abundant
- Identify the problem – Talk about the problem. For instance, some children may be worried because other kids are hiding the center markers for the play center and giving them to their friends. Other kids are not getting turns.
- Fact find – There are only 4 center markers for the play center because it is small and more than 4 kids would be too crowded. Some kids are hiding them so they can play with the same children each time.
- Brainstorm ideas – How can everyone have turns? What ideas do you have? What could we try?
- Test the idea – Let’s try that idea and meet again tomorrow and see how its working.
Investigating and Problem Solving
Using short periods of time examining and investigating objects, such as feathers or rocks, captures children’s attention and challenges them to inquire, to develop mind sets of being problem solvers and to think independently. Find a sample lesson here…
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How to Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Children and Preteens
- By Ashley Cullins
Whether it’s a toy-related conflict, a tough math equation, or negative peer pressure, kids of ALL ages face problems and challenges on a daily basis.
As parents or teachers, we can’t always be there to solve every problem for our children. In fact, this isn’t our job. Our job is to TEACH our children how to solve problems by themselves . This way, they can become confident , independent, and successful individuals.
Instead of giving up or getting frustrated when they encounter a challenge, kids with problem-solving skills manage their emotions, think creatively, and persist until they find a solution. Naturally, these abilities go hand-in-hand with a growth mindset .
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our FREE Your Words Matter Volume 2 Kit . With these 10 one-page parenting guides, you will know exactly how to speak to your child to help them stand up for themselves, be more confident, and develop a growth mindset.
So HOW do you teach problem-solving skills to kids?
Well, it depends on their age . As cognitive abilities and the size of the child’s challenges grow/evolve over time, so should your approach to teaching problem-solving skills.
Read on to learn key strategies for teaching problem-solving to kids, as well as some age-by-age ideas and activities.
3 General Strategies to Teach Problem-Solving at Any Age
1. model effective problem-solving .
When YOU encounter a challenge, do a “think-aloud” for the benefit of your child. MODEL how to apply the same problem-solving skills you’ve been working on together, giving the real-world examples that she can implement in her own life.
At the same time, show your child a willingness to make mistakes . Everyone encounters problems, and that’s okay. Sometimes the first solution you try won’t work, and that’s okay too!
When you model problem-solving, explain that there are some things that are out of our control. As we're solving a problem at hand we should focus on the things we CAN actually control.
You and your child can listen to Episode 35 of the Big Life Kids Podcast to learn about focusing on what you can control.
2. Ask for Advice
Ask your kids for advice when you have a problem. This teaches them that it’s common to make mistakes and face challenges. It also gives them the opportunity to practice problem-solving skills.
Plus, when you indicate that their ideas are valued , they’ll gain the confidence to attempt solving problems on their own.
3. Don’t Provide “The Answer”
As difficult as it may be, allow your child to struggle, sometimes fail , and ultimately LEARN from experiencing consequences.
Now, let’s take a look at some age-specific strategies and activities. The ages listed below are general guidelines, feel free to choose any strategies or activities that you feel will work for YOUR child.
Use Emotion Coaching
To step into a problem-solving mindset, young children need to first learn to manage their emotions . After all, it’s difficult for a small child to logically consider solutions to a problem if he’s mid-tantrum.
One way to accomplish this is by using the emotion coaching process outlined by John Gottman.
First, teach your kids that ALL emotions are acceptable. There are NO “bad” emotions. Even seemingly negative emotions like anger, sadness, and frustration can teach us valuable lessons. What matters is how we respond to these emotions.
Second, follow this process:
- Step One: Naming and validating emotions. When your child is upset, help her process the way she’s feeling. Say something like, “I understand that you’re upset because Jessica is playing with the toy you wanted.”
- Step Two: Processing emotions. Guide your child to her calming space. If she doesn't have one, it's a good idea to create one. Let her calm her body and process her emotions so she can problem-solve, learn, and grow.
- Step Three: Problem Solving. Brainstorm solutions with your child, doing more LISTENING than talking during the conversation. This allows your child to practice her problem-solving skills, and she’s more likely to actually implement the solutions she came up with herself.
Say, “Show Me the Hard Part”
When your child struggles or feels frustrated, try a technique suggested by mom and parenting blogger Lauren Tamm . Simply say, “Show me the hard part.”
This helps your child identify the ROOT of the problem, making it less intimidating and easier to solve.
Repeat back what your child says, “So you’re saying…”
Once you both understand the real problem, prompt your child to come up with solutions . “There must be some way you can fix that…” or “There must be something you can do…”
Now that your child has identified “the hard part,” she’ll likely be able to come up with a solution. If not, help her brainstorm some ideas. You may try asking the question, “If you DID know, what would you think?” and see what she comes up with.
Problem-Solve with Creative Play
Allow your child to choose activities and games based on her interests . Free play provides plenty of opportunities to navigate and creatively solve problems.
Children often learn best through play. Playing with items like blocks, simple puzzles, and dress-up clothes can teach your child the process of problem-solving.
Even while playing, your child thinks critically: Where does this puzzle piece fit? What does this do? I want to dress up as a queen. What should I wear? Where did I put my tiara? Is it under the couch?
Problem-Solve with Storybooks
Read age-appropriate stories featuring characters who experience problems, such as:
- Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by Jacky Davis: The story of two friends who want to play together but can’t find a game to agree on. After taking turns making suggestions, they arrive at a game they both want to play: Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy.
- The Curious George Series by Margaret and H.E. Rey: A curious little monkey gets into and out of dilemmas, teaching kids to find solutions to problems of their own.
- Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber: Ira’s thrilled to have a sleepover at his friend Reggie’s house. But there’s one problem: Should he or should he not bring his teddy bear? It may seem small, but this is the type of early social problem your child might relate to.
Connect these experiences to similar events in your child’s own life, and ASK your child HOW the characters in these stories could solve their problems. Encourage a variety of solutions, and discuss the possible outcomes of each.
This is a form of dialogue reading , or actively ENGAGING your child in the reading experience. Interacting with the text instead of passively listening can “turbocharge” the development of literacy skills such as comprehension in preschool-aged children.
By asking questions about the characters’ challenges, you can also give your child’s problem-solving abilities a boost.
You can even have your child role-play the problem and potential solutions to reinforce the lesson.
For book suggestions, refer to our Top 85 Growth Mindset Books for Children & Adults list.
Teach the Problem-Solving Steps
Come up with a simple problem-solving process for your child, one that you can consistently implement. For example, you might try the following five steps:
- Step 1: What am I feeling? Help your child understand what she’s feeling in the moment (frustration, anger, curiosity, disappointment, excitement, etc.) Noticing and naming emotions will diffuse their charge and give your child a chance to take a step back.
- Step 2: What’s the problem? Guide your child to identify the specific problem. In most cases, help her take responsibility for what happened rather than pointing fingers. For instance, instead of, “Joey got me in trouble at recess,” your child might say, “I got in trouble at recess for arguing with Joey.”
- Step 3: What are the solutions? Encourage your child to come up with as many solutions as possible. At this point, they don’t even need to be “good” solutions. They’re just brainstorming here, not yet evaluating the ideas they’ve generated.
- Step 4: What would happen if…? What would happen if your child attempted each of these solutions? Is the solution safe and fair? How will it make others feel? You can also try role-playing at this step. It’s important for your child to consider BOTH positive and negative consequences of her actions.
- Step 5: Which one will I try? Ask your child to pick one or more solutions to try. If the solution didn't work, discuss WHY and move on to another one. Encourage your child to keep trying until the problem is solved.
Consistently practice these steps so that they become second nature, and model solving problems of your own the same way. It's a good idea to reflect : What worked? What didn’t? What can you do differently next time?
