Teaching children to be problem solvers

Children are natural problem solvers and use problem-solving skills on a constant basis. They love to experiment, investigate, select, and try to work things out. They are curious beings by nature. The want to find how things work, where things come from and what will happen.

Children’s learning and development is divided into 5 main areas – emotional, social, creative, cognitive, and physical- but if you observe children carefully from a distance you will notice that they go about their day problem solving in all of these areas of development.

Part of encouraging creative thinking and problem solving is helping children become flexible thinkers and see many possibilities or view objects or situations in new ways. We need to use or create activities/problems/situations to encourage children to be creative thinkers. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Brainstorm. Invite children to respond to questions that have many right answers. Be sure to ask questions that are of interest to your child. For instance, if children are afraid of the dark you might ask them to think things that light up in the dark or people that work in the dark or animals that loves the dark and what would happen to them if there wasn’t any darkness. 
  • Think of Alternatives. A child might be looking for a particular thing to play with but can’t find it. You could ask think to reflect on the purpose of that specific thing and then think of what could be used as substitute that they have available to them presently. Again make sure that it is something of interest to them
  • Be Logical Thinkers.  This involves them mentally break down a problem or an idea into small parts and analyse them. They need to be able to sort, classify and comparing similarities and differences. Critical thinking can also be called logical thinking.
  • Challenge. Ask children open-ended questions starting your questions with “How many different ways can you….?” Or “How would it be different if you used…?”
  • Listen. When children ask questions about things that are hard to explain. When you find your child in wonder and awe about things that might not make sense like ‘why is the sea blue’ you don’t need to try and respond with a right answer. Instead, encourage children to share their ideas as to why they think that happens.

As adults our role is to help foster problem solving not by providing the answers or the resources but by responding with the attitude that shares the same curiosity and accepting that there is a genuine problem to be solved even if you have the answer already.  You facilitate the child problem and help them to solve it. This will be a lesson learned that they will never forget. 

Here are other key ways to facilitate children’s growth: 

  • Provide plenty of time every day for children to choose activities based on their interests and developmental levels
  • Follow children’s leads. Through their interactions they will come up on problems that you will be able to support them with. 
  • Make them feel their efforts are valued and reinforce their solutions. 
  • Help them see the problem in new ways by extend their creative thinking and problem solving skills with open-ended questions about the activities so they can think of it in a new and different ways.


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