Discovery Play with Littles

Discovery Play with Littles

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15 Powerful Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

I looked over to her table and she’s crying. Again. While everyone else is happily working away, she sat there, unable to move, just crying. 

Not asking for help.

Not trying to solve her problem.

Just crying.

I took a deep breath before heading over. We’ve already been at this for several months…isn’t it about time the problem-solving has kicked in yet?

One glance and I could tell what her problem was. She didn’t have her pencil.

Know how I knew?

It laid on the floor beside her. In plain sight.

As a kindergarten teacher, I don’t jump right in and solve problems for kids. It’s good for them to try to solve the problem themselves. This is something she struggled with. 

I reminded myself of the need for patience and empathy as I walked up to her. “What’s wrong, Amanda?” 

“I…can’t…find…my…pencil….” she sputtered out between sobs. 

“Ok, that’s a problem we can solve. What have you tried?” 

“I don’t know.” 

After a long time trying to first, calm her down, and second, come up with some strategies she could try, she finally found her pencil. At that point, everyone else had finished the project. 

Toddlers playing with wooden blocks

What is Problem Solving?

Problem-solving is the process of finding a solution to your problem . This can be quite tricky for some young children, especially those with little experience in finding more than one way to solve a problem.

Why is Problem Solving Important? 

Problem-solving skills are used throughout childhood into adulthood. As adults, we solve problems on a daily basis. Some problems we solve without thinking much- I wanted to make tacos for dinner but forgot to buy the ground beef. What are we going to have for dinner now?

Other problems are significantly more complicated. 

Problems for kiddos can be problems with friendships, the inability to find something that’s needed, or even what to do when things don’t go your way. 

Kids who lack problem-solving skills struggle to maintain friendships or even begin to attempt to solve their own problems. 

Children who lack problem-solving skills are at a higher risk for depression as well.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are:

  • Breaking Down a Problem into Smaller Parts
  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Perseverance

That’s a big list to teach toddlers and preschoolers. Where do you begin?

The Problem-Solving Steps

Sometimes kids are so overwhelmed with frustration that it affects their ability to solve problems.

Kids feel safe in routines, and routines help them learn and grow. After a few times of repeating this routine, you’ll find your kiddo starts to do this on their own. 

It’s important not to skip straight to solving the problem , because your kiddo needs to be in a calm state of mind to solve the problem, and also they need to know their feelings are valid. 

  • The first thing to do when your kiddo is struggling with problem-solving is to validate their emotions.

In doing this, they will feel more understood and learn that their emotions are okay. There are no bad feelings, and we must learn how to manage our emotions. 

This might sound something like “Oh, I can see you are really frustrated that the block won’t fit on there right. Let’s take some deep breaths to help us calm down before we think about what to do next.”

  • Next, work through your calm-down process . This may be taking some deep breaths together, hugging a stuffie, or giving your kiddo some quiet time to calm down their heart and mind.
  • Identify the problem . This sounds like something you may have already done (before the meltdown) but it’s important to be very clear on the problem you’re solving. Have the child tell you their problem out loud.
  • Move on to solution-finding . When your kiddo is ready, talk about what the problem is and three possible solutions. When possible, let your kiddo do all of the talking. This allows him to practice his problem-solving skills. It’s important to remind him that the first thing he tries may not work, and that’s ok. There’s always another way to solve the problem. If he’s prepared for this, solutions that don’t work won’t be such a frustrating experience. 
  • After you’ve done that, test your solutions one by one. See what works. If you haven’t found a solution yet, go back and think of different ways you might be able to solve your problem and try again.

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Are you tired of hearing “It’s TOO HARD!” followed by a meltdown?

Using this one simple phrase you’ll get in this powerful lesson, you’ll not only be able to help your kiddo not give up but you’ll:

>Activate their superpower of perseverance so that they can turn around a meltdown and keep trying

>Inspire them to use perseverance …even when it’s hard

>Teach them to recognize the warning signs of giving up , and how to turn it around by taking control of their choices.

Grab your powerful FREE video lesson to teach your kiddo one of the most powerful keys to perseverance.

Powerful Activities that Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Toddlers & Preschoolers

These activities below may look simple, but don’t let that deter you from trying them. A lot happens in little developing brains and these powerful activities help toddlers and preschoolers make connections and develop {many} essential skills-more than just problem-solving.

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Puzzles are fun and a great way to encourage cognitive development in children. They are great for spacial reasoning and strengthening problem-solving skills. They also develop memory skills, critical thinking, and the ability to plan and execute the plan. Toddlers will enjoy the simple puzzles, and preschoolers will do great with floor puzzles with larger puzzle pieces.

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Doing Simple Chores

Doing simple chores is a great way to teach children problem-solving skills, and it strengthens responsibility and perseverance as well. 

During the toddler years , you may start with just picking up their toys, or helping you put their dirty clothes in the hamper. 

Preschoolers can take their dirty dishes to the sink (or load them in the dishwasher), collect the trash, dust, wipe baseboards, and do their own personal care items like making their bed, taking care of their dirty clothes, and putting clean clothes away.

Stacking Rings

When watching a toddler play with stacking rings it doesn’t look like much is happening, but playing with these toys is full of ways to encourage development. It helps with visual and spacial perception and planning ahead, but it also with balance control, crossing the midline, creative play, and gross motor skills. Not to mention it’s a great opportunity to practice problem-solving. 

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Playing Hide-and-Seek

Hide and seek has many surprising benefits for kids. Playing hide and seek is like a treasure hunt that helps develop gross motor skills and encourages physical development, as well as problem-solving skills. It also helps young children develop visual tracking, working memory, and social-emotional skills.

Preschooler playing construction worker

Imaginative Play

Imaginative play (also called role-play) builds important skills. Through pretending to be in different situations, kids develop social skills, emotional skills, better communication, and problem-solving skills. Imaginative play is a great idea for young toddlers all the way to older children.

Free Play 

Many young children don’t have {enough} time for free play. Free play is important for healthy brain development , not only developing imagination, cooperation, physical skills, and independence but also providing a great opportunity to strengthen problem-solving skills. 

Playing with Wooden Blocks

Building blocks are a fun way for children to develop creative thinking, imagination, problem-solving, fine motor skills, and if working with others, cooperation, communication, and friendship.

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Playing Memory

Memory games improve attention, focus, visual recognition, and concentration. It helps children recognize details and of course, strengthens problem-solving skills. 

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Ask Questions

When I see my son struggling with something, my first instinct is to give him choices or at least lead him in the right direction. The better thing to do is to ask very open-ended questions that lead his process, not his thoughts.

Questions like “What’s one way to solve your problem?” are much more effective in teaching problem-solving skills than “Well, where did you last see your stuffy?” 

Read Books and Social Stories

Reading books is one of my favorite ways to teach any skill. It’s extremely effective at teaching, and it’s also an amazing bonding time with kids.

When we read stories, our brain reacts as if we’re living in the story. This is why reading books about skills such as problem-solving is so effective. 

Kids of all ages learn from the people they love . (Yes, even those older kids who you don’t think are paying attention.) Often as adults, we’re too busy going through our daily routine to think about talking about the way we solved the problem at work that day.

Talking about how you use skills such as problem-solving, perseverance, and integrity is a great way to set an example, and an expectation that this is how we do things, and it will provide encouragement for your kiddo to do the same.

Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are a great group activity that can strengthen your child’s logical thinking and problem-solving skills.

When Your Kiddo is Ready, Add These Activities

Preschoolers would benefit from all of the fun activities on the list above and when they’re ready, feel free to add in the following activities.   

Mazes are great for problem-solving and perseverance, but your kiddo will need to have decent fine motor skills to do these activities. Mazes are one of our favorite activities. We love to take our activity book of mazes in the car with us for road trips. 

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Board Games  

Board games are a good way to strengthen problem-solving, teamwork, planning skills, patience, sportsmanship, and communication skills. They also strengthen family relationships by providing some intentional time of connection .

Any board game can also be turned into an academic game with just a deck of cards for whatever skill you’re working on. If you’re working on the alphabet, put one letter on each card. Before each player’s turn, they draw a letter card and say the letter’s name. (You may accidentally forget the name of a letter every now and then to see if your kiddo is really paying attention!) 

Allow Opportunities for Hands-On Investigations

Kids are tactile. They love to touch and explore things with their hands. This is a good activity for toddlers also, as long as they are out of the putting everything in their mouth stage. Hands-on exploration is great for language development, sensory exploration, and problem-solving.

Allowing kids to investigate with their hands allows them to see how the world works up close. It also gives them time and space to try to make things work…and problem-solve when it doesn’t go as they think it should.

The Most Difficult Way (and Most Important Way) To Strengthen Problem-Solving Skills

Watching our kids struggle is hard ! We don’t want to see them having a hard time…and most of the time we don’t want to deal with the impending meltdown. Standing back and giving our kids time and space to work through even simple problems is hard to do. It’s also the most important way to strengthen problem-solving skills. 

As parents, we’re like frogs in boiling water. When our kids are infants, they need us to recognize their needs and solve them immediately. As they get older, they can point to what they want, but we still have a lot of interpreting and problem-solving to do on our own. If we aren’t careful, we stay in this stage and don’t teach our kiddos the steps to problem-solving for themselves. 

The next most difficult thing? Allowing natural consequences to happen. (As long as your child is safe of course.) If your child saves their money for a long time to buy a new toy, but walks down the toy aisle and picks up something you know they’ll be disappointed with, let it happen. It will teach a valuable lesson that will last for years to come.

Another Essential Part of Problem-Solving

Perseverance is a big part of problem-solving. We are rarely able to solve problems the first time, and it’s essential that kids can find more than one solution to a problem. Studies have found that perseverance is actually the biggest predictor of success, even more than aptitude or raw talent. 

An entire module is dedicated to perseverance in our course for kids, Super Kid Adventures . Your kiddo will get 25 teacher-led lessons on character traits (perseverance, empathy, friendship, responsibility, and wellness) and activities that take their learning further. 

Super Kid Adventures

Want a free preview? Grab a FREE Perseverance video lesson that teaches your kiddo one of the most important secrets that help them use perseverance.

Want More? 

If you like this, you’ll love: 

The Ultimate List of Books that Teach Perseverance

7 Simple Ways to Encourage Independence in Young Children

How to Help Your Child Develop Self-Help Skills

Your Turn 

What are your favorite ways to teach problem-solving skills?

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About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a mama of two boys, a former teacher, and the founder of Discovery Play with Littles. Her mission is to make raising kids with character simple and fun. Join us for our best learning through play ideas, character growth activities, and family connection ideas so you can watch your child thrive.