Problem-Solve with Craft Materials
Crafting is another form of play that can teach kids to solve problems creatively.
Provide your child with markers, modeling clay, cardboard boxes, tape, paper, etc. They’ll come up with all sorts of interesting creations and inventive games with these simple materials.
These “open-ended toys” don’t have a “right way to play,” allowing your child to get creative and generate ideas independently .
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Asking open-ended questions improves a child’s ability to think critically and creatively, ultimately making them better problem-solvers. Examples of open-ended questions include:
- How could we work together to solve this?
- How did you work it out? or How do you know that?
- Tell me about what you built, made, or created.
- What do you think will happen next?
- What do you think would happen if…?
- What did you learn?
- What was easy? What was hard?
- What would you do differently next time?
Open-ended questions have no right answer and can’t be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.”
You can ask open-ended questions even when your child isn’t currently solving a problem to help her practice her thinking skills, which will come in handy when she does have a problem to solve.
If you need some tips on how to encourage a growth mindset in your child, don't forget to download our FREE Your Words Matter Volume 2 Kit .
Break Down Problems into Chunks
This strategy is a more advanced version of “Show me the hard part.”
The bigger your child gets, the bigger her problems get too. When your child is facing a challenge that seems overwhelming or insurmountable, encourage her to break it into smaller, more manageable chunks.
For instance, let’s say your child has a poor grade in history class. Why is the grade so low? What are the causes of this problem?
As usual, LISTEN as your child brainstorms, asking open-ended questions to help if she gets stuck.
If the low grade is the result of missing assignments, perhaps your child can make a list of these assignments and tackle them one at a time. Or if tests are the issue, what’s causing your child to struggle on exams?
Perhaps she’s distracted by friends in the class, has trouble asking for help, and doesn’t spend enough time studying at home. Once you’ve identified these “chunks,” help your child tackle them one at a time until the problem is solved.
Show “ The Broken Escalator Video ”
Discuss the importance of embracing challenges and solving problems independently with the “broken escalator video.”
In the video, an escalator unexpectedly breaks. The people on the escalator are “stuck” and yelling for help. At this age, it’s likely that your child will find the video funny and immediately offer a solution: “Just walk! Get off the escalator!”
Tell your child that this is a simple example of how people sometimes act in difficult situations. Ask, “Why do you think they didn’t get off the escalator?” (they didn’t know how, they were waiting for help, etc.)
Sometimes, your child might feel “stuck” when facing problems. They may stop and ask for help before even attempting to find a solution. Encourage your child to embrace challenges and work through problems instead.
Problem-Solve with Prompts
Provide your child or a group of children with materials such as straws, cotton balls, yarn, clothespins, tape, paper clips, sticky notes, Popsicle sticks, etc.
With just these materials, challenge your kids to solve unusual problems like:
- Make a leprechaun trap
- Create a jump ramp for cars
- Design your own game with rules
- Make a device for two people to communicate with one another
This is a fun way to practice critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Most likely, it will take multiple attempts to find a solution that works, which can apply to just about any aspect of life.
Make Them Work for It
When your child asks for a new toy, technology, or clothes, have her make a plan to obtain the desired item herself. Not only will your child have to brainstorm and evaluate solutions, but she’ll also gain confidence .
Ask your child HOW she can earn the money for the item that she wants, and encourage her as she works toward her goal .
Put It on Paper
Have your child write out their problems on paper and brainstorm some potential solutions.
But now, she takes this process a step further: After attempting each solution, which succeeded? Which were unsuccessful? Why ?
This helps your child reflect on various outcomes, learning what works and what doesn’t. The lessons she learns here will be useful when she encounters similar problems in the future.
Play Chess Together
Learning to play chess is a great way for kids to learn problem-solving AND build their brains at the same time. It requires players to use critical thinking, creativity, analysis of the board, recognize patterns, and more. There are online versions of the game, books on how to play, videos, and other resources. Don’t know how to play? Learn with your teen to connect and problem solve together!
Have Them Learn To Code
Our teens and tweens are already tech-savvy and can use their skills to solve problems by learning to code. Coding promotes creativity, logic, planning, and persistence . There are many great tools and online or in-person programs that can boost your child’s coding skills.
Encourage to Start a Meaningful Project
This project has to be meaningful to your teen, for example starting a YouTube channel. Your teen will practice problem-solving skills as they’re figuring out how to grow their audience, how to have their videos discovered, and much more.
In the Big Life Journal - Teen Edition , there’s a section that guides them through planning their YouTube channel and beginning the problem-solving process.
Apply the SODAS Method
Looking for a game plan that your teen can employ when faced with a problem? The SODAS method can be used for big or small problems. Just remember this simple acronym and follow these ideas:
- D isadvantages
- A dvantages
Encourage to Join Problem-Solving Groups
Does your teen enjoy solving problems in a team? Have them join a group or club that helps them hone their skills in a variety of settings--from science and robotics to debating and international affairs. Some examples of groups include:
- Odyssey of the Mind
- Debate team
- Science Olympiad
Looking for additional resources? The Bestseller’s Bundle includes our three most popular printable kits packed with science-based activities, guides, and crafts for children. Our Growth Mindset Kit, Resilience Kit, and Challenges Kit work together as a comprehensive system designed specifically for children ages 5-11.
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25 thoughts on “ How to Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Children and Preteens ”
I love, love, love the point about emotional coaching. It’s so important to identify how children are feeling about a problem and then approach the solutions accordingly.
Thank you for putting this together. I wrote an article on problem-solving specifically from the point of view of developing a STEM aptitude in kids, if you like to check it out – https://kidpillar.com/how-to-teach-problem-solving-to-your-kids-5-8-years/
I feel that these techniques will work for my kid.. Worthy.. Thank you
I love you guys
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5 kindergarten problem solving activities your kid will love.
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Ohhh, problem solving skills. It’s one of those, you know, really, super, important things that all kids are supposed to be learning, or else, they are doomed for life.
I mean, at thirty-one years old I still haven’t figured out how to keep things from spilling everywhere or how to make sure evil Legos aren’t out and about just waiting to deal those excruciating blows to my feet.
I know you’ve been there – i.e. stepped on a car and almost broke your back – and thought about throwing all the darned things in the trash.
But before you do that, here are 5 kindergarten problem solving activities for kids that will make you feel a little better about keeping them around… at least for a little bit longer.
1. Free Building Play
So after I resist the urge to whip into a crazy, toy-trashing whirlwind come across toys the kids have left out, I put them in a building box.
If you don’t have something similar, you can just let your little darling gather up any and all safe objects around the house he would like to use to build something with.
It can be anything. We have had conglomerations of Legos, boxes, wheels/fixtures from random, old pieces of furniture, PVC piping, etc. The point here is to foster open-mindedness… to see random objects in new ways.
Don’t be afraid to frame the problem for him to stretch those skills – “Oh, you built a house? Wow! What if more people needed to fit in it?” Or, just thinking out loud here, “What if Mommy needs a spa room?”
Pro Tip: Help Your Child Become Better at Problem Solving
Enroll your child for the Atlas Mission and let your child play with this award-winning educational program. Your child will become better at problem solving without even realizing it!
2. Rolling Dice
One of my other favorite things to step on in dark hallways.
Kids love to roll dice. I would just feel like a jerk if I didn’t say there are a ton of games kids make up and play with dice that are great for problem solving and general math skills, so let them play freely with them.
Here is one of the best ones I’ve found specifically for problem solving skills.
First, write down a few categories of things – colors, animals, places, people, etc. – on some index cards, or if you are always missing cool school supplies like index cards, card-sized pieces of paper will do just fine. Put them in stack face-down between you and your kid.
