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Sudoku for Beginners: How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
Are you a beginner when it comes to solving Sudoku puzzles? Do you find yourself frustrated and unsure of where to start? Fear not, as we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to improve your problem-solving skills through Sudoku.
Understanding the Basics of Sudoku
Before we dive into the strategies and techniques, let’s first understand the basics of Sudoku. A Sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid that is divided into nine smaller 3×3 grids. The objective is to fill in each row, column, and smaller grid with numbers 1-9 without repeating any numbers.
Starting Strategies for Beginners
As a beginner, it can be overwhelming to look at an empty Sudoku grid. But don’t worry. There are simple starting strategies that can help you get started. First, look for any rows or columns that only have one missing number. Fill in that number and move on to the next row or column with only one missing number. Another strategy is looking for any smaller grids with only one missing number and filling in that number.
Advanced Strategies for Beginner/Intermediate Level
Once you’ve mastered the starting strategies, it’s time to move on to more advanced techniques. One technique is called “pencil marking.” This involves writing down all possible numbers in each empty square before making any moves. Then use logic and elimination techniques to cross off impossible numbers until you are left with the correct answer.
Another advanced technique is “hidden pairs.” Look for two squares within a row or column that only have two possible numbers left. If those two possible numbers exist in both squares, then those two squares must contain those specific numbers.
Benefits of Solving Sudoku Puzzles
Not only is solving Sudoku puzzles fun and challenging, but it also has many benefits for your brain health. It helps improve your problem-solving skills, enhances memory and concentration, and reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
In conclusion, Sudoku is a great way to improve your problem-solving skills while also providing entertainment. With these starting and advanced strategies, you’ll be able to solve even the toughest Sudoku puzzles. So grab a pencil and paper and start sharpening those brain muscles.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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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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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.
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Pakarinen E, Kiuru N, Lerkkanen M-K, Poikkeus A-M, Ahonen T, Nurmi J-E. Instructional support predicts childrens task avoidance in kindergarten . Early Child Res Q . 2011;26(3):376-386. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2010.11.003
Schell A, Albers L, von Kries R, Hillenbrand C, Hennemann T. Preventing behavioral disorders via supporting social and emotional competence at preschool age . Dtsch Arztebl Int . 2015;112(39):647–654. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2015.0647
Cheng SC, She HC, Huang LY. The impact of problem-solving instruction on middle school students’ physical science learning: Interplays of knowledge, reasoning, and problem solving . EJMSTE . 2018;14(3):731-743.
Vlachou A, Stavroussi P. Promoting social inclusion: A structured intervention for enhancing interpersonal problem‐solving skills in children with mild intellectual disabilities . Support Learn . 2016;31(1):27-45. doi:10.1111/1467-9604.12112
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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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8 Steps to Help Your Child Learn Problem Solving Skills
This article, written by Jennifer Wendt, PhD, was originally published on TherapyChanges.com and is being shared on FindaPsychologist.org with permission from Therapy Changes.
As adults we solve problems all throughout the day, from minimal to major problems. We are called upon to make decisions and find solutions to problems occurring in our homes, jobs, relationships, health, etc. The list is endless! Many problems we fix are common and we have learned a variety of solutions to use without much thought. Problems that are novel or larger may require us to pause and actively use our problem solving skills.
One of the most exciting moments is to witness a child learning to solve his or her own problems! The moment when a child spits out a pacifier and instead of crying, she reaches out her hand to search for it and places it back in her mouth. A toddler stands up, notices his feet feel funny and then switches his shoes to be on the correct feet. An 8 year old runs upstairs to grab a jacket because the weather is colder than she thought. A 12 year old realizes he has been unkind to a peer and makes up for it by inviting him to join his friends at lunch. While doing homework, a 15 year old studies for his math test first because he felt terrible after getting a C on his last test. An 18 year old decides to not ride in a car with her friend because she is driving without a license.
Children are faced with decisions and learning opportunities every day during every stage of life. One of the best things we can do is to nurture these opportunities and encourage them to solve problems on their own. As parents, we routinely rise to our responsibilities as provider and protector of our children. It often takes a conscious effort for a parent to step back from their provider instinct and allow the child to find a solution to a problem at hand. For example, it is much easier and faster to help a child turn the sleeves of their jacket right side out then to patiently watch them struggle to figure it out on their own. Another example may be when a parent asks a high school teacher to include him in class emails regarding assignments so he can monitor his 16 year old’s progress. Although the intentions are to protect and help our children, when we solve the problem for them, we deny them the opportunity to figure it out themselves.
Here are 8 steps to help your child learn problem solving skills:
1) Encourage Creativity Allow children and adolescents to think outside of the box and try new ideas. Encourage young children to play creatively with objects they find or plain wooden blocks, while encouraging older children to explore new ideas with their imagination.