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As a SLP trying to guide parents as I work with their child. I would like to know what toys to recommend to my parents as I assist in guiding their child’s development in cognition and expressive language.

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Perseverance is the biggest predictor of success, even more than raw talent or aptitude.

Grab a FREE lesson to teach your kiddo one of the keys to perseverance...which is how we talk to our brains.

They'll learn what to say when they encounter something difficult, and why it's so important.

PLAY is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. -Mr. Rogers

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Home • Toddler • Play And Activities

13 Problem-Solving Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers

Intriguing ideas to boost their analytical and rational thinking skills.

Elisabeth Daly is a state-certified high school English teacher. Over her two decade career, she has taught students in grades 9-12 at both public and private high schools, and worked as an adjunct professor at her local community college. ... more

Kavita has a diverse background in finance, human resources, and teaching. She did her MBA in Finance and HR at Solapur University, and bachelor in Education at Pune University. After working for thre... more

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Problem-solving preschool activities are an essential part of learning, leading to the development of the most crucial skills for your child. Your child’s journey between realizing a problem and finding a solution involves effort, thinking, and patience. What comes in between realization and solution is important to understand, as it is the key to a lightning-fast intellect. The process is the most beautiful part, which is also the beginning of making a new genius for the world to witness. These little minds could one day become billionaires, philanthropists, or someone far more successful .

Read on to know some of the problem-solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers and how it helps them.

What Is Problem-Solving?

Image: IStock

Problem-solving is the art of realizing a problem and finding an apt solution by a series of interconnected thoughts in the cognitive area of the mind (1) . It requires identifying the problem and pondering over the causes and attempting to chalk out the reason. The next step would be to find a solution out of the many alternatives. Identifying the causes of a problem would involve some deep thinking, which can benefit a child’s growth and aid in their character development.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are what every child needs to survive in this world. A few problem-solving skills are analytical thinking, logical reasoning, lateral thinking, creativity, initiative, persistence, negotiation, listening skills, cognitive skills, math skills, and decision-making. Good communication skills are also important as they improve the self-esteem of your child.

Why Is Problem-Solving Important In Preschool?

As parents, you may not want to fill your child’s minds with every problem-solving ability. But you must trust the process, as it is the most important phase of life, and they are learning new things every day.

  • During preschool, they are constantly interacting with friends and surroundings. They come across various problems and learn from them. The best part is that it will be effortless for them to pick up these skills faster as they are in their learning stage.
  • Also, the earlier they learn, the better it is (2)
  • Children in preschool are introduced to the realm of creativity and imagination through storytelling and poems. It will be the perfect time to enhance their creative abilities.
  • Children usually try to ignore things beyond their understanding. But problem-solving skills might help them see things differently.
  • Developing problem-solving abilities can help them take new initiatives.

How To Teach Problem-Solving Skills To Preschoolers?

Making them listen with patience and willingness is a skill that will help them comprehend what you teach them. Here are some steps that you can follow:

  • Teach them how to approach a problem in a practical way. Allow them to explore and find solutions by themselves. Problem-based learning will stick with them forever.
  • Make them do simple household chores in their own way. And, there is no right or wrong style to it. Kitchen experiments are a great way to learn.
  • Every kid is unique and has a different pace of learning. A teacher/ parent will have to be observing to analyze the best way to teach them.
  • Usually, the first step would be to identify the problem.
  • Once they find solutions, tell them to evaluate the pros and cons. And choose the best solution.
  • Teach them to take failure positively.
  • Encourage group activities as children tend to be active when their peers are along.

13 Problem-Solving Activities For Toddlers

You may try several problem-solving activities at home. We have listed some of the best activates here:

1. Simon Says

One of the children becomes Simon and gives commands. The rest have to follow the commands and enact only when they hear ’Simon says’ at the beginning of the command. If anyone acts when the words ‘Simon says’ is not told at the beginning, then that particular child is out. This game will improve listening skills and response time.

2. Tic–tac–toe

The game teaches decision-making and the cost of consequences. This game involves two players. One player has to mark X anywhere on the tic-tac-toe, followed by another player marking O. The idea is to make a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line with either three X’s or O’s. Both players have to stop each other from winning. Sounds fun, right?

3. Treasure hunt

Divide the children into groups and give them clues to find hidden objects. Activities such as treasure hunt evidently improve their problem-solving skills and induce the idea of competition.

Puzzles can make a child think out of the box. They can develop a child’s logical reasoning. Arranging the crumbled pieces will surely improve their level of patience.

5. Hide and seek

Playing in a group can make them less shy and socialize with others. And, with hide and seek activity, children can learn devising strategies, escaping from a troublesome situation, and various other skills.

6. Sorting together

Give them various toys, pieces of clothing, or other random objects at home and some bins. Now ask your child to sort and place everything in the right bin. See how good they are at classifying the objects.

7. Spot the difference

Show them printouts of two similar pictures, with one picture having some differences. Ask them to spot the differences. This helps in actively improving their concentration and attention to detail.

8. Matching animals with sounds

Play sounds of various animals and let the children guess their names. You can also take them to an animal farm where they can observe their behavior. This activity may improve their sound recognition ability over time.

Give your child a blank canvas and some paints or coloring pencils. Let them get creative and produce a masterpiece.

10. Memory games

Memory games can improve a child’s retaining capacity. One such game is to sit in a circle and play “Chinese Whisper.” In this game, kids sit in a circle. Each of them has to whisper a word in their peer’s ear. The same word, along with a new one, is whispered into the next child’s ear. This should be continued till the last child in the circle announces it for all to hear.

11. Fort building

Building forts using toy material, Lego, pillows, or blankets can be fun. During the process of building a fort, children may have to face minor or major difficulties. Overcoming such issues and completing the target successfully helps in the improvement of logical and analytical abilities.

Solving mazes can also help a kid improve their approach towards dealing with problems and dead ends. It will enable lateral thinking and thinking out of the box.

13. Stacking rings

Stacking rings is an effective problem-solving activity for children as it enhances their cognitive skills, spatial awareness, and fine motor abilities. The task requires careful consideration of size, shape, and balance, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Children must strategize the order and orientation of the rings to successfully build a stable tower. This activity encourages creativity as they experiment with different stacking techniques. Give children a set of rings in varying sizes and materials for this activity. Ask the children to construct the tower and be watchful to prevent it from collapsing, as it offers them valuable insights into cause-and-effect relationships. Challenge them to create the tallest tower possible to promote teamwork and perseverance as they refine their approach through trial and error.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the stages of problem-solving?

Problem-solving is a cognitive skill that works through six stages – searching and determining the problem, generating alternative ideas or solutions, evaluating alternatives, selecting the best suitable solution, implementing the solution, and follow-up (3) .

2. At what age do toddlers begin problem-solving?

According to research, children begin problem-solving right after birth. Children learn problem-solving through exploration between zero to two years, whereas, by three years of age, they learn problem-solving through experimenting and trial and error. Four-year-olds learn problem-solving through cooperative activities with peers and friends. By five and six years, kids get enough experience to deal with problems that would need abstract thinking skills (4) .

3. How do toddlers develop critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking skills don’t develop in a day or week. Rather, it takes constant exposure to environments that hone a child’s critical thinking abilities. Indulging toddlers in critical thinking activities by asking open-ended questions or engaging in activities such as block constructing and puzzles and motivating them to think out of the box are simple ways to bolster your child’s critical thinking.

Problem-solving activities for toddlers enhance their thinking abilities and promote early brain development. You may introduce problem-solving activities such as tic-tac-toe, Simon says, hide and seek, treasure hunt, puzzles, etc., to enhance cognitive skills in toddlers. The problem-solving skills in preschoolers help them cope with various situations and mingle with other children. Problem-solving skills help children think differently and take the initiative in making decisions and solving problems. These activities help build the skills without any force or pressure.

Infographic: Hone Your Toddler’s Problem-Solving Skills

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Key Pointers

  • Honing your child’s problem-solving skills during preschool can help them see things differently and enhance their creative abilities.
  • Teach them to find the problem and use their analytical abilities to find a solution.
  • Simon Says, treasure hunt, puzzles, and spot the difference are a few problem-solving activities a toddler can try.
  • You Can Do It: Teaching Toddlers Problem-Solving Skills. https://va-itsnetwork.org/you-can-do-it-teaching-toddlers-problem-solving-skills/
  • Developing Problem-Solving Skills At Early Age. https://kennedyglobalschool.edu.in/developing-problem-solving-skills-at-early-age-takes-kids-long-way-as-they-grow/#respond
  • Problem solving. https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/N_R/Problem-solving
  • Development: Ages & Stages–How Children Learn to Problem-Solve. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ738434
  • Fact-checker

Elisabeth Daly MSEd

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8 Engaging Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

Learning to problem solve is an important life skill that is learned through years of practice and patience. These 8 problem solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers are proven ways to help give your child a head start with this skill.

We can not always be there to help our little ones solve their problems. We CAN, however, provide them with the right tools and resources to help them learn to solve problems independently.

What is Problem Solving?

Problem solving is essentially the process of finding a solution to a problem. To successfully problem solve, children first have to analyze the problem in detail, think about it critically, figure out what needs to be done, brainstorm different strategies to remediate the issue, and then evaluate if the solution was successful.

For children, this can be a very complex and difficult process simply because of their lack of experience.

Since we draw on our knowledge and experience when faced with obstacles, it is important we expose our children to activities that will help give them both the knowledge and experience they need to help face these challenges.

construction play as a problem solving activity for toddlers

Why Problem-Solving is Important for Young Children

Learning to problem solve is incredibly important during early childhood. Not only does it play a major role in a child’s cognitive development , but it is also a critical component of their academic success and ability to maintain healthy relationships.

When children can effectively solve a problem, it drastically improves their self-esteem and self-confidence. This is especially important when it comes to academics.

Children who can not effectively problem solve tend to get frustrated easily and they may begin showing signs of avoidant behaviors. This can cause children to feel incompetent in school and with relationships which can ultimately lead them to falling behind academically.

Luckily, children learn at an incredible rate, especially during those first couple of years. As you expose your child to different problem-solving activities they will gain the confidence needed to face any challenge they may encounter.

Problem Solving Skills in Early Childhood

Problem-solving skills require the cognitive capabilities to think through a problem and take appropriate action. Some problems may need a simple fix while others may require the use of many of these skills.