Now, for the fun part! Tell your kid to draw a card and roll the die – probably just one die for this game… really… you don’t want any nervous breakdowns here.
He has to think of that number of things that fit into the category he drew. So if he drew the card “Animals” and rolled a three, he might say, “hippo, dog, and rooster.”
This encourages a different kind of open-mindedness that is solution-oriented, rather than going in all directions.
3. Build a Racetrack
Yep, I know. It’s always right in the middle of the way, right? Well, stuff down that gut reaction to “accidentally” knock it over (totally kidding, I know you would never do that, right? Right? :-)), and let them build it (safely) however they want.
After they are done racing their cars down it for a bit, encourage them to actually talk about what they like and dislike about the track.
And then let them build it again… and again. Wait! Don’t run yet – there’s a good reason, promise! While building open-mindedness is a vital first step, experimentation is just as important.
This is where they learn to make predictions and test them to make adjustments.
4. Make a Mosaic
If your brain is frazzled just reading about the previous three activities, this one’s for you! If you already have some of those math pattern/shape blocks, this is the easiest (though it might not get the Legos off the floor, sorry!).
Just give your little one a prompt for a picture, and let her go to town creating it with the pattern blocks. Boats, flowers, houses, and monsters are all good prompts for kindergarteners.
If you don’t have pattern blocks or you want a more permanent creation, you can cut shapes out of construction paper. If you can match the typical pattern block color/shape, it will familiarize your kid with them if she hasn’t seen them in school yet.
Then, go on the same way, letting her create to her heart’s content, finishing with glue if she wishes!
This is about helping her understand that not only are there multiple options to consider when solving a problem, but also sometimes there are actually multiple possible solutions.
Don’t neglect the need to practice problem solving skills for social situations. Most of the problems adults deal with are ones that involve some social aspect, after all. So bust out those costumes (or sheets, old curtains, whatever), and do some roleplaying.
If your kid has a bent for imaginative play, you might be able to just follow along with her plot and ask questions at the right moments, but otherwise, you might have to search your inner-child for a problem that your kid would be interested in enough to make the play effective.
“I want to have a tea party for all the little children in the land, but I don’t know how to do it. What do you think we should do first?”
“There’s a dragon in a cave nearby, and everyone is afraid he might hurt them. What do you think we should do first?”
What? My inner-child is pretty typical, don’t judge!
So put your mind (and feet!) at rest – these kindergarten problem solving activities can keep kids thinking for hours over a variety of different problem solving situations.
It’s even more awesome if brothers, sisters, or friends can participate, so you can just keep an ear on things… while eating chocolate away from prying eyes. (Hey! A problem I did solve!)
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About the Author
Danielle Rhymes creates educational content for the Atlas Mission . She is a stay-at-home mom who is passionate about education. When not chasing down or instilling life lessons in little ones, she also enjoys crocheting, chocolate, and Good Housekeeping.
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Problem Solving for Preschoolers: 9 Ways to Strengthen Their Skills
By Carrie Mesrobian on 12/20/2021
As an adult, you likely run into dozens of small issues every day that require problem-solving skills. While you might not give much thought to the process of figuring out the best way to put groceries away or how to run errands without backtracking all over town anymore, these basic problem-solving abilities weren’t always so simple. You refined these skills as a child with practice and guidance from adults.
Building problem-solving skills in preschool-age children is a foundational duty of all parents and early childhood educators. But it can be easy to lose sight of how to incorporate these skills, especially when family life gets hectic or classrooms become busy.
For some fresh perspective on how to look at problem solving from a preschooler lens, we asked several experts in the early childhood education (ECE) field how they teach skills in their own classrooms. Read on for some insight on helping the young ones in your life figure out creative and workable solutions.
9 Tried-and-true ways to develop problem-solving skills in preschoolers
1. use everyday moments.
The handy thing about teaching problem-solving skills at this age is that there are no textbooks, worksheets or special equipment involved. Every day, normal situations provide all the materials you’ll need to practice.
“Parents can help their children develop problem-solving skills through ongoing interactions with their children throughout their day,” explains Paula Polito, owner of Beary Cherry Tree Child Development Center. “At home, in the grocery store and in everyday routines, such as mealtime or bath time.”
Rebecah Freeling, parent coach and child behavior expert at Wits’ End Parenting ®, believes household chores are an excellent way to teach problem solving.
“Housework is a matter of solving one problem after another. All these things go wrong when you’re doing housework,” Freeling explains. “Kids get this idea that problems are no big deal. Problems happen all the time and we just solve them.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean making a chore chart, though Freeling says some kids respond well to them. Instead, she encourages parents to try to integrate kids into the everyday maintenance of the home, and when possible, work alongside them.
“Say, ‘What would you like to be in charge of today?’” Freeling advises. “It’s the difference between getting to do something versus having to do it.”
While a grocery store trip can sometimes be a stressful rush, there are infinite opportunities to practice problem solving, says Dr. Elizabeth DeWitt, senior curriculum and implementation specialist at Learning Without Tears . DeWitt suggests using a list or a recipe of ingredients and asking your child to help you find certain items.
“Say, ‘I have this recipe that says we need chicken, rice and soup. I see chicken and soup in our cart. What are we missing? What could we or should we add?’” DeWitt says.
Taking the time to simply talk children through the thought process—no matter how simple it seems—helps reinforce and show them how you came to that conclusion.
2. Ask open-ended questions
As in the grocery store situation, just asking questions is a powerful way to foster both problem solving and creativity in young children.
“When your child comes across a difficult task, like zipping their coat, it can often be faster and easier to stop what you're doing and zip it for them,” says Becky Loftfield, an ECE teacher at Community of Saints Preschool .
If a child says, “I can't do this,” Loftfield advises asking “how come?” This lets them answer in their own words. “Asking ‘how come’ usually works better than ‘why’ for young children,” Loftfield adds.
Pausing to listen to the child’s explanation of the problem in their own words guides what happens next.
“Perhaps they don't know how zippers line up at the bottom for the mechanism to slide,” says Loftfield. “Maybe the zipper itself is too small for them to grip. Encourage your child to explore what the problem actually is beyond ‘I can't zip my coat.’”
Polito also believes in the power of conversational questions to build problem-solving skills.
“For example, parents can ask a child to explain why they did something a certain way,” Polito explains. “Providing hints to children as opposed to giving them the answer is also another way for children to think deeper about a concept.”
“We promote more learning when we allow them to think through the question,” Polito says.
3. Center emotions
All problem solving involves emotions. In the zipping-up-the-coat situation, a child might act frustrated, get angry or start crying. Handling the emotion is often the key to the child sorting out the situation, as well as learning that they are capable of finding solutions.
“We are not born knowing how to solve problems or having the vocabulary to express our feelings,” says Torri Parker, a pre-K instructor at Aspen Academy . “Often I hear a student telling another child ‘You’re not my friend,’ when what the child is meaning is that they are hurt by something their friend did, or they would like some space.”
Parker suggests picture books that focus on emotions and offer multiple ways to express them can be a powerful way to help kids not only problem solve but also identify emotions in their peers and develop greater empathy.
“By providing the words needed to convey those feelings, a child learns what that feeling feels like and can then have the vocabulary in the future to solve a conflict like that,” Parker says.
4. Read books and tell stories
Sometimes, not having to tackle a problem that’s happening in the moment is a good way to practice these skills. This is where reading books and telling stories come into play.
“Books have the opportunity to build incredible social-emotional skills,” DeWitt says. Not only are kids looking for solutions to the characters’ problems, they’re also building vocabulary, narrative skills and critical thinking as well.
Nicole Evert, a pre-K teacher and ECE trainer at Creating Butterflies , recommends the use of “ social stories ” for preschool problem solving.