2) Have Patience Recognize those moments when you can spend a few extra minutes allowing a child to solve a problem on their own rather than quickly solving it for them.
3) Play Problem Solving Games Games are for all ages and not just for young children: from hide-and-go-seek to capture the flag.
4) Model Think out loud and let your children listen to you solve a problem. Demonstrate how you are working to find a solution.
5) Allow Them to Fail As tough as it is, allowing your child to fail provides an amazing learning opportunity. It also provides the message that it’s ok to make mistakes.
6) Ask for Their Help Ask your children for help making decisions or solving a problem. It’s remarkable to hear the possibilities they can come up with.
7) Propose Multiple Possibilities Offering a variety of possible answers to solve a problem can help to get the ball rolling. It encourages a child to consider multiple options and to project possible outcomes.
8) Praise Their Efforts vs. the Result As humans, we do not magically solve every problem the right way, nor is there one solution to a problem. Praise a child for their efforts & when there is success you can highlight the result!
“I can see how hard you are working to figure this out!”
“You really put a lot of effort into this!”
“I bet you are glad you didn’t give up. You’re determination helped you solve the problem!”
“I knew you could figure it out!”
“I can imagine how good you must feel about completing this.”
Learning to solve problems is an essential life skill. Strengthening these skills not only allows children to gain independence and self-confidence, it also primes them for success in academic learning, leadership, social relationships, athletics, finances, health, leisure skills and all other areas of life.
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Problem Solving: How to Teach Young Children
Jul 07, 2023.
Problem solving is a very important skill that we need to teach children from a young age. The simplest problems can be of great concern to children; for example, if we have four kids and three cookies, who gets (or doesn’t get) a cookie? My answer would be to take two of the cookies, split each in half and give each child a half of a cookie…and mom gets the left-over cookie!
As parents or caregivers, we will not always be available to solve the cookie debate, a tough math problem or negative peer pressure. Kids in all age ranges, face problems and challenges every day. Our job is to prepare them for these decisions by teaching them how to solve problems by themselves.
A child who lacks problem-solving skills may avoid taking action when faced with a problem. They may get frustrated or give up when something seems too challenging. On the contrary, having problem-solving skills builds confidence. A child with problem-solving skills keep going until they find a solution; they’re creative thinkers and can adapt better in a variety of settings.
Here are four strategies for teaching problem-solving skills to children:
- Set a good example. Children learn by watching us; let them see how you deal with problems.
- Involve your child in family problem-solving meetings. Encourage your child to participate in solving a small family problem. They’ll learn while building confidence.
- State the problem clearly
- Come up with some possible solutions – brainstorm together
- Choose what seems like the best solution
- Try out the solution
- Review how the solution worked and make changes, if necessary
- Encourage your child to solve their own problems. Having your support on stand-by while they practice their skills will help them find success.
The methods used to teach problem solving provide more challenge with age:
- 3-5 years: Name and validate emotions, ask “show me” and use creative play.
- 5-7 years: Don’t forget their feelings, use the problem-solving steps above and ask open-ended questions, like “what do you think will happen next?”
- 7-9 years: Break down the problem into smaller parts, use the problem-solving steps above and ask open-ended questions.
Problem-solving skills are best taught in the moment. When your child comes to you to talk or ask a question, that is when they are more likely ready to learn. It’s important for parents and caregivers to show up and be present when those moments occur. Remember to give them your attention. Listen, show empathy, ask open-ended questions, and guide them as much as they need but do not solve the problem for them.
If you are looking for more tips around positive parenting, Nationwide Children’s Hospital offers free Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) support on a wide variety of topics for parents of young children. For more information, click here , email [email protected] or call (614) 355-8099.
Crystal Milner is a Behavioral Health ECMH Consultant at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
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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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How Do I Teach My Child to Be a Problem Solver?
Problem-solving by definition is “the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues.” Henry Kaiser states, “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.”
How do we turn problems into opportunities so our children become problem solvers? Children learn best through modeled behavior, which is then practiced through play and everyday tasks. Consider puzzles; when children are young we give them puzzles that are simple. They match the shape with the matching cut out. Then as they get older and their fine motor skills develop, you give them puzzles with 12-24 pieces and are interlocking. They use their skills to learn to put these shapes together to create a picture. As your child learns to solve those puzzles they will be able to complete puzzles with smaller pieces and an increased piece count.
7 ways to teach your child to problem solve
- Give your child space. Allow them to make mistakes and encourage them to try again. Resist the urge to fix or do it for them.
- Make sure their play includes imagination; building forts, building with blocks, obstacle courses. These activities will naturally require problem solving.