Examples of Problem Solving Skills:

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Analytical thinking (being able to break a complex problem down into more manageable parts)
  • Communication
  • Creativity and innovative
  • Critical thinking
  • Decision making
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Negotiation

How to Teach Problem Solving Skills (+ Strategies)

The best way to teach this skill is to expose your child to various activities that will require a bit of critical thinking and problem-solving.

The problem solving activities for toddlers listed below is a great place to start!

While this skill can be learned during free play , children will develop even stronger problem-solving skills if you encourage this type of thinking and reasoning during certain activities.

Strategies For Parents, Caregivers, or Teachers:

1. Model problem solving by talking out loud in front of your child

Since children lack the experience, they may find it difficult to problem solve. Try modeling this skill when you run into daily problems.

For example: ”I ran out of sugar to make my coffee sweet. Since I do not have any more sugar, what can I put in my coffee to make it sweet? I will put some honey because honey is naturally very sweet!”.

2. Ask open-ended questions

When children approach you with a problem, try asking open-ended questions to help them solve the issue on their own.

Here are some example questions:

  • Why did your blocks fall over? What can we do next time to make it stronger?
  • What other games you can play with your ball?
  • What are some other things can you use to make the fort bigger?

Sometimes children just need a little push to help them find creative solutions.

3. Avoid fixing every problem for your child

One of the best things you can do for your child is to avoid fixing every problem for them.

Whether it is a toy-related issue, a difficult math equation, or a social conflict with a friend or sibling. Try to encourage your child to solve some of these issues with as much independence as possible.

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

8 Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Here are 8 simple problem solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers. While these activities may seem to be very simple and basic, do not let that fool you. Learning through play is the best way to ”teach” our children the skill of problem solving.

Puzzles are a great activity to encourage skills like trial and error, persistence, and patience. Each new puzzle presents a new set of challenges that the children have to work through.

When children are around 2 years of age you can start with plastic or wooden shape sorters. As they get older and their skills develop, you can give them more complex puzzles to complete like 9 or 12-piece puzzle sets.

2. Sorting Activities

This activity is so simple because you can sort anything including toys, clothes, and even fruits and veggies.

Children learn to compare, contrast, and classify based on what they are observing. This helps with logical thinking, analytical thinking, and it gives children a sense of order. This type of systematic thinking is very helpful for problem solving because it teaches children to perform tasks in a structured manner, much like the steps to solve a problem.

3. Board Games

Board games are a great problem solving activity for toddlers and preschoolers! I love that it can be interactive with young children and adults!

When children are younger, it is best to start with simple games like Zimboos . This is a stacking game that requires children to analyze, critically think, and collaborate with others to make sure the pyramid stays balanced.

As children get older you can advance to more complex games like Quirkle . This game includes a puzzle-like component that allows children to develop their spatial recognition, planning, and problem solving skills. 

construction play as a problem solving activity for toddlers

4. Construction Play

Construction play using mega blocks, wooden blocks, or even train track sets is an amazing way to help support your child’s brain and cognitive development.

Everything from planning what they want to build to figuring out what to do when certain pieces don’t fit together helps children learn the foundational skills for problem solving.

These are the types of toys I would encourage all parents to have readily available for their children.

5. Story Time Questions

There are so many amazing benefits of reading to your child and it is one of the best listening activities for kids !

As you read to your child, try making it an engaging experience. You can start by asking them open-ended questions to really help them think through certain problems and scenarios.

Here are some examples of the types of problem-solving questions that can be asked during a read-aloud:

  • What healthy foods should the caterpillar have eaten to not get a stomach ache?
  • The Duck and Penguin don’t like each other, what can do they to work it out and become friends?
  • If you lost your shoe, how would you try and find it?
  • If your kite got stuck in the tree, how would you try and get it down?

6. Fort Building

I remember always building forts as a child and constantly running into problems. The blankets were always too small, or I couldn’t get them to stay in place!

This is why it is such a great activity for problem-solving! Children have to plan, make decisions, analyze, evaluate, and solve problems. The best part is that most kids will persevere through despite all these challenges because the end result is so much fun!

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

7. Simple House Chores

If there is one thing I have learned since becoming a mom is that kids love to help! I really enjoy involving my toddler when I am doing work around the house.

To encourage practice with problem-solving, ask your child questions so they can think of solutions to your problems. If your child is still young, this is a great opportunity to model problem solving by simply talking out loud.

Here are some examples:

  • These clothes are really dirty, what should we do?
  • How can we make our clean-up time faster?
  • There are so many toys on the floor, how can we sort and organize them?

8. Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are an incredible learning activity for kids. Since kids learn best through play , it is important to make learning an enjoyable experience for them.

I love scavenger hunts because of how many different skills are involved. Children have to use their observational skills, critical thinking skills, and imagination to solve the problem and complete the tasks.

These are also very customizable. You can use words, pictures, or even descriptions depending on your child’s skill level.

I hope can incorporate some of these problem solving activities for toddlers into your daily routine to help your child become a master problem solver!

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50+ Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

Discover 50+ exciting problem solving activities for toddlers that you can do at home to help them learn and play!

As a mom of young children , I understand the importance of helping our little ones develop their problem-solving skills from a young age.

After all, these skills will set them up for success throughout their entire lives.

So, today, I want to share with you some of my favorite problem-solving activities that you can do with your little ones on a daily basis, without too much thought or effort.

By incorporating these fun activities into your child’s playtime, you can help them build their cognitive, social, and emotional skills, while also having a blast together!

Table of Contents

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Identifying Problem-Solving Skills for Toddlers

Before we jump into the fun activities, let’s first talk about the different types of problem-solving skills that toddlers need to develop. As parents, we want to ensure that our little ones are equipped with the tools they need to face any challenge that comes their way. Cognitive skills, social skills, and emotional skills all play a crucial role in developing problem-solving abilities.

Cognitive skills involve critical thinking, language development, and the thought process. By engaging our toddlers in activities that encourage them to think outside the box, we help them build their cognitive skills and develop the ability to come up with different solutions to a problem.

Social skills are also important, as they help our little ones learn how to work in teams, communicate effectively, and deal with peer pressure. By providing opportunities for small group activities or team-building exercises, we can help our children develop their social skills and learn how to work together to find the best solution to a problem.

Emotional skills are equally important when it comes to problem-solving. Toddlers need to learn how to deal with difficult situations, understand the natural consequences of their actions, and develop a positive mindset. By allowing our little ones to explore their emotions and providing a safe and supportive environment, we can help them develop their emotional intelligence and become better problem solvers.

Now that we know what types of problem-solving skills our toddlers need to develop, let’s dive into some fun activities that will help them build these skills and have a blast doing it!

50+ Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

Why Is Problem-Solving Important in Early Childhood?

Problem-solving skills are crucial for several reasons:

  • Cognitive Development: Engaging in problem-solving activities enhances cognitive development. Children learn to think critically, reason logically, and develop analytical skills.
  • Social Skills: Problem-solving involves communication, collaboration, and negotiation, which are essential social skills. Children learn to work with others to find solutions.
  • Independence: Developing problem-solving skills empowers children to handle challenges independently. It fosters self-confidence and resilience .
  • Adaptability: Problem-solving skills enable children to adapt to new situations and navigate unfamiliar environments more effectively.
  • Academic Success: Problem-solving abilities are closely linked to academic success. They support learning in subjects like math, science, and language.