“A social story introduces a problem, then shows successful ways to solve the problem,” Evert explains. “Sometimes a social story will include silly pages that show how to not solve the problem.”
Social stories can be especially helpful for children with anxiety about certain activities or routines, as well as kids with disabilities.
“Parents and educators can even make their own social stories using pictures of the specific child and their environment, which can be so powerful,” adds Evert.
5. Take advantage of natural curiosities and interests
One approach to helping young children practice problem-solving skills is in the discovery of something they are authentically interested in learning about. Adam Cole, music director at The Willow School , explains his school’s Reggio Emilia -inspired philosophy where a teacher gives students “provocations.”
“Provocations are opportunities for them to encounter something for which they may then express further interest,” Cole explains. “For instance, a teacher may set up a drawing provocation, and the children may draw buildings. The teacher may pick up on this and talk with the children about buildings, asking how they are built and where they can find more. This may lead to research or trips to see buildings and will continue on until the thread plays itself out.”
Because the focus is centered on topics or activities that already capture the child’s interest, the problem-solving aspect is more meaningful and compelling for many children. Because the teacher works alongside the child to problem solve, it offers space for the teacher to ask questions and encourage further creativity.
“This is an organic way to learn to solve problems, bolstered by the intrinsic desire of the child to learn more,” Cole adds.
6. Model problem solving
Preschoolers are always observing our behavior as parents and teachers.
“Given that 90% of brain development occurs between birth and four years of age, we have an opportunity during these preschool years to set our children up for success,” says Polito.
It may seem obvious, but our strategies and methods provide kids with in-the-moment examples of how to handle life with things go wrong.
“From a teaching perspective, you can think, ‘I’m teaching this child how to be who they are, how to live life,’” says Freeling. “A spill derails you a bit. So, stop and ask the child, ‘How should I clean this up?’”
Loftfield agrees. “Parents and educators can act as guides for a child’s experience, demonstrating how they problem solve and modeling what they want to see.”
This doesn’t mean that the adult must do everything perfectly or without emotions, however. Managing feelings is all part of learning to problem solve. “Allow time for mistakes, time for meltdowns and time for celebration,” Loftfield advises.
7. Look to the child for the solution
This last one might seem counter to number six above, but Freeling believes that parents and teachers can help children learn to problem solve by removing themselves from the process.
“Moving past your instincts to fix or smooth over problems helps a lot,” Freeling says. “Project the kid’s age in your mind. Think of a 25-year-old graduating from college. I want them to be able to ask for a higher salary, to vocalize what they want. You’re not just getting kids to be obedient—you’re teaching them how to negotiate the world.”
This is why Freeling advises adults to try coming into a problem-solving situation with children without a ready-made solution. She offers an example: there’s only one red truck, and two children both want to play with it.
“You’re really looking to the child and trusting their thinking and intelligence for solutions you hadn’t thought of,” Freeling says. She recommends repeating questions until the kids come to a decision and as long as no one’s at risk of injury, standing by the children’s solution.
“They might say, ‘We have to paint all the trucks red, since everyone wants a red truck,’” Freeling says. This might seem odd to an adult. But the point is to make the children a vital part of the creative process instead of just getting them to comply with the adult’s idea.
Developing empathy also factors into this scenario, especially in situations where problems stem from hurt feelings or other emotional conflicts. Freeling believes that finding ways to make restitution to others they’ve hurt is a better practice than forcing kids to apologize. She suggests having a child draw a picture of something the upset child likes as a way to make amends and help them recognize the other’s individuality.
“We don’t want kids to feel guilt for hurting someone; we want them to feel compassion,” Freeling says. “And solving problems in a relationship requires empathy.”
Is an early childhood education career right for you?
Enjoying the process of seeing life through a little one’s eyes? Early childhood education is an exciting, dynamic field full of creativity and potential to positively impact the lives of children and their families. If helping kids learn and grow sounds like something you’d be good at, check out our article “9 Signs You Should Be Teaching Preschool.”
Wits’ End Parenting is a registered trademark of Wits’ End Parenting, Inc. This program does not prepare students for licensed teaching positions in elementary or secondary schools . A Bachelor’s degree and a state teaching license are typically required to work as a teacher in most school settings; however, states, municipalities, districts or individual schools may have more stringent licensing requirements. Childcare facilities and states establish qualifications for staff who work with children, and often implement guidelines regarding age, education, experience and professional development. Students must determine the licensure requirements for the state and facilities in which they intend to work.
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Problem solving is challenging for young students (and many adults too)! To support my little friends, I teach them problem solving strategies that they can use when they encounter a problem. We want our students to become independent thinkers who can solve problems, control their emotions, express empathy, and help others.
I introduce the problem solving techniques a few at a time during a class meeting. Each week, I introduce three new problem solving techniques. We then end up with nine to twelve techniques total based on what my students need that year. I explain the technique to the students in concrete terms so they will understand what the technique is and what it can look/sound like.
We usually start with these four skills: “please stop”, ask, get help, and say how you feel. Many problems can be solved with those solutions, which is why I always start with those. Then, the following week, I introduce take turns, play together, trade, and share. Then, the last four solutions the next week.
Problem Solving Techniques
Singing with puppets is a fun and active way to practice the problem-solving techniques . Preschoolers LOVE puppets! This technique also allows students to role play. Some students will be more verbal if they can pretend to be someone else. At the end of each verse, students act out the problem-solving technique with a buddy using the puppets!As a transition activity to lunch, students took turns sharing a way they have solved a problem. You can also play, “What would you do if….”. State a real problem that could happen and have students pick a problem-solving solution to solve the problem. Some examples would be, “What would you do if your friend took your book?”, “What would you do if you got sticky glue on your hands?”, or “What would you do if you needed the red marker and your friend was coloring with it?” Once they have learned the strategies, stand back and let students try solving their own problems independently. Just a warning: this can take some time with lots of practice and support. As long as the student isn’t frustrated, let them try before you jump in to help. You will be amazed at the problems your child can solve given the opportunity to.
At first, you will be giving students lots of support and giving them the words to use to solve a problem.
- Always approach students at their level, in a calm supporting way.
- Ask, “what’s the problem?” If they don’t respond, comment on what you see such as “I see you have glue all over your hands and it looks sticky.”
- Restate the problem. “So the problem is ….”
- Brainstorm solutions and choose one together. This is the perfect time to use problem solving card visuals! “How can we solve this problem?” Flip through the solution cards and ask “Could we ….?”
- Praise and observe! Cheer on the students for solving the problem and stay close just in case they need more support.
Throughout the day, try to make EVERYTHING a problem to solve. Then model, talk through your thinking out loud, and use visuals to support students as they try to solve a problem. For example, I may put out a big ball of playdough in the center of the table as a small group activity. Students have to problem solve so each student has play dough to play with. It only takes few extra minutes to sneak in problem-solving situations throughout the day. Each time students help solve a problem or observe a friend solve a problem, they learn to self-regulate, express emotions appropriately, develop empathy, and develop problem-solving skills.
State problems for students who look stuck. If a student is just standing there, they need support, but don’t solve the problem for them! It’s so easy to do. Simply state their problem or what you see and ask a probing question. For example, if a student is standing with an empty bowl in their hand, you could say “Your snack spilled on the floor. How can you solve the problem?”
Problem-Solving Necklace or Mini Book!
I hole punched the small cards, put them on a book ring and keep them on a lanyard I wear every day. This way I can support students’ solving problems without having to go to the safe place where they are posted. I can just show the picture cards as a visual on my necklace. The mini book in the safe place works the same way.