- Making decisions is key to problem solving. Start with a simple choice for younger children. For example: “Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt?”
- Use stories to inspire, as well as model, problem solving skills
- Step by step do-it-yourself projects are a great place to model problem solving skills. Ask your child questions along the way.
- Identify problems, work with your child to break the problems down into manageable parts, make a list of the tasks needed to resolve the problem. Practice brainstorming and sharing ideas. Ask your child what they think about the problem and encourage them to find a solution on their own.
- Let them discover how things work, ask questions like, “How would you make this better?” Encourage curiosity – “Why do you think it happens this way?”
- Researching Skills
- Data Collections
- Data Analytics
- Team Working
- Emotional Intelligence
- Risk Management
- Decision Making
- Presentation Skills
We can develop great problem-solving experts by having them learn and practice problem solving from kindergarten to high school graduation. We need to teach hands-on statistically based problem solving with innovative solutions that solve technical and non-technical problems. Michael Arnold TEDxGreenville
Where can I find activities that teach Problem Solving?
Rachel & the TreeSchoolers Signs and Science Learning System incorporates the best elements of Schoolhouse Rock, Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street to deliver a well-rounded preschool science curriculum for ages 2-6. This Science Learning System:
- lets your child go to preschool with Rachel from Signing Time!
- actively engages children in learning
- teaches values like kindness, teamwork and sharing
The Rachel & the TreeSchoolers Science in Action Series give you fun science experiments that require problem solving skills. These activities are great for Preschool & Elementary students.
Sign-up for Science in Action emails
How to Teach Kids Better Problem Solving | Michael Arnold | TEDxGreenville Problem Solving in Early Childhood Classrooms. by Joan Britz ERIC Digest. What Is Problem Solving? by Mind Tools Content Team 10 ways to teach your children to be problem solvers All Pro DAD Five ways to foster a hunger for innovation in children by entrepreneur.com Abode Stock Photos 135600578, 189083202, 116737944
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Developing Problem-Solving Skills for Kids | Strategies & Tips
We've made teaching problem-solving skills for kids a whole lot easier! Keep reading and comment below with any other tips you have for your classroom!
Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: The Real Deal
Picture this: You've carefully created an assignment for your class. The step-by-step instructions are crystal clear. During class time, you walk through all the directions, and the response is awesome. Your students are ready! It's finally time for them to start working individually and then... 8 hands shoot up with questions. You hear one student mumble in the distance, "Wait, I don't get this" followed by the dreaded, "What are we supposed to be doing again?"
When I was a new computer science teacher, I would have this exact situation happen. As a result, I would end up scrambling to help each individual student with their problems until half the class period was eaten up. I assumed that in order for my students to learn best, I needed to be there to help answer questions immediately so they could move forward and complete the assignment.
Here's what I wish I had known when I started teaching coding to elementary students - the process of grappling with an assignment's content can be more important than completing the assignment's product. That said, not every student knows how to grapple, or struggle, in order to get to the "aha!" moment and solve a problem independently. The good news is, the ability to creatively solve problems is not a fixed skill. It can be learned by students, nurtured by teachers, and practiced by everyone!
Your students are absolutely capable of navigating and solving problems on their own. Here are some strategies, tips, and resources that can help:
Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Student Strategies
These are strategies your students can use during independent work time to become creative problem solvers.
1. Go Step-By-Step Through The Problem-Solving Sequence
Post problem-solving anchor charts and references on your classroom wall or pin them to your Google Classroom - anything to make them accessible to students. When they ask for help, invite them to reference the charts first.
2. Revisit Past Problems
If a student gets stuck, they should ask themself, "Have I ever seen a problem like this before? If so, how did I solve it?" Chances are, your students have tackled something similar already and can recycle the same strategies they used before to solve the problem this time around.
3. Document What Doesn’t Work
Sometimes finding the answer to a problem requires the process of elimination. Have your students attempt to solve a problem at least two different ways before reaching out to you for help. Even better, encourage them write down their "Not-The-Answers" so you can see their thought process when you do step in to support. Cool thing is, you likely won't need to! By attempting to solve a problem in multiple different ways, students will often come across the answer on their own.
4. "3 Before Me"
Let's say your students have gone through the Problem Solving Process, revisited past problems, and documented what doesn't work. Now, they know it's time to ask someone for help. Great! But before you jump into save the day, practice "3 Before Me". This means students need to ask 3 other classmates their question before asking the teacher. By doing this, students practice helpful 21st century skills like collaboration and communication, and can usually find the info they're looking for on the way.
Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Teacher Tips
These are tips that you, the teacher, can use to support students in developing creative problem-solving skills for kids.