50+ Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

20+ Fun Problem-Solving Activities for Toddlers

  • Shape Sorting: Provide a variety of objects and ask toddlers to sort them based on their shapes. This is my favorite shape sorting cube for kids.
  • Puzzle Time: Offer age-appropriate puzzles for toddlers to solve, encouraging them to match shapes or complete pictures.
  • Block Tower Challenge: Challenge toddlers to build a tower using blocks without it toppling over. These GIANT blocks are so much fun!
  • Button or Zipper Practice: Provide clothes with buttons or zippers for toddlers to practice opening and closing. These busy books are perfect for this kind of play.
  • Object Hide and Seek: Hide an object and ask toddlers to find it using clues or directions. I love to use these scarves for this kind of playtime.
  • Sensory Bin Exploration: Create a sensory bin filled with materials like rice, sand, or water, and ask toddlers to find specific objects hidden within. Sometimes I buy my sensory bins like this , and sometimes I make them! Either way is fine.
  • Stringing Beads: Offer beads and string for toddlers to thread through, developing their fine motor skills. This is the set we have to help with this activity.
  • Pattern Replication: Create a simple pattern using objects or toys and ask toddlers to replicate it. I love to use our magnet tiles for this!
  • Counting Games: Engage toddlers in counting objects or matching numbers to objects. These counting bears are great , and they also help tone those fine motor skills too.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Set up a scavenger hunt with simple clues or pictures for toddlers to follow and find hidden treasures.
  • Building Bridges: Provide blocks and ask toddlers to build bridges over imaginary gaps.
  • Stacking Cups: Encourage toddlers to stack cups in different ways, exploring balance and coordination. These are the ones we have , and I love them because they are themed to the Very Hungry Caterpillar.
  • Obstacle Course: Set up a small obstacle course with cushions, tunnels, or other safe objects for toddlers to navigate. We do have this but we only set it up once in a while because it takes up so much space.
  • Play Dough Shapes: Ask toddlers to create different shapes using play dough. My daughter LOVES this picnic play doh set.
  • Color Sorting: Provide objects or toys in various colors and ask toddlers to sort them into matching groups. You can use ANY toy for this, but we like these cards!
  • Water Play Experiments: Offer cups, containers, and water for toddlers to explore volume, pouring, and mixing. I bought a little indoor water table for the winter months and it doubles as a sensory bin too.
  • Animal Sounds Game: Play a game where toddlers identify animal sounds or imitate them. This classic see and say is a great toy for animal sounds too.
  • Memory Game: Play a memory game with cards , asking toddlers to find matching pairs. You do not have to buy special games for this- use what you have! If you want a toy recommendation though, this is a good set!
  • DIY Musical Instruments: Create simple musical instruments with household items and encourage toddlers to experiment with sound. If you’re not creative – I am not – you can get this music set for kids, this is what we have!
  • Dressing-Up Challenge: Lay out different pieces of clothing and ask toddlers to dress themselves, promoting independence. If you don’t have a ton of halloween costumes to use, these are great starter sets for your dress up trunks.
  • Shape Tracing: Provide templates of shapes and ask toddlers to trace them using crayons or markers.
  • Sock Matching: Give toddlers a pile of socks and ask them to match pairs by color or pattern.
  • Follow the Leader: Play a game where toddlers imitate your actions, promoting listening skills and coordination.
  • Sensory Bottles: Create sensory bottles filled with colorful objects or materials for toddlers to shake and explore. You can also buy them too, I like these!
  • Magnet Fun : Use magnets and metal objects to create a game where toddlers have to use the magnet to move objects from one place to another.
  • Shape and Color Match : Provide different colored shapes and ask toddlers to match them by both shape and color.
  • Sorting by Size : Offer a variety of objects in different sizes and ask toddlers to sort them from smallest to largest or vice versa.
  • Simple Board Games : Introduce toddlers to simple board games that require basic decision-making and problem-solving skills.
  • Matching Game with Textures : Have toddlers match pairs of items by texture (smooth, rough, soft, etc.) instead of just by sight.
  • Simple Maze Drawing : Draw simple mazes on paper and have toddlers trace the path with their finger or a crayon.
  • Balance Beam : Create a simple, safe balance beam on the floor and encourage toddlers to walk across, improving their balance and coordination.
  • DIY Sorting Box : Create a sorting box with holes of different shapes and provide objects to sort through the correct holes.
  • Story Sequence Cards : Use cards with pictures to tell a simple story and ask toddlers to arrange them in the correct order.
  • Color Mixing Experiment : Give toddlers primary colored paints and let them experiment with mixing to make new colors.
  • Nature Scavenger Hunt : Organize a scavenger hunt outdoors where toddlers have to find items from nature like leaves, rocks, etc.
  • Shadow Matching : Create or use pre-made shadow cards and have toddlers match the object to its shadow.
  • Guess the Object : Place an object in a bag and let toddlers feel it without looking, guessing what it is.
  • DIY Obstacle Course with Shapes : Set up a mini obstacle course where toddlers have to navigate through different shapes.
  • Emotion Identification Game : Use pictures or cards with different facial expressions and ask toddlers to identify the emotion.
  • Nature Pattern Making : Collect natural items like leaves, sticks, and stones, and encourage toddlers to create patterns with them.
  • Simple Cooking Activities : Engage toddlers in simple cooking tasks like mixing ingredients or shaping dough to enhance their sensory experiences and follow instructions.
  • Hidden Object in Play Dough : Hide small objects in play dough and ask toddlers to find and remove them, enhancing fine motor skills.
  • DIY Puzzles with Photos : Create simple puzzles using family photos or favorite characters, cut into easy-to-assemble pieces.
  • Matching Sounds Game : Use containers with different items (rice, beans, coins) and ask toddlers to match the containers based on the sounds they make.
  • Flashlight Tag : In a dim room, use a flashlight to highlight objects and ask toddlers to identify them, improving observation and language skills.
  • Size Sorting Game : Provide various items and ask toddlers to sort them into categories based on size, such as small, medium, and large.
  • Treasure Hunt with Maps : Create a simple map with recognizable landmarks and hide a toy for toddlers to find, enhancing their understanding of spatial relationships.
  • Building Structures with Recyclables : Use recyclable materials like cardboard boxes and tubes to build structures, fostering creativity and problem-solving.
  • Color Hunt : Give toddlers a color and ask them to find objects around the room or outdoors that match the color, developing their observation and classification skills.
  • Weather Charting : Create a simple weather chart and involve toddlers in daily tracking of the weather (sunny, rainy, cloudy). This helps them understand weather patterns and introduces basic charting skills.
  • DIY Texture Boards : Make boards with different textures (sandpaper, fabric, foil) and ask toddlers to match objects or materials to these textures, enhancing their tactile learning.
  • Create a Story : Give toddlers a series of pictures and ask them to create a story based on the sequence. This promotes creativity and logical thinking.
  • Simple Origami : Introduce toddlers to basic origami, folding paper to make simple shapes like boats or airplanes, which aids in following instructions and improving fine motor skills.
  • Guess the Sound : Play different everyday sounds (like a car honking, a cat meowing) and ask toddlers to identify them. This is a fun way to develop auditory discrimination skills.
  • Categorizing Household Items : Provide a mix of household items (like utensils, toys, clothing) and ask toddlers to sort them into categories, which helps them understand organization and classification.

50+ Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

Strategies for Teaching Problem-Solving Skills

When it comes to teaching problem-solving skills to toddlers , there are a few things to keep in mind to make the process as effective as possible.

Start with Small Problems : When introducing problem-solving activities to your toddler, start with small and simple problems that they can easily understand and solve. As they become more comfortable with the process, you can gradually increase the difficulty level of the problems you present to them.

Encourage Independent Play : While it’s important to guide your child through problem-solving activities, it’s also important to give them opportunities to solve problems on their own. Encourage your child to engage in independent play with building blocks, puzzles, or other toys that allow them to explore and experiment with problem-solving techniques.

Use Open-Ended Questions: Asking open-ended questions is a great way to encourage your child’s critical thinking skills and creativity. Avoid asking questions with a right or wrong answer, and instead, ask questions that encourage your child to think outside the box and come up with their own solutions.

Work in Small Groups: Working in small groups with other children is a great way to encourage problem-solving skills and teamwork. When working in groups, make sure to assign tasks and roles that are appropriate for each child’s skill level and ability.

Emphasize the Thought Process: While it’s important to find the correct solution to a problem, it’s equally important to emphasize the thought process behind finding the solution. Encourage your child to explain how they came up with their solution and why they think it’s the best one.

By incorporating these tips into your problem-solving activities with your toddler , you can help them develop their cognitive, social, and emotional skills while also having fun together!

Real Life Examples

Here are some real-life scenarios where problem-solving skills come into play, along with strategies on how parents can facilitate their child’s problem-solving journey:

  • Scenario: Your child struggles with dressing themselves, from buttoning shirts to tying shoelaces.
  • Encouragement: Offer clothing choices that have fewer buttons or Velcro closures initially, allowing your child to practice with simpler attire. Provide step-by-step guidance and praise their efforts. Gradually introduce more complex clothing items as they gain confidence.
  • Scenario: Your child encounters a disagreement with a friend over sharing toys or deciding what game to play.
  • Encouragement: Encourage open communication and active listening. Ask questions to help them identify the problem and potential solutions. Teach them to negotiate and compromise, emphasizing the importance of empathy and fairness.
  • Scenario: Your child misplaces a cherished toy while playing at the park.
  • Encouragement: Empathize with their feelings and discuss the situation. Guide them in retracing their steps and searching for the lost item. If it can’t be found, explore solutions like contacting park staff or planning a visit to the park again. Teach them that sometimes, problems may not have immediate solutions, but there are ways to cope with disappointment.
  • Scenario: Your child struggles with a math problem or a difficult reading assignment.
  • Encouragement: Sit down with your child and work through the problem together, explaining your thought process. Encourage them to break down the task into smaller, manageable steps. Teach them that asking questions and seeking help when needed is a valuable problem-solving strategy.
  • Scenario: While cooking or baking together, a mistake is made, such as adding too much salt to a recipe.
  • Encouragement: Turn the mishap into a learning opportunity. Discuss what went wrong and why. Brainstorm potential solutions, like diluting the dish or adjusting other ingredients. Emphasize that mistakes happen, but they can lead to valuable lessons and creativity in problem-solving.
  • Scenario: Your family becomes temporarily disoriented during a hike or outing.
  • Encouragement: Stay calm and encourage your child to participate in solving the situation. Use landmarks, maps, or GPS devices to find your way back. Discuss strategies for staying oriented in unfamiliar places, like following trail markers or leaving breadcrumbs (metaphorically).

50+ Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

Before we explore the exciting activities, it’s vital to understand the diverse types of problem-solving skills essential for toddlers. As guardians of their early years, we aim to equip our young learners with the necessary tools to tackle any specific problem or challenge they encounter. This journey encompasses the development of cognitive skills like critical thinking and language development, along with enhancing their emotional intelligence and social skills.

In the realm of cognitive development, engaging toddlers in activities that promote critical thinking and the exploration of various problems is key. This not only fosters their ability to devise creative solutions but also enhances their brain development. For instance, memory games or puzzle solving that involve puzzle pieces or building blocks can stimulate their thought process and encourage them to think outside the box.

Social skills are equally critical. They enable toddlers to learn teamwork, as seen in activities that require them to work in teams of equal numbers, and to communicate effectively. These skills are honed through group activities, such as a scavenger hunt or team-building exercises, which teach them the importance of collaboration and understanding different strategies.

Furthermore, nurturing emotional skills in toddlers is crucial for problem-solving. This involves teaching them to handle difficult tasks with a positive mindset, to understand the consequences of their actions, and to develop resilience. Activities like role-playing different scenarios or participating in imaginative play can provide a safe environment for them to express and manage their emotions.

To effectively teach problem-solving skills to toddlers, remember to start with basic concepts and gradually introduce more complex challenges. Encourage independent play and use open-ended questions to guide their thought process. Incorporate fun and engaging daily activities, like playing with building toys or engaging in small table activities, to maintain their interest and enthusiasm. This approach not only aids in their cognitive and social development but also prepares them for more advanced stages, like high school level thinking.

By focusing on these foundational elements – cognitive skills, social skills, emotional intelligence, and engaging in appropriate activities – we can foster the development of problem-solving skills in toddlers. It’s about making the learning process a positive impact experience, transforming problem-solving into second nature for our little minds.

Tips for Effective Problem-Solving with Toddlers

When it comes to teaching problem-solving skills to toddlers, there are a few things to keep in mind to make the process as effective as possible.

  • Start with Small Problems

When introducing problem-solving activities to your toddler, start with small and simple problems that they can easily understand and solve. As they become more comfortable with the process, you can gradually increase the difficulty level of the problems you present to them.

  • Encourage Independent Play

While it’s important to guide your child through problem-solving activities, it’s also important to give them opportunities to solve problems on their own. Encourage your child to engage in independent play with building blocks, puzzles, or other toys that allow them to explore and experiment with problem-solving techniques.

  • Use Open-Ended Questions

Asking  open-ended questions  is a great way to encourage your child’s critical thinking skills and creativity. Avoid asking questions with a right or wrong answer, and instead, ask questions that encourage your child to think outside the box and come up with their own solutions.

  • Work in Small Groups

Working in small groups with other children is a great way to encourage problem-solving skills and teamwork. When working in groups, make sure to assign tasks and roles that are appropriate for each child’s skill level and ability.

  • Emphasize the Thought Process

While it’s important to find the correct solution to a problem, it’s equally important to emphasize the thought process behind finding the solution. Encourage your child to explain how they came up with their solution and why they think it’s the best one.

By incorporating these tips into your problem-solving activities with your toddler, you can help them develop their cognitive, social, and emotional skills while also having fun together!