I keep my techniques posted in my circle area at the beginning of the year AND in my safe place. My safe place is a small spot in my classroom where students can go when they are upset, need to calm down, want to be alone, or have a problem.
Once I see students using the problem-solving techniques independently, I remove them from my circle area. They are posted in my safe place ALL YEAR LONG for students to use when they are struggling to solve a problem. In my safe place, you will find a mirror, feeling chart, bean bag, sensory bottles, calm down choices, a stuffed animal, problem solving mini book and problem-solving techniques chart. You can read all about how to set up a safe place in your classroom HERE . Children’s Books!
These are some of my FAVORITE children’s books to teach all about problem-solving. As we read the book, we talk about how the character is or isn’t solving the problem, how it makes the character and others feel, any natural consequences that could occur, and which one of our problem-solving strategies the character could use to solve the problem.
Do you want to use them in your classroom? You can! I did the work for you. Grab them from my TPT store HERE .
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10 Simple Activities to Teach Your Preschooler Problem Solving
By: Author Tanja McIlroy
Posted on Last updated: 14 November 2023
Categories Cognitive Development
During the first years of a child’s life, an important set of cognitive skills known as problem-solving abilities are developed. These skills are used throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Find out what problem solving is, why it’s important and how you can develop these skills with 10 problem-solving games and activities.
What is Problem Solving in Early Childhood?
So, what exactly is problem solving? Quite simply, it refers to the process of finding a solution to a problem .
A person uses their own knowledge and experience, as well as the information at hand to try and reach a solution. Problem solving is therefore about the thought processes involved in finding a solution.
This could be as complex as an adult working out how to get out of a financial crisis or as simple as a child working out how two blocks fit together.
Problem Solving Skills for Kids
Problem-solving skills refer to the specific thinking skills a person uses when faced with a challenge. Some problems require the use of many skills, while others are simple and may only require one or two skills.
These are some examples of problem-solving skills for preschoolers , as listed by kent.ac.uk .
- Lateral thinking
- Analytical thinking
- Decision-making skills
- Logical reasoning
- Communication skills
- Negotiation skills
The Importance of Developing Problem-Solving Skills in Early Childhood
Problem solving is a skill that would be difficult to suddenly develop as an adult. While you can still improve a skill at any age, the majority of learning occurs during the early years.
Preschool is the best time for a child to learn to problem solve in a fun way. The benefits of learning early will last a lifetime and the beauty of learning anything at a young age is that it is effortless .
It is like learning to play an instrument or picking up a new language – it’s just much easier and more natural at an early age.
Of all the many things preschoolers need to learn , what makes problem solving so important?
There aren’t many situations in life, at work or at school that don’t require some level of problem resolution.
Child’s play itself is filled with opportunity upon opportunity to solve all kinds of tricky situations and come up with solutions to challenges.
Problem Solving in Preschool
During the foundational years, children are constantly solving problems as they play .
Here are just a few examples of problem solving in early childhood :
- Resolving a fight over the same toy
- Reaching a ball that’s stuck in the tree
- Forming a circle while holding hands
- Making a bridge to connect two block towers
- Tying or untying a shoe
- Making up rules for a new game
- Trying to get the consistency of a mud cake right so it stops falling over
The more creative play opportunities and challenges children are given, the more they get to exercise their problem-solving muscles.
During free play , there are non-stop experiences for this, and parents and teachers can also encourage specific problem-solving skills through guided activities .
Problem Solving for Older Children
During the grades, children experience problems in many forms, some of which may be related to their academic, social and emotional well-being at school. Problems may come in the form of dealing with life issues, such as:
- Problems with friendships
- Struggling to understand something during a lesson
- Learning to balance the demands of sport and homework
- Finding the best way to study for a test
- Asking a teacher for help when needed
Problems will also form a large part of academic life as teachers will be actively developing this skill through various activities, for example:
- Solving a riddle or understanding a work of literature
- Working on projects with a friend
- Finding solutions during science experiments
- Solving mathematical problems
- Solving hypothetical problems during lessons
- Answering questions and completing exam papers
Children who have had practice during preschool will be a lot more capable when facing these challenges.
Solving Problems in Mathematics
Mathematics needs to be mentioned separately as although it is part of schooling, it is such a huge part and it depends heavily on a child’s ability to solve problems.
The entire subject of mathematics is based on solving problems. Whether you are adding 2 and 3, working out how many eggs will fit into each basket, or solving an algebraic expression, there is a problem in every question.
Mathematics is just a series of problems that need to be solved.
What we refer to as problem solving in Maths is usually answering word problems .
The reason many children find these so difficult to answer is that the question is presented as a problem through a story, rather than just numbers with symbols telling you what operation to use (addition, division, etc.)
This means a child is forced to think carefully, understand the problem and determine the best way to solve it.
These problems can involve various units (e.g. mass, capacity or currency) as well as fractions, decimals, equations and angles, to name a few. Problems tend to become more and more complex over the years.
My experience in the classroom has shown that many, many children struggle with solving word problems, from the early grades right into the senior years.
They struggle to analyze the question, understand it, determine what information they’ve been given, and what exactly they are required to solve.
The good news is that exposing a child to regular problem-solving activities and games in preschool can greatly help him to solve word problems later on in school.
If you need one good reason to do these kinds of activities, let it be for a smoother experience in mathematics – a subject so many children unnecessarily fear.
Problem Solving in the Workplace
Adults in the workplace seldom thrive without problem-solving skills. They are required to regularly solve problems .
As adults, employees are expected to independently deal with the frequent challenges, setbacks and problems that are a big part of every working environment.
Those who can face and solve their own problems will go further and cope better than those who seek constant help from others or cannot show initiative.
Some career websites even refer to problem solving as a universal job skill. They also mention that many employees are not good at it.
Again, although it may seem far removed, learning this skill at a young age will help a child cope right into adulthood and in the working world.
How to Teach Children Problem-Solving Skills
If early childhood is the best time to grow these skills in your young children, then how does one go about teaching them to toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners?
Problem solving can be taught in such a way that you expose your child to various opportunities where they will be faced with challenges.
You would not necessarily sit your 3-year-old down and tell or “teach” him all about fixing problems. Instead, you want to create opportunities for your child to grow this skill .
Using the brain to think and find solutions is a bit like working a muscle over time. Eventually, your muscle gets stronger and can handle more “ weight. ” Your child will learn to problem solve in two ways:
- Incidentally – through free play
- Through guided opportunities provided by a parent or teacher
If you make a point of encouraging thinking through games and activities, your child will develop stronger skills than if you let it all happen incidentally.
Problem-Solving Strategies and Steps
If we take a look at the steps involved in solving a problem, we can see that there are many layers involved and different types of skills. Here are the problem-solving steps according to the University of Ken.
Step 1: Identify the problem
Step 2: Define the problem
Step 3: Examine the options
Step 4: Act on a plan
Step 5: Look at the consequences
Therefore, activities at a preschool level need not present complicated high-level problems.
- A simple activity such as identifying differences in a picture can work on the first skill needed – identifying a problem.
- Playing with construction toys can develop a child’s ability to try various solutions and examine the options when faced with a problem such as trying to find the best way to build something.
- Playing Tic-Tac-Toe would make a child predict the consequences of placing their mark in a particular square.
The most basic of activities can work on all these skills and make children competent solution finders.
How to Teach Problem Solving with Questions
The language you use around your child and your questioning technique will also greatly affect their understanding of a problem or challenge as merely something waiting for a solution to be found .
While your child is playing or when she comes to you with a problem, ask open-ended questions that will guide her in finding a potential answer independently. Use the steps listed above to formulate your questions.
Here are some examples of questions:
- What do you think made the tower of blocks fall down?
