Nurturing Problem Solvers

Think of yourself as having four roles observer, supporter, facilitator, and model watching, encouraging, interacting as a questioning partner, and sharing with children how you solve problems.

As an observer:

  • Stand back and watch children as they solve problems independently. There is always the temptation to jump in and solve a problem for children or to show them the “right” way as it may be easier or faster, but giving help too early can stifle their thinking or send a subtle message that you’re not confident they can think problems through by themselves. This might be hard to do as it will at time involved an argument or a messy way of doing something. We find it hard as adults to be an observer as we are more naturally concern about the mess that the child will make rather than the important development of problem solving skills. We need to try to be patient while we encourage children to try new ways and look at problems from different perspectives regardless of the mess they create.

As a supporter:

  • Show acknowledgment of children’s efforts and let them know that what they are doing is an important part of life. You need to offer them verbal and moral support and encourage them. Sometimes you might not need to say anything but an approving smile, an understanding nod, or a thumbs up is all that is needed to show support and encourage them to continue. Even by just by sitting quietly next to them and giving them your full attention is a form of communication to show you are interested in what they are doing, and let them know it’s important.
  • Allow children the express their ideas without fear of being wrong. Make space for them to explore and problem solve throughout the day. They need to know they can experiment and practice problem-solving skills and you will be supportive no matter the mess and they are in a safe space.
  • Allow children space and time with open ended play activities and opportunities. Provide them with the appropriate opportunities for them find a problem and solve it and the time for them to test out all their possible ideas and solutions.

As a facilitator:

  • Use provocative questions to help them into new ways of thinking as you see the opportunities arise. Always use open-ended questions that have many possible answers and invite children to think of all possible ways to problem solve. Questions that have right and wrong answers will more likely block children’s thinking processes. 
  • Encourage children to express themselves. Focus on showing the children the materials to solve the problem rather than what they can use the materials to produce. Help them to brain storm which will give many possible outcomes that they can incorporate. Let them feel that they are helping you solve the problem. This approach helps children feel comfortable solving problems when they can see that you don’t have the answer either. They use this a step in stone to get past their fears of being wrong and become more creative in their effort to solve the problem and for you.  
  • Use a variety of problem-solving experiences. Stretch their minds to see that problem-solving skills can be a part of different activities so that the can use their skills in all areas of life e.g.  games, puzzles, discussions, literature, and projects that they can design.

As a model:

  • How do you approach solving problem? Remember, children are always watching you whether are not you know it. They are always observing how you deal with problems and you are becoming an example for then to copy and use in how to solve problems themselves. Share and discuss your thought processes as you solve problems that you encounter in a positive way and demonstrate the steps you use to solve. This way you are modelling fluid thinking and showing a positive attitude to problem solving as well demonstrating the process for solving the small problems of everyday life. This is also an ideal opportunity to involve children by further by asking them for suggestions in helping you.
  • Use the vocabulary of problem solving. When discussing problems and solutions use words such as think, ideas, and solve. This will help children to use them when defining and describing their own thinking.
  • See mistakes as ‘Brilliant.’  Children need to see that adults make mistakes too. This reassure them that its ok to make mistakes and learn from them. When you make a mistakes, let them see or point it out to them and get them to help you solve the resulting problems. This makes them feel important and, at the same time, learn that making mistakes is an opportunity to learn and it isn’t a bad thing after all. 

Remember problem solving is not about memorizing but rather it is about using two very important skills – the ability to think logically and the ability to think creatively when using and applying facts to solve problems. Problem-solving activities play a vital role in developing children’s ability to learn, think, feel confident, and be competent at understanding their world. What could be more important!


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