Bottom Line

Teaching problem-solving skills to your toddler is an essential part of their cognitive and social development. By introducing them to problem-solving activities at a young age, you are giving them the tools they need to navigate difficult situations and challenges in their daily lives.

Remember to start with small problems, encourage independent play, use open-ended questions, work in small groups, and emphasize the thought process behind finding the solution. And don’t forget to have fun with it! Incorporating fun and engaging activities into your daily routine is a great way to keep your toddler interested and excited about problem-solving.

So whether you’re playing a scavenger hunt, building a tower with building blocks, or working on a puzzle together, these problem-solving activities for toddlers are a great way to help your child develop their cognitive, social, and emotional skills while having fun at the same time.

With a little bit of patience, encouragement, and creativity, you can help your toddler become a confident problem solver and prepare them for the many challenges that lie ahead. So, let’s get problem-solving!

Looking for fun and effective problem-solving activities for your toddler? Check out these creative ideas that promote cognitive, social, and emotional development while having fun! Help your child become a confident problem solver and prepare them for the challenges of daily life with these engaging activities. Click here to learn more! #problemsolving #toddleractivities #earlylearning #parentingtips #cognitivedevelopment #socialdevelopment #emotionaldevelopment

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I'm a mom of 3 and has a passion for helping children reach their human potential. She enjoys helping parents raise confident and healthy kids by explaining how to handle situations using positive and peaceful parenting. I believe that creating strong bonds through small daily interactions is super powerful in changing behavior to the positive direction. It really only takes a few moments a day! Welcome to my blog, and I hope you find a lot of value here.

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what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Developing Thinking Skills from 12-24 Months

  • May 19, 2016

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Toddlers are little scientists. They are eager to figure out how everything works. They do this through “experiments.” They might throw a ball to the ground and see that it bounces, then throw a doll to see what it will do. They also learn to use objects as tools—for example, using a stick to try to get an out-of-reach toy. And their growing memory takes on an important role in helping them learn. For example, they imitate what they see others do, even hours or days later. So watch your toddler hold a cell phone up to her ear and have a chat, grab your briefcase and put on your shoes, or even pick up the newspaper and “read” it just like she’s seen you do.

Create lots of chances for your toddler to “test out” the new ideas and concepts she is learning.

Your child will begin using her new physical skills, strength, and coordination to conduct “experiments” on the new ideas and concepts she is learning. She may stack blocks up in a teetery tower just to see how high it can get before she knocks it down. Or she may practice pouring and filling in the bathtub, which requires a steady hand and lots of hand-eye coordination.

You can see how all areas of development are connected when you see your toddler use their physical skills to explore and learn. They dump and fill, pull and push, move things around, throw and gather items, and much more. Your child’s new physical skills help increase her understanding of how things work by giving her the chance to “test out” the new ideas and concepts she is learning. So, if she carefully pours water out of her sippy cup onto the floor, it is not meant to be naughty, but is probably an experiment to see: What will happen if I do this? (Which will in turn help her learn about the use of paper towels…)

What you can do:

  • Follow your child’s lead. If your child loves to be active, she will learn about fast and slow, up and down, and over and under as she plays on the playground. If she prefers to explore with her hands, she will learn the same concepts and skills as she builds with blocks or puzzles.
  • Offer your toddler lots of tools for experimenting–toys and objects he can shake, bang, open and close, or take apart in some way to see how they work. Explore with water while taking a bath; fill and dump sand, toys, blocks. Take walks and look for new objects to explore—pine cones, acorns, rocks, and leaves. At the supermarket, talk about what items are hard, soft, big, small, etc.

Play pretend!

As your child gets closer to 2, he will take a very big step in his thinking skills as he develops the ability to use his imagination. This means that he can create new ideas and understand symbols. For example, he offers his bear his sippy cup showing he understands that the stuffed bear is a stand in for a real bear who can eat.

You will see your child’s ability to use his imagination in action as he goes from using objects in they way they are intended to be used–a comb for combing hair–to using them in new, creative ways. The comb might become a toothbrush for a stuffed animal. Other examples of symbolic thinking skills in action would be seeing your toddler hold up a stuffed dog and saying ruff ruff, or babble into a toy phone. He now understands that his stuffed dog is a symbol for a real dog. When he babbles into a toy phone, he understands that this is a “stand-in” for a real phone. Symbolic thinking skills are critical for learning to read as well as for understanding math concepts.

  • Play pretend with your toddler. When you see him cuddling his stuffed animal, you might say: “Bear loves it when you cuddle him. Do you think he’s hungry?” Then bring out some pretend food. These kinds of activities will help build your child’s imagination.
  • Provide props. Offer your child objects to play with that will help him use his imagination: dress-up clothes, animal figures, dolls, pretend food.

Help your toddler become a good problem-solver

Toddlers can use their thinking and physical skills to solve complex problems by creating and acting on a plan to reach a goal. For example, if they see a toy out of reach, they might climb on a child-safe stool to get it. Or, they might take your hand, walk you to the shelf, and point to what they want.

Your toddler is learning to solve problems when she:

  • Tries to flush the toilet
  • Explores drawers and cabinets
  • Stacks and knocks down blocks
  • Pushes buttons on the television remote control or home computer
  • Pokes, drops, pushes, pulls and squeezes objects to see what will happen

Being goal oriented also means that toddlers are much less distractible than they may have been earlier. While at 9 months they may have happily turned away from the stereo if shown an interesting rattle, now most toddlers will glance at the rattle and then turn right back to the stereo. Time to do another round of child-proofing!

Your toddler can also solve problems by using her memory to apply ideas to new situations:

  • Pull the cover off a toy hidden from view
  • Go find the kitchen stool when she wants to reach the countertop
  • Blow on her food when you say that her dinner is “hot”
  • Try to get her own jacket on
  • Use early sharing skills and simple language (with the help of adults) to solve problems with their peers.
  • Provide the support your child needs to solve a problem but don’t do it for him. If he’s trying to make a sandcastle but the sand won’t stick, show him how to add water but don’t make the castle for him. The more he does, the more he learns. This builds thinking skills and self-confidence.
  • Child-proof your house—again! Get down on your child’s level and explore in all the ways he is able to now. This will help make sure you identify and move all the things he can get to. Doing this helps ensure your child is safe and also reduces the need for lots of No’s.
  • Encourage your child to take on some self-care activities—combing hair, brushing teeth, or washing her face. This helps her learn how familiar objects work and solve problems like how to hold the brush.
  • Give your child the chance to help around the house. She can wipe down the counter with a towel or sponge, push a broom or mop, rake leaves. These activities give your toddler many chances to solve problems such as how to clean up messes or get rid of the leaves. They also help your toddler feel helpful which builds their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Nurture your toddler’s growing memory

As their memory improves, toddlers are able to remember some past experiences, favorite objects and people. They develop clear preferences about who, what, and how they like things. For example, your toddler may now be able to:

  • Show a preference for a favorite clothing item, color, book, toy, or “lovey”.
  • Show dislike or disinterest, such as moving away from something scary, like a vacuum cleaner, and then showing a fear of the vacuum some time later, even when it is off.
  • Point or gesture to communicate his thoughts and feelings; for example, when given a choice between two boxes of cereal, he may point or reach toward the one he wants.
  • Give your child choices. Hold up two different pairs of pajamas and say: “Do you want the rocket ship or the motorcycle pajamas tonight?” Ask your child to pick out which story he wants to hear from a selection of a few books you have chosen.
  • Make a “My Day” book. Take pictures of your child doing all her everyday activities: brushing teeth, eating breakfast, playing, napping, going to the park, taking a bath, going to sleep. Snap photos of her with her caregiver or family members, like grandparents, that she is close to. Glue each photo onto a sturdy index card, punch a hole in the corner of each card, and tie securely with a short piece of ribbon. After you talk about each page, ask: What comes next? Your child will come to recognize the people, places, and activities in the book, will begin to anticipate what happens next in her day.

Allow for lots of repetition

Toddlers like to repeat actions over and over again. That’s a good thing because repetition provides the practice children need to master new skills. Repetition also strengthens the connections in the brain that help children learn. Young toddlers are learning through repetition by:

  • Asking for their favorite song or story over and over
  • Trying to feed you, bite after bite
  • Pressing the button on an interesting toy many, many times
  • Returning, again and again, to an “off-limits” activity or object—like climbing the stairs
  • Follow your child’s lead. Let him do things over and over again (even if you find it tiresome!) He will let you know when he is bored and needs a new challenge. If the activity he wants to repeat is unacceptable to you (like jumping off the couch), offer another, similar activity such as jumping outside or jumping over an obstacle course you make inside using soft pillows.
  • Add a new twist. If you child loves pushing buttons over and over again, find other things he can push to make something happen, like the button on a flashlight. This will expand his thinking skills even more as he sees how the same action can have a different outcome based on the object.

Be predictable.

As toddlers identify patterns in their lives, they develop expectations about the world. A child who has always been comforted when she gets a bump is likely to approach her caregiver for a kiss when she falls down. Daily routines, like naptime, bedtime, and mealtime, also help children develop sequencing skills—understanding the order in which events happen– an important literacy and math skill. The added benefit of knowing what to expect is that it helps toddlers feel safe and secure, which makes them feel confident to explore their world.

  • Create predictable routines (as much as possible.) For example, bath, books, lullabies, bed. And warn your child about changes. If grandma is picking him up from childcare instead of dad, let your toddler know in advance. This shows you are sensitive to his feelings and helps him prepare for the change.
  • Point out the patterns in your child’s life. For example, as you prepare for a trip to the playground: First we fill our bag with toys and snacks. Then we get our coats and shoes on. Then we lock the door behind us. Then we walk to the playground. This also shows your child how to plan and act on a series of steps to reach a goal—an important thinking skill.

Encourage your child to explore how things are similar and different

During this second year, one key way toddlers learn how the world works is by recognizing the features of different objects. This leads to the ability to start to sort and categorize. Toddlers often enjoy grouping objects that look similar, such as all their wooden blocks in one basket and all the plastic blocks in another. Your toddler is categorizing when she:

  • Figures out how to fit different shapes into holes or stack rings in the right order
  • Sorts objects by color, shape, size or function
  • Calls all furry, four-legged animals “dogs” or all men “daddy”
  • Make everyday moments chances to categorize. Have your child help with the laundry and put all socks in one pile and shirts in another. Go for a nature walk and collect leaves, pine cones, and rocks in a bag. Then sort them when you get home.
  • Involve your toddler in everyday tasks. For example, setting the table together is a matching activity since each family member gets a fork, spoon, napkin, and placemat (save the knives for a grown-up). Help your child put each item on the table. Be sure to thank him and tell him what a big help he is.