- If we build it again, how can we change the structure so that it won’t fall down next time?
- Is there a better way we can do it? If you think of a different way, we can both try it and see which works better.
- Did that work? The tower fell again so let’s try another solution.
Resist the temptation to fix every one of your child’s problems, including conflict with friends or siblings. These are important opportunities for children to learn how to resolve things by negotiating, thinking and reasoning.
With time, your child will get used to seeing a problem, understanding it, weighing up the options, taking action and evaluating the consequences.
Problems will be seen as challenges to be faced logically and not “problems.”
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10 Problem-Solving Activities for Preschoolers
Here are 10 simple, easy games and problem solving activities for kids at home or at school. Many of them are the kinds of activities children should have daily exposure to.
Puzzles are one of the best thinking activities out there. Each puzzle is basically one big set of muddled-up things to be sorted out and put back together again. Find out why puzzles are important for development .
Children should have regular exposure to puzzles. They are great for developing thinking skills.
- 4 FUN PET-THEMED PUZZLES: The Melissa & Doug Pets Jigsaw Puzzles include four 12-piece puzzles featuring a...
- STURDY WOODEN STORAGE BOX: Our pets puzzles for kids can be easily stored in the included sturdy wooden...
2. Memory games
Memory games will develop your child’s memory and attention to detail.
Get your own memory game cards by downloading the FREE set of printables at the end of the post.
Use pairs of matching pictures and turn them all face down, shuffled, on a table. Take turns choosing any two cards and turning them face up on the table. If you turn over a matching pair you keep the cards and if the pair doesn’t match, turn the cards back over until it is your turn to try again.
Encourage your child to concentrate and pay attention to where the pictures are and try to find a matching pair on each turn.
3. Building with Construction Toys
Construction toys such as engineering blocks, a proper set of wooden blocks or Legos (shown below) should be a daily staple in your home.
Everything your child builds is a challenge because it requires thinking about what to build and how to put the pieces together to get a design that works and is functional.
Leave your child to construct freely and occasionally set a challenge and ask him to build a specific structure, with conditions. For example:
- Make two towers with a bridge joining them together
- Build a creature that stands on its own and has 3 arms.
Then watch your child wracking his brain until he finds a way to make his structure work.
- STIMULATE CREATIVITY & IMAGINATION: Kids building toy are designed as 110 piece including the 6 building...
- LEARNING BY PLAYING: The STEM building blocks Kit would help to develop the imagination and creativity which...
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- Features a wide range of bricks in 29 different colors, Special pieces include 2 different sets of eyes,...
- Special pieces encourage imaginative building with endless possibilities
4. Activity Books
These activity books are really fun and develop a child’s ability to identify problems and search for information.
- Pomaska, Anna (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- Handford, Martin (Author)
- Books, Webber (Author)
5. Following Patterns
This simple activity can be played with a set of coloured blocks, shapes or counters.
Simply make a pattern with the blocks and ask your child to continue it. Vary the pattern by changing the colours, shapes or sizes.
This activity will train your child to analyse the given information, make sense of it, recognise the pattern and re-create it.
6. Story Time Questions
Get into the habit of asking questions during your daily story time that develop higher-order thinking skills . Instead of just reading and your child passively listening, ask questions throughout, concentrating on solving problems.
Here are some examples:
- Why do you think the bear did that?
- Do you think his friend will be happy? Why?
- What would you do if you were the monkey?
- How do you think Peter can make things better with his friend?
- If the crocodile had decided not to eat the rabbit, how could the story have ended?
7. Board Games
Board games are an excellent way to develop problem-solving skills.
Start off with simple games like Ludo and Snakes and Ladders to teach the skill of following rules and moving in a logical sequence.
- Double-Header: Enjoy two classic games in Ludo and Snakes and Ladders on this double-faced game board
- Old Classic For A New Generation: Share timeless family games with a new generation of fun, dice rolling...
Card games like Go Fish are also great for teaching young children to think ahead and solve problems.
- Features 6 unique playing card games: Go Fish, Memory, Old Maid, Crazy Eights, Slap Jack, and Matching
- Fun for the whole family: 2+ players, ages 3 and up
This is a perfect game to teach decision-making skills , thinking before acting and weighing up the possible consequences.
Use a Tic Tac Toe Board or d raw a simple table like the one above on paper or a chalkboard.
- Wooden tic-tac-toe game board with eye-catching red, orange, blue, and green color pattern
- Includes white-framed wooden board with indented squares for mess-free play, 10 colored x and O game tiles,...
Take turns to add a nought or a cross to the table and see who can make a row of three first.
Your child will probably catch on in no time and start thinking carefully before placing their symbol. This game can also be played with coloured counters or different objects.
9. Classifying and Grouping Activities
This activity can be done with a tin of buttons or beads or even by unpacking the dishwasher. The idea is to teach the skill of classifying and categorizing information by learning with physical objects. Here are some other ideas for categorizing:
- Separate the washing – mom’s clothes, dad’s clothes, etc; or socks, tops, shorts, etc.
- Empty out the cutlery drawer for cleaning, mix all the utensils up and then sort into knives, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.
- Classify and sort out the toys in your child’s bedroom together – all books, construction toys, soft toys, etc.
- Play category games .
Here are more button activities for kids .
10. Building a Maze
This activity is lots of fun and suitable for any age. It is also going to be way more fun than doing a maze in an activity book, especially for younger children.
Draw a big maze on the paving with sidewalk chalk . Make passages, including one or two that end in a dead-end. Teach your child to find her way out .
- 20 PIECES: Our 20-piece set of sidewalk chalk includes 7 different chalk colors and is packaged in a...
- 7 DIFFERENT COLORS: Choose from 7 different chalk colors and allow your creativity to be limitless whether...
As your child gets better at figuring out a route and finding the way out, make the maze more complex and add more dead-end passages.
Get FREE access to Printable Puzzles, Stories, Activity Packs and more!
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Friday 3rd of June 2022
hi maam , This Is Uma from India,Can i get this in pdf format or a book. Thank You
Monday 6th of June 2022
Hi Uma, thanks for your message. These articles are not available in PDF, but you are welcome to copy and paste them from the website, as long as you add the reference: https://empoweredparents.co/problem-solving-activities-preschoolers/ Thanks for reading!
Wednesday 20th of May 2020
Very very useful content. Good work. Thank you.
Friday 22nd of May 2020
Tuesday 19th of May 2020
Would like to download the free activity pack please.
Hi Kelly, Please download the activity pack on this page: www.empoweredparents.co
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Home • Kid • Development
15 Fun Activities To Teach Problem Solving To Kids
Problem-solving skills help children efficiently manage difficult moments in their lives.
Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri MD
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Experience: 15 years
Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri, popularly referred to as ‘The Celebrity Shrink,’ is an award-winning neuro-psychiatrist and mental health advocate with over 15 years experience.She is the medical director and psychiatrist-in-chief at Pin... more
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Children receive numerous opportunities to learn about the world as they get older. However, they also regularly encounter problems, whether it is peer pressure, difficult arithmetic calculations, or disagreements with their peers. The benefits of problem-solving skills for kids are numerous and can help them effectively deal with such situations.
They will learn to find practical solutions independently without relying on an adult. Further, when they encounter difficulties, they will be more confident in their ability to employ their problem-solving skills and develop innovative solutions on their own.
Read this post to know the importance of problem-solving abilities for children, how to inculcate this skill in them, and for some exercises to help them develop this essential skill.
Importance Of Problem-Solving Skills For Kids
Problem-solving benefits children in numerous ways. It helps them
- Cope with challenges in everyday life.
- Make effective decisions.
- Pick up other skills, such as cooperation , critical thinking, and collaboration along the way.
