Written By Alison Atfield
As a teacher of the preschool age group of over 16 years, one of the most significant skills to learn and often the most overlooked, is problem solving. This is a skill not just used by adults and it is extremely important to build a foundation for problem solving skills in preschoolers as they grow and develop.
As an adult, I know that time can be a factor and it is all too easy to assist children straight away if they are experiencing a problem, but almost everything in our daily life can be an opportunity for learning and growth. There are problems to solve and decisions to make constantly in our lives and for children they will require lots of guidance but if we are aware, we are able to encourage them to take part in critical thinking and problem solving and this will encourage the development of this skill over time.
Just yesterday I had my Mum come to visit us at the centre. We had a small group of children making “ladybug creations” and I was assisting with this. Before we began we discussed the features of a ladybug and what we would need. The children knew they would need 6 legs as all insects have 6 legs. One little girl had only placed 5 legs on her ladybug. I asked her, “How many legs do you have?” and she counted and replied, “5”. I then prompted her by saying, “How many do you need?” she told me she needed 6 so I asked the question, “What should you do now?” giving her the opportunity to think about her problem and think of a solution. Before she could say anything my Mum said, “You just need to add one more on.” And just like that the opportunity to use our problem solving skills was gone as the solution was given by someone else. There are situations just like this in our lives everyday and its important to recognize that simple decision making and problem solving is an important life skill. We encourage all families to start now! As our children grow into adults we want them to be strong and able to solve their own problems and now is the time to start developing that skill!
There are four main steps to assisting your child with developing their problem solving skills
- Helping them to identify there is a problem. Simply saying “I see you have a problem!” is a great start. Have your child identify and discuss what the problem is. If it is a problem that is causing your child to become distressed you may need to verbalise the problem for them. Eg. “You want the blue ball by your sister is playing with it, I see you have a problem”
- Brainstorm solutions – When you have identified the problem you can begin to look for solutions, it’s easy for adults to quickly identify problems and the ideal solutions however for children they need a bit more practise. Think of solutions and state them out loud eg. Take the ball off your sister, Find another ball to play with, Ask for a turn of the ball after your sister is finished etc.
- Discuss the possible Solutions – discuss with your child the possible outcome of each suggested solution and select the most appropriate.
- Try out the solution – if the solution has worked congratulate your child on being a great problem solver, if it doesn’t work, assist them with choosing another solution.
We understand that sometimes it is easier for an adult to jump in and just solve an issue. By helping a child with their problem, you may avoid a tantrum, but you have also taken away a teachable moment to assist the child in learning the valuable life skill of problem solving.
Of course not all problems will require you to go through the 4 step process and as your child grows they will require less and less of your support and input. Working together with families on this important life skill we can assist your children in becoming independent and resourceful individuals with the tools to tackle life!