What You Can Do to Encourage Your Baby’s Thinking Skills from 12 to 24 Months

Follow your child’s lead..

If your child loves to be active, she will learn about fast and slow, up and down, and over and under as she plays on the playground. If she prefers to explore with her hands, she will learn the same concepts and skills as she builds with blocks or puzzles.

Offer your toddler lots of tools for experimenting

This includes toys and objects he can shake, bang, open and close, or take apart in some way to see how they work. Explore with water while taking a bath; fill and dump sand, toys, blocks. Take walks and look for new objects to explore—pine cones, acorns, rocks, and leaves. At the supermarket, talk about what items are hard, soft, big, small, etc.

Play pretend with your toddler.

When you see him cuddling his stuffed animal, you might say: “Bear loves it when you cuddle him. Do you think he’s hungry?” Then bring out some pretend food. These kinds of activities will help build your child’s imagination.

Provide props.

Offer your child objects to play with that will help him use his imagination: dress-up clothes, animal figures, dolls, pretend food. Provide the support your child needs to solve a problem but don’t do it for him. If he’s trying to make a sandcastle but the sand won’t stick, show him how to add water but don’t make the castle for him. The more he does, the more he learns. This builds thinking skills and self-confidence.

Child-proof your house–again.

Get down on your child’s level and explore in all the ways he is able to now. This will help make sure you identify and move all the things he can get to. Doing this helps ensure your child is safe and also reduces the need for lots of “No’s.”

Encourage your child to take on some self-care activities

Such as combing hair, brushing teeth, or washing her face. This helps her learn how familiar objects work and solve problems like how to hold the brush.

Give your child the chance to help around the house.

She can wipe down the counter with a towel or sponge, push a broom or mop, rake leaves. These activities give your toddler many chances to solve problems: Is the spill all wiped up? How do you pull a leaf bag out of the box for Daddy? They also help your toddler feel helpful which builds their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Give your child choices.

Hold up two different pairs of pajamas and say: “Do you want the rocket ship or the motorcycle pajamas tonight?” Ask your child to pick out which story he wants to hear, from a selection of a few books you have chosen.

Make a “My Day” book.

Take pictures of your child doing all her everyday activities: brushing teeth, eating breakfast, playing, napping, going to the park, taking a bath, going to sleep. Snap photos of her with her caregiver or family members, like grandparents, that she is close to. Glue each photo onto a sturdy index card, punch a hole in the corner of each card, and tie securely with a short piece of ribbon. As you look at each page, ask: “What comes next?” Your child will come to recognize the people, places, and activities in the book, will begin to anticipate what happens next in her day.

Let him do things over and over again (even if you find it tiresome!) He will let you know when he is bored and needs a new challenge. If the activity he wants to repeat is unacceptable to you (like jumping off the couch), offer another, similar activity: jumping outside or jumping over an obstacle course you make inside using soft pillows.

Add a new twist.

If you child loves pushing buttons over and over again, find other things he can push to make something happen like the button on a flashlight. This will expand his thinking skills even more as he sees how the same action can have a different outcome based on the object.

Make everyday moments chances to categorize.

Have your child help with the laundry and put all socks in one pile and shirts in another. Go for a nature walk and collect leaves, pine cones, and rocks in a bag. Then sort them when you get home.

Involve your toddler in everyday tasks.

For example, setting the table together is a matching activity since each family member gets a fork, spoon, napkin, and placemat (save the knives for a grown-up). Help your child put each item on the table. Be sure to thank him and tell him what a big help he is.

Parent-Child Activities that Promote Thinking Skills

Create an obstacle course..

Lay out boxes to crawl through, stools to step over, pillows to jump on top of, low tables to slither under. Describe what your child is doing as he goes through the course. This helps him understand these concepts.

Play red light/green light.

Cut two large circles, one from green paper and one from red. Write “stop” on the red and “go” on the green, and glue them (back to back) over a popsicle stick holder. This is your traffic light. Stand where your child has some room to move toward you, such as at the end of a hallway. When the red sign is showing, your child must stop but when she sees green, she can GO. Alternate between red and green. See if your child wants to take a turn being the traffic light.

Build big minds with “big blocks”.

Gather together empty boxes of all sorts—very big (like a packing box), medium-sized (shirt or empty cereal boxes), and very small (like a cardboard jewelry box). Let your child stack, fill, dump and explore these different boxes. Which can he fit inside? Which are the best for stacking? Can he put the big boxes in one pile and the small boxes in another?

Make a puzzle.

Make two copies of a photo of your child. Glue one of the photos to sturdy cardboard and cut it into three simple pieces. Put the puzzle together in front of your child. Show her the uncut photo. Put them side by side. Wait and watch to see what she will do. Eventually, she will touch or move the puzzle. With your guidance and help, is she able to put it back together?

Frequently Asked Questions

My 18-month-old is obsessed with our remote control. why does she always go back to it, even when i try to distract her with other toys.

Such is the way with toddlers: Their most frustrating behaviors are often both normal and developmentally appropriate. At this age, your child is working very hard to make sense of her world. One of the most important ways she does that is by watching and then imitating what you do. You are her first and most important teacher. She sees you say “thank you” to the grocery clerk so she learns to say “thank you” too. She watches you sweep the floors and she picks up a broom to help. Unfortunately, you can’t turn this desire to imitate on and off. So when your child sees you touching the remote control, she wants to touch it, too. After all, it must be a good thing if you’re doing it!

What do children love electronics so much?

You’ll notice that many toys designed for children this age have features they can explore through touch, such as buttons and raised textures—just like most electronics. However, toddlers almost always prefer to play with the real life objects they see you using which is why they go for remotes, cell phones, etc. Toddlers are learning that to be successful, they need to find out how things work. And electronics make for very interesting props. After all, playing with buttons on the remote offers the exciting possibility that–poof!–the magical machine will come alive. Think of how empowering and exciting this is for your child. But it can also drive you crazy! So now is the time to make sure that all “off-limits” electronics are child-proofed or kept out of the way of little hands. However, be sure to offer your child other objects or toys with buttons and other gadgets that he can make work.

How can I get my toddler to stop going for off-limits objects?

Unfortunately, toddlers simply lack the self-control necessary to resist the wonderful temptation of electronic gadgets and other off-limits items (like shiny picture frames or pointy plugs that fit so nicely into those holes in the wall). While toddlers can understand and respond to words such as “no”, they don’t yet have the self-control to stop their behavior, or to understand the consequences if they don’t. Patience is important, since after telling your toddler 20 times not to play with the remote, chances are she’ll still go for it again. Most children don’t even begin to master controlling their impulses until about age 2 ½.

If the object your child is after isn’t likely to pose a danger to him (such as a remote control–although the batteries are a danger if she puts them into her mouth), the decision of how to set limits is yours. Some parents choose to keep all of these gadgets out of reach and don’t allow their children to touch them until they are older. Or, you could allow your child to use them under your close supervision, such as having your child turn the TV on when you’re planning to watch a show and turning it off when you’re through. This models for your child that there are times when using this equipment is okay and times when it’s not.

What’s most important is that you recognize your child’s needs (learning cause and effect, imitating you) and help her meet them in ways that are acceptable to you.

My father recently died, and I’ve been dealing with it okay, but I’m not sure what to do concerning my 20-month-old. When we go to my parents’ house, she asks for Pop-Pop and we tell her he’s not home. However, I can’t keep doing this. I don’t want her to forget her grand-dad, but how can you explain to a baby that someone has died?

This must be a difficult time as you cope with your own feelings and try to make sense of it all for your young child. Helping her understand what has happened to Pop-Pop is indeed a challenge, as 20-month-olds can’t comprehend the idea of death, or even that they will never see someone again. At the same time, children are very tuned in to the feelings of the important adults in their lives, so it is likely that your child, no matter how well you’re handling your Dad’s death, understands that something sad has happened. It is important that what she is sensing is acknowledged.

Since a 20-month-old can’t understand death, trying to explain it to her would probably cause her more confusion and anxiety. Instead focus on addressing her feelings. What’s most important for your daughter at this time is for you to say something like, “Pop-pop isn’t here. I miss him too.” At this time she won’t be able to understand more.

As your child gets closer to 3, she will likely start to ask questions about what happened to her grandfather. You can then explain that Pop-pop is not coming back; that he died, which means that his body stopped working. Tell her this happens when people are very old or sick and doctors and nurses can’t make their bodies work anymore. You can explain that Pop-pop couldn’t do things like eat or play outside anymore. This gives her a context she can relate to. If she asks whether Pop-pop will ever come back, you should tell her the truth–that he won’t. If your child asks whether you or she or others that she loves will die, you can explain that your bodies are healthy and strong so you are not going to die now.

How should I answer my child’s questions about where her Pop-pop is?

Answer your daughter’s questions based on what you think she can understand. Start with something along the lines of: “Pop-pop isn’t here. I miss him too.” As your child gets older and her questions get more mature, your responses will change accordingly until you feel you are ready to tell her: “Pop-pop died. That means that his body stopped working and the doctors and nurses couldn’t make him better.”

Keep your responses brief. A mistake many parents make is giving more information than their child can process. On the other hand, some parents are tempted not to talk about a deceased person for fear that it will upset the child or themselves. But, of course, avoiding the topic doesn’t make the memories or feelings go away. It just deprives your child of the opportunity to make sense of the experience.

How can I help her keep the memory of her grandfather alive?

When your daughter is old enough, share photos, tell stories, and draw pictures of Pop-Pop. You can also have her do something in your father’s memory. Send off a balloon that says, “I love you”. Or have her help you plant a rose bush, for instance, if her grandfather loved flowers. Reading books about loss can also be very helpful. Some good books include When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers (Puffin, 1998), When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny and Marc Brown (Little Brown & Co., 1998), and About Dying by Sara Bonnett Stein (Walker & Co., 1985).

Does my toddler have a “short attention span” because she won’t sit for a story for more than a minute?

It is perfectly normal for toddlers to not sit still very long–period. Most don’t like to stay in one place for long now that they can explore in so many new ways– by running, jumping and climbing. So, an adult’s idea of snuggling on the couch to hear a story may not be the same idea a toddler has for story-time. You may only be able to read or talk about a few pages in a book at a time.