- Resolve problems without breaking them down.
- Think outside the box.
- Become more independent.
How To Inculcate Problem-Solving Skills In Children
Here are a few ways to encourage your child to utilize their problem-solving skills.
1. Test it out
Whenever your child encounters a problem, ask them to acknowledge it and embrace the challenge. It will help hone their analytical and reasoning skills. If the outcome is ineffective, they can try different brainstorming approaches to find a practical and effective solution. It will nudge your child’s creativity and encourage them to look at problems from different angles.
2. Ask for advice
Sometimes, you may struggle to make decisions in your everyday life. For instance, you might struggle to decide what to cook for dinner or what to wear to the movies. Ask your children to help you make these simple decisions . When you ask them for their advice, it teaches them that they’re not the only ones who face problems. When you value their ideas, it will give them the confidence to solve problems independently. Besides, it will churn their thinking and analyzing skills, which will eventually help them in decision making.
3. Take a deep breath
One of the first steps to effective problem solving is remaining calm. Even with youngsters, when their emotions go out of hand, it’s difficult to look at things rationally, and the tendency to make impulsive decisions becomes higher. It’s important to teach your child to take deep breaths every time they feel they’re losing control of their emotions . Once they’re calm, they can assess the situation better.
4. Verbalize the problem
It would help your child if they verbally express how they feel and what they’re struggling with after calming down. It helps them gain perspective and makes it easier for them to come up with potential solutions.
5. Don’t provide “the answer”
While it’s difficult to watch your children struggle with an issue, do not give them the answer outright. Instead, give them hints to help them solve the problem independently. This way, they can learn to come up with creative solutions independently, using their logic and creativity.
6. Lead by example
Children are like sponges and pick up things very quickly. So, when you confront a problem and come up with an effective solution, they’ll notice how you address issues and try to emulate you.
7. Allow natural consequences to unfold
Sometimes, letting the problem run its course is the best way to deal with it. So, when your child is faced with a problem, let them be. Let’s suppose your child spent all their weekly allowance in a day or two; let them go the entire week without allowance. This will set them up to make better choices in the future.
15 Problem-Solving Activities For Kids
There’s no better way to learn than through play. The following activities are quite fun and require children to display their problem-solving skills.
One of the best problem-solving activities for children is puzzles. They come in various difficulty levels. Based on your child’s age, you can pick the appropriate one. Give them a puzzle, and they will learn to analyze the problem/question, find different ways of solving it, and arrive at the solution .
Additionally, the activity will help improve their critical-thinking skills, gross motor skills, and hand-eye coordination.
2. Scavenger hunt
One of the educational activities that every parent should introduce to their children is scavenger hunt. It is an inexpensive, easy, fun activity that can be done both indoors and outdoors and requires nothing more than the items you already have at home. The activity allows children to think outside the box. Without being aware, they’re learning problem-solving in a fun way, using their exploration skills.
Korbalagae, a former preschool through grade one teacher, shares an exciting idea for a problem-solving scavenger hunt. She narrates, “One of my favorite low prep lessons was the gingerbread man. I mostly needed buy-in from my colleagues and some cookie dough. Once we had read the book, I would have my students make gingerbread cookies, but as in the stories, ours would go missing.
“Our head cook, Mr Patrice, came to give us some terrible news that our cookies had disappeared when he went to look in the oven. This started our problem-solving. We had to figure out where our cookies had gone and how to get them back… We then had to come up with a plan of how to find them and where to look… My students had a chance to solve a problem. We had different theories of how our cookies went missing and where they could be, and for each idea, we examined it as a group. What was always wonderful to see was how one student’s idea would be picked up by another student and expanded upon ( i ).”
Reading offers a plethora of benefits. One of them is problem-solving. When children read stories , they come across various characters and the roles they play. Most often, children get attached to these characters. So, when they come across a problem, ask them how their favorite character would have solved it. Encourage them to come up with a variety of solutions and discuss the possible outcomes of each.
Engaging them in arts and crafts is another excellent way to teach children problem-solving skills. Give your child a variety of materials lying around the house and let them unleash their imagination. Let them come up with all sorts of exciting creations or repair broken toys or gadgets. Allow them to work independently, and guide them only when they are out of ideas.
5. Open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions is an excellent way to improve your child’s ability to think creatively and critically and improve their problem-solving skills . With these questions, there’s no right or wrong answer, and the answer goes beyond a simple ‘no’ or ‘yes.’ They have to put some thought into their answers. Here are a few questions you can ask after each session.
- What was difficult? What was easy?
- What did you learn?
- What do you think will happen next?
- How did you arrive at the solution?
- What would you do differently the next time?
Mazes are fun and safe for all age groups. When they work on mazes, it makes them think. The activity also improves their motor skills, observational skills, sense of direction, and problem-solving skills. Think beyond book mazes – you can find many maze games on the web. With practice, they’ll get better at finding their way out. Eventually, you can give them more complex mazes to solve, which help enhance their problem resolution skills.
7. Mini treasure hunt
Treasure hunt is one game that can get the entire family involved. You can keep their minds at work, especially if they know they’re going to win something in the end. Give them clues that encourage them to think outside the box and use their problem analysis skills to find the treasure in the end. Here are a few hints you could use to let them find the treasure:
- My job is to put an end to your sleep. I do so with a beep, buzz, or music. (Ans: alarm clock)
- I don’t have a face or arms, but I have hands that move at a steady pace. (Ans: Clock)
- I’m filled with soft feathers, and it’s quite impossible for you to sleep without me. (Ans: Pillow/blanket)
- Use me to clean your car in a jiffy or to give plants a drink. (Ans: Water hose)
8. Building with toys
Give your children LEGO blocks, wooden blocks, engineering blocks, etc., and make them build whatever they wish. Building with toys provides ample experimentation opportunities that require children to think and develop creative solutions to ensure a functional design. You can once, in a way, ask them to build something challenging, such as a creature with three arms or two towers with a joining bridge. Watch them rack their brains as they try to come up with a structure.
9. Wool web
Give the children a multi-colored yarn and ask them to stand in a circle. One person loops the ball of yarn across a finger and passes it to another person. Once every person gets a chance to hold the ball and loop the yarn across their finger, a web would be created.
Now, blindfold one member and ask them to follow the verbal instructions of the others to unwind the web. This group activity involves teamwork, focus, patience, coordination, concentration, and problem-solving skills to figure a way out.
10. The human knot
It is a simple game that’s extremely fun. In this game, you need a group of children. Make the children form a circle and raise their hands. Start with one player, who has to use their right hand to hold onto a player’s hand from across the circle and their left hand onto someone else’s hand. Check if everyone has held both hands with different players. Now, without breaking the circle, they must untangle themselves. The challenge is complete once everyone’s hands are free and they are back in the circle.
11. Impromptu skits
Divide the players into teams. Write down different scenarios, such as dealing with bullying in school or resolving a fight between siblings, on pieces of paper, fold them, and place them in a bowl. Each team/player picks a chit and acts out the scenario. You can give them a time limit to prepare. Such impromptu activities help children identify a problem, formulate a solution, and execute it.
12. Group drawing
Another excellent team-building activity for sharpening children’s problem-solving and communication skills is group drawing. Divide children into teams of three. Each of the three players in the team has a role to play .
One person is the drawer, who takes directions from the instructor to attempt to create a design. They should stand with their back to the instructor and viewer and must not talk.
Next is the instructor. The instructor is the one who gives out verbal instructions as to how the drawer must draw a particular design.
The viewer looks at the design. But, they’re not allowed to talk and can only communicate with the instructor via gestures.
You have a winner when the viewer is satisfied with the drawer’s picture. You can let the children take turns playing different roles.