1. Ask Open Ended Questions
When a student asks for help, it can be tempting to give them the answer they're looking for so you can both move on. But what this actually does is prevent the student from developing the skills needed to solve the problem on their own. Instead of giving answers, try using open-ended questions and prompts. Here are some examples:
2. Encourage Grappling
Grappling is everything a student might do when faced with a problem that does not have a clear solution. As explained in this article from Edutopia , this doesn't just mean perseverance! Grappling is more than that - it includes critical thinking, asking questions, observing evidence, asking more questions, forming hypotheses, and constructing a deep understanding of an issue.
There are lots of ways to provide opportunities for grappling. Anything that includes the Engineering Design Process is a good one! Examples include:
- Engineering or Art Projects
- Design-thinking challenges
- Computer science projects
- Science experiments
3. Emphasize Process Over Product
For elementary students, reflecting on the process of solving a problem helps them develop a growth mindset . Getting an answer "wrong" doesn't need to be a bad thing! What matters most are the steps they took to get there and how they might change their approach next time. As a teacher, you can support students in learning this reflection process.
4. Model The Strategies Yourself!
As creative problem-solving skills for kids are being learned, there will likely be moments where they are frustrated or unsure. Here are some easy ways you can model what creative problem-solving looks and sounds like.
- Ask clarifying questions if you don't understand something
- Admit when don't know the correct answer
- Talk through multiple possible outcomes for different situations
- Verbalize how you’re feeling when you find a problem
Practicing these strategies with your students will help create a learning environment where grappling, failing, and growing is celebrated!
Problem-Solving Skill for Kids
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Home » Articles » Parenting » Kids » 10 Ways to Teach your Children to be Problem Solvers
10 Ways to Teach your Children to be Problem Solvers
All Pro Dad
True story: An acquaintance of ours, a 19-year-old with a high-school education, applied for a job at a local retail outlet. Her resume looked good and the references checked out, so she was asked in for an interview. Her mother went with her. She wanted to “make sure the manager gave my daughter a fair shake.” The manager said later, “There’s no way I’m hiring someone who can’t deal with her own issues.”
Educators know that problem solving is foundational to a child’s learning capacity. Leadership studies focus on the same skill set. Good teachers don’t provide correct answers as much as teach kids how to use problem-solving skills to arrive at a solution. Teaching children starts the moment we choose to let our infant find the pacifier that fell just inches from his fingertips (instead of scooping it up ourselves) and carries on until the day we say, “No, that college application is your responsibility, do you want to go or not?” Here are 10 ways to teach your children problem-solving skills.
1. Don’t be a “Helicopter Parent”.
Whatever age your kids are, allow them to make mistakes and teach them how to move forward. Give your child some space. Whatever age your kids are, allow them to make mistakes and teach them how to move forward.
2. Encourage creative play.
Remember wooden blocks? How about building a fort from available material? Kids of all ages learn most in the context of play. Make sure their play involves enough challenge and requires imagination . Eventually, problem solving becomes its own reward.
3. Build the occasional road block into their experience.
This is the opposite of solving your kids’ problems. Make the difficulty reasonable, and make sure a solution is possible. The more informed choices they have to make the better.
4. Provide multiple potential solutions.
Whenever it is possible, facilitate decision making. Keep the ball rolling by making sure your kids don’t routinely avoid making tough choices because you automatically issue a default solution that’s nonnegotiable.
5. Make problem solving a fun part of the culture of your home.
Make surmounting difficulties fun. We all run into problems all the time, so why not make surmounting family challenges with a positive attitude simply the way your household does business.
6. Read problem-solving stories together.
In his classic young adult novel Hatchet , author Gary Paulsen tells the story of a teen lost in the wilderness. He survives by keeping his wits about him and solving problems as they come along. Use stories like this to inspire.
7. Try some do-it-yourself projects together.
Not handy? No problem. Learn together. In fact, the more your child sees you in action, problem solving step by step, the more of a problem solver your child will become.
8. Teach them basic problem-solving steps.
a. Identify the problem. (For example, “I always miss the school bus.”) b. Break the problem into manageable parts, so each task does not seem impossible.
- My homework is not complete.
- I didn’t eat my breakfast.
- I haven’t brushed my teeth.
- My lunch isn’t packed.
- My backpack is not ready.
- Tackle the parts one at a time until the problem is solved.
9. Allow children to experience failure.
If we’re unwilling to see our children fail at a task, then we’re unwilling for our children to learn.
10. Routinely ask your kids for help.
Make sure the children understand that you respect their capacity to solve problems. “I don’t know how we’re going to afford to a big Christmas this year. What do you think?” Practice brainstorming as a family. You’d be surprised at how creative they can be.
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and say, “Growing up, one of the biggest problems I had to solve was… I was able to solve it by…”
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