Here are some ways to engage active children in reading:

  • Read a book at snack times when your child may be more likely to sit for longer.
  • Offer your child a small toy to hold in her hand—such as a squishy ball—to keep her body moving while you read.
  • Read in a dramatic fashion, exaggerating your voice and actions. This often keeps toddlers interested.
  • Get your child active and moving by encouraging her to join in on familiar phrases or words, act out an action in the story, or find objects on the page. These “activities” can help their attention stay focused.
  • Choose stories that have the same word or phrase repeated. The repetition helps toddlers look forward to hearing the familiar phrase again and also develops their memory and language skills. Encourage her to “help” you read when you get to this refrain.
  • Try books that invite action on the part of the child, such as pop-up books, touch-and-feel books, and books with flaps and hidden openings for them to explore.

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what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

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Problem Solving with Others – Infant/Toddler

Problem solving with others.

With your help,  infants and toddlers can begin to learn the skills needed to solve problems with others

Baby and toddler both hold onto same colorful toy

At a Glance

Most infants have a strong desire to engage with the people and objects around them. And, they rely on adults to guide and promote positive social interactions. As they develop, toddlers begin to show interest in playing beside their peers — and, later, with them. As they interact and learn the social rules of play, young children need help to develop social problem-solving skills. Educators can provide children with language to understand problems and feelings. They can also support children to find and accept fair solutions when issues arise.

  • Get to Know This Skill - Infants
  • Get to Know This Skill - Toddlers

What It Looks Like

A quick glance at how you can help infants and toddlers develop problem-solving skills, help children solve problems.

When challenges arise during play, help children identify the problem, provide language they can use to communicate, and guide children to consider different possible solutions.

Encourage Fair Solutions

Encourage children to reflect on a problem and help model potential solutions that are fair for everyone. Notice how this educator proposes a way for two toddlers to share a toy they both want.

Practice Sharing Together

Set up and monitor activities that require collaboration. This gives children an opportunity to practice sharing and helps prepare them for similar situations they may encounter later on.

STRATEGY LIBRARY

Social Problem Solving With Toddlers

In this short series of lesson, you’ll learn three simple steps to help toddlers engaging in social problem solving.

With your support, young children can develop the social, emotional and language skills they need to engage in positive play experiences.

3 key problem solving steps

TRAUMA-INFORMED CARE

The Power of Play

A brief video from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child explores how play in early childhood can reduce stress (including trauma-related stress) and scaffold problem solving.

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FAMILY CONNECTION

Families as a Resource

In this article from the Center for Responsive Schools, Carol Davis shares how educators can have conversations with families about problems that occur in the classroom.

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CONSIDERING EQUITY

Inclusive Social Interactions

In their latest magazine issue, Cultivate Learning shares collaborative strategies to support children of different abilities to develop social skills.

  • Read the Magazine

PROBLEM SOLVING THROUGH BOOKS

That's (Not) Mine

Written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant, this story highlights different ways to (not) solve problems with friends in a fun and engaging way.

That's (Not) Mine book cover

Activity Cards for Infant and Toddler Classrooms

Part of the streamin 3 curriculum, these activity cards provide simple and fun ways you can prompt older infants and toddlers to collaborate and solve problems together.

Dance Party Activity Card icon

Dance Party

As children dance, problems will naturally arise. Narrate what the problem is, then suggest a solution.

Find a Solution activity card icon

Find a Solution

Present a problem with puppets or characters from a story. Use picture cards to help them find a solution.

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Partner Clapping

As children try this activity with partners, help them find solutions when things don't go quite right.

Partner Tasks activity card icon

Partner Tasks

Assign pairs of children classroom tasks to complete together .

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what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

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Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

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7 Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

If you have a toddler, challenges like tough homework problems or social dilemmas are still a long way off. But their brains are already working to build the cognitive skills they’ll need to solve life’s “big” problems later on. For now, problem-solving activities – even ones that seem simple to us – can help them boost their cognition, resilience, and creativity. Best of all? These “problems” are actually fun! Here are seven simple problem-solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers you can start trying right away!

Memory Games

Those little memory card games with matching pictures are great for building concentration, memory, and problem-solving skills in your toddler! Many sets might come with a few too many pairs for a toddler to handle without help, so start with just three to four pairs and see if they can match them up! As they begin to master that, you can add in more and more pairs until they’re working with the entire deck. If you don’t have a deck, you can easily DIY your own with online printables or your own drawings.

Shape Sorters

Shape sorters are a classic problem-solving toy for young toddlers. In addition to matching the shapes to the correct holes, they’ll also need to figure out why the shapes don’t always fit into the hole, requiring them to rotate the shape or make subtle adjustments to their grip.

Sorting/ Grouping by Category

Sorting activities are excellent for toddlers’ problem solving and cognitive development, so there’s no need to stop with shape sorters! Set up simple activities that allow them to sort by a variety of categories. This can be as simple as letting them unload the dishwasher silverware tray into the silverware organizer. Or ask them to gather up all the yellow items they see in a room.

Rotating puzzles is a great way to keep the problem-solving challenge fresh for your toddler. Even a familiar puzzle can present a fun, “new” challenge for your toddler if they haven’t seen it in weeks.

Hide the Teddy Bear

One cognitive milestone for two-year-olds is the ability to find an object that’s been hidden under two or more layers. Once they’ve mastered that, they’ll be ready for more advanced hiding games. Try hiding a teddy bear or other toy when they aren’t looking and then give them clues to find it. You can start off with basic directions and then progress to tougher clues or games of warmer/ colder.

Help Mommy/ Daddy

Toddlers love to help, and helping Mommy or Daddy with a problem can be a lot less frustrating than solving their own. For example, if your little one has been determined to put on their own socks lately but always ends up super frustrated, try mimicking the same problem yourself and asking for their help. You can coach them through the process (“Now we need to stretch out the opening of the sock!”), and because their emotions aren’t already running high, they’ll be more likely to actually absorb your tips. You can model how to stay calm through frustrating situations and help them build confidence in their ability to tackle the same problem later.

Constructive Play Toys

The ability to build a block tower of four or more blocks is actually considered a cognitive milestone for two-year-olds. For three-year-olds, a tower of six or more blocks is the expected milestone. That’s because building anything, even a simple block tower, is a true problem-solving challenge for toddlers. Blocks, train sets, and other building toys let your child work out how to balance, fit pieces together, and deal with frustration as they learn to master the challenge.

Empowered Parents

10 Simple Activities to Teach Your Preschooler Problem Solving

By: Author Tanja McIlroy

Posted on Last updated: 14 November 2023

Categories Cognitive Development

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

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
  • Persistence
  • 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.

Boy thinking about a problem

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

Lady at work doing problem solving

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.

Pinterest image - 10 simple activities to teach problem solving.

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?

Mom and child constructing

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.

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

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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.

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4.  Activity Books

These activity books are really fun and develop a child’s ability to identify problems and search for information.

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

  • Pomaska, Anna (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

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  • Handford, Martin (Author)

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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.

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Card games like Go Fish are also great for teaching young children to think ahead and solve problems.

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8.  Tic-Tac-Toe

This is a perfect game to teach decision-making skills , thinking before acting and weighing up the possible consequences.

Tic-tac-toe game

Use a Tic Tac Toe Board or d raw a simple table like the one above on paper or a chalkboard.

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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 .

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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.

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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

Tanja Mcilroy

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

Thanks Ann.

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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Teach your students how to solve problems using visual supports and techniques in your early childhood classroom. Teaching social skills (aka character education) is just as important as teaching letters.

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

Teach your students problem solving skills using visual supports and techniques in your early childhood classroom. Teaching social skills (aka character education) is just as important as teaching letters.

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.

Teach your students how to solve problems using visual supports and techniques in your early childhood classroom. Teaching social skills (aka character education) is just as important as teaching letters.

Safe Place!

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.

Teach your students how to solve problems using visual supports and techniques in your early childhood classroom. Teaching social skills (aka character education) is just as important as teaching letters.

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.

Teach your students how to solve problems using visual supports and techniques in your early childhood classroom. Teaching social skills (aka character education) is just as important as teaching letters.

Do you want to use them in your classroom?  You can!  I did the work for you.  Grab them from my TPT store HERE .

LOVE it? Pin this image!

Teach your students how to solve problems using visual supports and techniques in your early childhood classroom. Teaching social skills (aka character education) is just as important as teaching letters.

hey, i’m jackie!

I’m Jackie, your go-to girl for early childhood inspiration and research-based curriculum. 

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10 Ways to Strengthen Your Preschooler’s Problem-Solving Skills

As an adult, you make many decisions throughout your day without even thinking twice about some– from setting up the coffee machine at home to avoiding the long line at the drive-thru that can make you late to work to having a difficult but necessary conversation with your partner about finances. These are just a few examples of problem-solving skills and how you adapt to the situations around you and use your skills to exist on personal, professional, and social levels. 

While some problem-solving skills are innate, your ability to access a situation and take a course of action is based on the fact that when you were a child, the adults around you taught you problem-solving skills. Our Raleigh early-childhood development center is sharing our best advice for anyone looking to strengthen their pre-schoolers problem-solving skills. 

How to teach problem solving skills to preschoolers in Raleigh, NC.

What is Problem Solving in Early Childhood?

Problem-solving refers to the ability to find a solution to a problem. For preschool-aged children, this can be difficult to learn if not modeled for them through the appropriate ways to react to the issues they face. 

For instance, if two children are playing with a toy and one pushes the other in an effort to take the toy, this is clearly an inappropriate way to react to the problem. Furthermore, screaming or yelling for the child to give them the toy is also not a proper way to solve the issue. To model mature and proper problem-solving skills, adults around the child should be practicing the concept of sharing, patience, and communication while avoiding physical and emotional reactions when they don’t get what they want.

When the child learns that they can ask the other child, “Can I play with the toy next?” or understand the concept that another child was playing with the toy first, they are exhibiting the ability to problem solve. 

Why is it Important to Develop Problem Solving Skills in Early Childhood?

Children aged 3 to 5 are developmentally experiencing growth in the following areas: 

  • Cognitive 
  • Emotional 
  • Language 
  • Sensory 
  • Motor 

Because this time for preschoolers is so substantial to their intellectual, emotional, and social development, the world around them can seem overwhelming, unfair, intimidating, and even confusing. By modeling and teaching problem-solving skills to preschoolers , they can learn how to react logically, think creatively, communicate their needs, and assess how best to react to a situation at hand. 

How Can You Teach Problem Solving Skills to Your Children?