13. Clue me in
Clue me in is a fun detective game that encourages cognitive development, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Start by selecting five to six target answers, such as a public figure, animal, historical event, social trend, or profession. Now, collect five to ten items associated with each target answer. They can be pictures from the Internet too. Place them in different bags.
Now decide how many clues a child can pick before making a guess. If it’s two, let the child pick up two clues from a bag and make their first guess. See who’s able to answer the quickest.
14. Survivor scenarios
Here’s another game that doesn’t require any items. In this game, you have to create pretend-play scenarios for children, who have to analyze and think out of the box to solve. For instance, give them this scenario, “You’re stuck on an island, and you know help will not come for two days. So how will you create a shelter for yourself with items around you?” Thinking about solutions to such situations will take a child’s innovation and imagination skills to the next level.
15. Moral dilemma
Children often find themselves in a dilemma. This simple game, without their knowledge, will help them cope with such scenarios. On pieces of paper, write down different dilemmas, such as ‘The cashier gave me $1 extra in change; what should I do?’ or ‘I saw my friend bullying someone at school. Should I stop them or let them be?’ Then fold it up and place it in a bowl. Get each child to pick one piece of paper, read it aloud, and come up with creative solutions on the spot to handle the situation. This fun activity will help children in problem identification and resolution, using contemplation.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. At what age do children begin problem-solving?
Children are believed to acquire the basics of problem-solving by age three. But it is not refined since it is intervened by short attention span and difficulty in understanding the problems on their own. Their problem-solving skills develop as they grow up (1) .
2. What are three problem-solving strategies?
The three common problem-solving strategies are (2) :
- Trial and error: Trying different ways to solve a problem until it is resolved
- Algorithm: Following a step-by-step formula to solve the problem
- Heuristic: Following a problem-solving framework such as breaking it into steps
3. What are the most common mistakes children make when solving problems?
One common mistake is children rushing to solve the problem out of excitement without understanding the problem. They may not try to comprehend the wording of a problem, which prevents them from identifying the facts. The urge to complete one question quickly and move to the next also makes them give the wrong answers.
4. What are the potential challenges of teaching problem-solving to kids?
Some of the challenges that educators face when teaching problem-solving is the developing cognitive skills in children that may prevent them from understanding specific concepts. The absence of background knowledge to solve a particular problem also hinders the process. In addition, children tend to have limited attention affecting their focus on solving a complex problem. Finally, a lack of appropriate materials and resources can also challenge teaching problem-solving.
Problems are a part of life, and the sooner children learn to tackle them, the better. Problem-solving for kids is an important skill because it helps them cope with everyday difficulties, challenges them to think differently, and learn more critical thinking skills. You may teach problem-solving skills to your children by encouraging them to share their problems, driving them to find their answers, or setting a good example. You can also involve them in problem-solving activities, such as puzzles, scavenger hunts, and mazes. Your focused efforts will help your children grow independent and confident in their problem structuring skills.
Infographic: “IDEALS” – A Method Of Problem Solving
Illustration: Momjunction Design Team
Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.
- Problem-solving skills teach kids to think out of the box and independently cope with life’s challenges.
- Guiding them to acknowledge the problem and letting them solve the problem themselves could teach problem-solving skills in children.
- Puzzles, scavenger hunts, mazes, and many more fun and engaging activities to hone your child’s problem-solving skills as you scroll down.
Personal Experience: Source
i. Simple problem solving activities | how to teach problem solving skills in kindergarten; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Auo-bxKk3gc
- ACADEMIC AND FUNCTIONAL LITERACY Outcome Component 2: Demonstrates Competence in Problem Solving; https://cales.arizona.edu/sfcs/cyfernet/nowg/academic_component2.html
- Problem Solving; https://opentext.wsu.edu/psych105/chapter/7-4-problem-solving/
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How to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills
KidStock / Blend Images / Getty Images
- Steps to Follow
- Allow Consequences
Whether your child can't find their math homework or has forgotten their lunch, good problem-solving skills are the key to helping them manage their life.
A 2010 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that kids who lack problem-solving skills may be at a higher risk of depression and suicidality. Additionally, the researchers found that teaching a child problem-solving skills can improve mental health .
You can begin teaching basic problem-solving skills during preschool and help your child sharpen their skills into high school and beyond.
Why Problem-Solving Skills Matter
Kids face a variety of problems every day, ranging from academic difficulties to problems on the sports field. Yet few of them have a formula for solving those problems.
Kids who lack problem-solving skills may avoid taking action when faced with a problem.
Rather than put their energy into solving the problem, they may invest their time in avoiding the issue. That's why many kids fall behind in school or struggle to maintain friendships .
Other kids who lack problem-solving skills spring into action without recognizing their choices. A child may hit a peer who cuts in front of them in line because they are not sure what else to do.
Or, they may walk out of class when they are being teased because they can't think of any other ways to make it stop. Those impulsive choices may create even bigger problems in the long run.
The 5 Steps of Problem-Solving
Kids who feel overwhelmed or hopeless often won't attempt to address a problem. But when you give them a clear formula for solving problems, they'll feel more confident in their ability to try. Here are the steps to problem-solving:
- Identify the problem . Just stating the problem out loud can make a big difference for kids who are feeling stuck. Help your child state the problem, such as, "You don't have anyone to play with at recess," or "You aren't sure if you should take the advanced math class."
- Develop at least five possible solutions . Brainstorm possible ways to solve the problem. Emphasize that all the solutions don't necessarily need to be good ideas (at least not at this point). Help your child develop solutions if they are struggling to come up with ideas. Even a silly answer or far-fetched idea is a possible solution. The key is to help them see that with a little creativity, they can find many different potential solutions.
- Identify the pros and cons of each solution . Help your child identify potential positive and negative consequences for each potential solution they identified.
- Pick a solution. Once your child has evaluated the possible positive and negative outcomes, encourage them to pick a solution.
- Test it out . Tell them to try a solution and see what happens. If it doesn't work out, they can always try another solution from the list that they developed in step two.
Practice Solving Problems
When problems arise, don’t rush to solve your child’s problems for them. Instead, help them walk through the problem-solving steps. Offer guidance when they need assistance, but encourage them to solve problems on their own. If they are unable to come up with a solution, step in and help them think of some. But don't automatically tell them what to do.
When you encounter behavioral issues, use a problem-solving approach. Sit down together and say, "You've been having difficulty getting your homework done lately. Let's problem-solve this together." You might still need to offer a consequence for misbehavior, but make it clear that you're invested in looking for a solution so they can do better next time.
Use a problem-solving approach to help your child become more independent.
If they forgot to pack their soccer cleats for practice, ask, "What can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again?" Let them try to develop some solutions on their own.
Kids often develop creative solutions. So they might say, "I'll write a note and stick it on my door so I'll remember to pack them before I leave," or "I'll pack my bag the night before and I'll keep a checklist to remind me what needs to go in my bag."
Provide plenty of praise when your child practices their problem-solving skills.
Allow for Natural Consequences
Natural consequences may also teach problem-solving skills. So when it's appropriate, allow your child to face the natural consequences of their action. Just make sure it's safe to do so.
For example, let your teenager spend all of their money during the first 10 minutes you're at an amusement park if that's what they want. Then, let them go for the rest of the day without any spending money.
This can lead to a discussion about problem-solving to help them make a better choice next time. Consider these natural consequences as a teachable moment to help work together on problem-solving.
Becker-Weidman EG, Jacobs RH, Reinecke MA, Silva SG, March JS. Social problem-solving among adolescents treated for depression . Behav Res Ther . 2010;48(1):11-18. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.08.006
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By Amy Morin, LCSW Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.
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