It is the responsibility of the adults who raise and teach children to provide kids with opportunities to strengthen their problem-solving skills in early childhood. If you are a parent, guardian, childcare provider, or early-childhood educator, it’s important to consider the best strategies for helping little ones adapt to the world around them and learn problem-solving skills. And remember, it can be frustrating when things do not work out as expected for anyone at any age, particularly for preschool-aged children who are just learning to adapt to their surroundings. 

When teaching your preschool-aged child how to problem solve, consider these four steps that are used in early-childhood classrooms : 

  • Identify the problem
  • Brainstorm solutions to the problem
  • Choose and implement one of the solutions
  • Evaluate how that solution resolved the problem

Following this four-step guideline can help the adults in a preschooler’s life address how a child acquires problem-solving techniques to help them navigate through the difficult and everyday situations that arise. 

When teaching problem-solving, focus on developing these key skills that relate to problem-solving: 

  • Lateral thinking
  • Decision-making
  • Communication
  • Persistence
  • Negotiation
  • Logical thinking
  • Analytical thinking

10 Problem-Solving Activities for Preschoolers

You know that you want to guide your child through developing and strengthening strategies for problem-solving, but where do you begin? Our early-childhood development school is sharing some of our favorite ways to incorporate problem-solving activities into your life so that you can teach your child to grow on a personal and social level. 

#1 – Use Everyday Moments

You do not need a textbook or outline of how to teach your preschooler problem-solving. Simply using everyday moments to demonstrate problem-solving techniques is more useful than any “how to” book or homework assignment can teach your child. 

Going to the grocery store, driving in the car, making dinner at home, and cleaning the house are all everyday opportunities to present your child with decisions related to problem-solving. Having your child put ingredients away in the pantry while you cook, asking your child what aisle at the supermarket they think you can find a particular item, or seeing that there is a mess of toys and supplies and directing the child to initiate where they should be placed prior to starting a new activity are ways to integrate problem-solving into everyday moments. 

#2 – Look to the Child for the Solution

As your child grows up, they will not always have you by their side to solve each and every problem that arises. From issues with friends, future relationships, and future careers, the child you raise will one day become an independent adult who needs to problem-solve on their own. 

Asking children to weigh in for solutions to problems as they arise is one way to get them thinking critically early on in life. When a child is taught to not only assess an obstacle but to trust their own decision-making abilities to resolve a problem, they will be better equipped for success as they get older. 

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

#3 – Solve Mathematical Problems

Mathematics is a great way to engage children at an early age in problem-solving and solution-making activities. Math is logical and non-emotional, having very clear set rules and boundaries with a single solution is one prime example of problem-solving. When children are given age-appropriate mathematical problems and math word problems, they are given opportunities to troubleshoot and follow an order of operation that leads to a solution.

#4 – Ask Open-Ended Questions

As adults, we often find that the most convenient way to get through the day when caring for a preschooler is to complete tasks for them so that we can get on with our busy day. However, it’s important to pause and present your child with the opportunity to find their own solutions to problems they are faced with by using open-ended questions. 

For instance, your child cannot find their favorite pair of shoes. Rather than tear the house apart on your own looking for them, present the child with a question: “Where did you last wear those shoes?” or “When did you last see your shoes?” This requires your child to consider where they last may have placed them. Additionally, a question like, “If we can’t find those shoes right now, you’ll need to choose a different pair to wear so we aren’t late.” guides them toward finding an alternative solution to the problem. 

Giving children the opportunity to find their own solutions to issues that arise by asking open-ended questions equips them with problem-solving skills they will need throughout life when things do not always go as planned. 

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

#5 – Puzzles and Board Games

Puzzles and board games, much like math equations, allow children to use their cognitive problem-solving abilities to complete tasks in a fun and unique way. Pre-schoolers are often drawn to images and visual learning components as well as interactive play. Putting puzzles together allows for pattern recognition, while board games allow for interactive problem-solving techniques to be utilized through a set of rules. Incorporating puzzles and games into the lives of children are excellent ways to get them to think critically and find solutions that offer immediate results. 

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

#6 – Read Books and Tell Stories

Books and storytelling are always exceptional ways to build vocabulary and introduce kids to characters and situations outside of their own. When children are given the opportunity to relate to characters and situations, and then address how those characters can react and engage in their conflicts and interpersonal relationships, it not only fosters imagination and creativity but also problem-solving skills. 

#7 – Center Emotions

As adults we understand that while reacting emotionally to a situation is sometimes natural, it does not get us very far when it comes to solving a problem. Children should be taught how to center those emotions, without shame or guilt by providing an alternative to emotional responses. This is often in the form of learning communication and language. 

If your son’s best friend hurt his feelings, he should not be made to feel that he shouldn’t feel how he is feeling. Having your feelings hurt, particularly by a friend, is, well, hurtful, and there should be no shame attached to that feeling. However, when it comes to addressing those hurt feelings to the friend, it would be inappropriate to shout, “I hate you!” or “I don’t want to be your friend anymore!” Rather, providing your preschool-aged child with words and phrases for when their feelings are hurt is essential to emotional and social development. 

Teaching your son to tell his friend, “It hurts my feelings when you say that” or “I get sad when you are mean to me” are great ways to help children not only process their emotional feelings but express them in appropriate ways that lead to a resolution. 

#8 – Model Problem-Solving Behaviors

Children look to the adults in their lives for how to handle the problems they face in the world. If your child sees you politely ask a waiter to return a plate of food that was incorrectly served, they will learn that proper communication, respect, and patience lead to resolution. In contrast, if a child sees their parents speak rudely and blame a waiter for an incorrect order, they will learn that emotional reactions are the way to address problems. As a parent and caretaker, it is your responsibility to use mistakes, obstacles, and hardships as learning opportunities passed on to your preschool-aged children, demonstrating first-hand that non-emotional responses, kindness, and communication are the keys to getting most issues resolved. 

#9 – Break Down Problems into Chunks

As an adult, one of the ways to get through major projects at work is to set up a schedule that breaks down a large-scale project into smaller portions. Using this technique in childhood education and development is a successful way to teach children how doing one small task can lead to an overall greater, larger picture in the long run. Since a large task can seem overwhelming or even impossible, breaking it down into smaller, easily achievable pieces that will eventually lead to the full, complete picture is a wonderful way to help children of any age, but particularly preschool-aged, tackle large issues without feeling the weight of the big picture.

#10 – Utilize Natural Curiosities and Interests 

Using natural, organic opportunities for learning and problem-solving is always one of the best ways to foster creativity as well as logical and analytical thinking. All children are naturally drawn to some interest– whether it’s unicorns, dinosaurs, airplanes, trucks, or the color blue… every child has something that they become naturally drawn to, often to the surprise of their parents. 

For example, maybe every time your daughter sees the mailman drop off the mail, she is fascinated. Maybe her face lit up with interest and excitement to check what was left in the mailbox today. This is an opportunity to ask questions that lead to analytical thinking and problem-solving. Inquiring, “what does the mail carrier drop off at other houses?” or teaching the concept of writing a letter to grandma and how it goes through the mail can continue to foster interests while teaching logical steps, planning, and problem-solving techniques. 

Enroll Your Child in an Interactive Preschool Care System 

It’s no secret that when a child is at preschool age they are naturally curious and soak up all the information around them. By teaching your child problem-solving skills, they are better equipped to handle the everyday struggles the world has to face. However, the professionals at our preschool development center understand that busy working schedules, multiple children, and life’s responsibilities do not always make it easy for parents to dedicate time to fostering and strengthening problem-solving skills in their children. 

If you have a preschool-aged child who will benefit from emotional, social, and personal development related to problem-solving, contact Primary Beginnings to enroll your child in our 5-star preschool program in Raleigh. 

Contact us today at 919-790-6888 for our Spring Forest Rd. location or 919-785-0303 for our North Hills Dr. location, or fill out our contact form below. 

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Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

Problem solving activities for toddlers

Benefits of Problem Activities for Toddlers

No matter how hard we work to protect our children, there are always going to be challenges that they will have to work through and overcome. As adults, we problem solve every single day, using the tools we learned throughout our life to help us navigate our daily lives. Children also encounter many problems that need solving. 

For example, your child may find themselves fighting with another classmate over the same tiara in dress up or they might run out of a specific paint color during arts and crafts. Problems are always around us! With this in mind, it’s important to help your child work on problem solving! 

So, even if we can’t solve our kids’ problems, we can help them learn the skills necessary to solve and conquer the problems coming their way, setting them up for future success. 

What are problem solving activities?

To help work on your child’s problem solving skills, it's important to know what a problem solving activity is! Essentially, a problem solving activity presents your child with a challenge they must solve using the knowledge provided within the activity or event. Your child uses their resources and current knowledge, along with potentially your help, to accomplish their goal. 

Within a problem solving activity there is always one, if not more, solutions. Your child works on skills such as adaptability, creativity, resourcefulness, critical thinking, active listening, decision making, and even vulnerability. 

Problem solving activities can be more than some of the immediate things that come to mind. You may immediately think of math problems or hypothetical situations that they could solve. These are great options! But there are plenty more out there. 

Here are some examples that involve problem solving and activities ideas that go with them! 

Simple problem solving activities for toddlers

  • Building with toys around them : blocks are an easy first step into problem solving. Your child can build by themselves or with others, using the blocks as a tool to accomplish their goal and creation.

Even if you don’t have blocks, there are plenty of toys that can be stacked or objects that you have around your home! Playing cards, legos, shoes, toilet paper rolls, and plastic plates/utensils are some great and easy options!  

With any toy, make sure your child is not at risk of choking or swallowing the toy parts. Check out our parent's guide to toy safety  to help you feel safe and secure with the toys you have at home! 

  • Board games : board games are a great option for your child to work on problem solving and for you to feel nostalgic! Bring out your favorite board game as a kid and play it with your child. 

The people behind board games put a lot of thought and effort into the rules and purpose of their game! Your child is being challenged appropriately for their age while having fun! 

  • Storytelling : storytelling is a great option to work on creativity! Play the sentence game where you each only say a sentence, building off of what the other person says while creating a fun and often hilarious story. 

problem solving activities for infants and toddlers

When creating a story, try to incorporate a conflict for your child to come up with a solution for. Perhaps without even realizing it, your child is working on problem solving while having fun! 

Cognitive problem solving activities for toddler 

  • Scavenger Hunts : have your child find objects or places in your home or nearby that they must think about in order to find! A basic description can be given that will act as a guide for your toddler in coming up with an answer! They must use their memory and thinking in order to successfully find an object or place that fits the prompt! 
  • Word problems: usually used to help develop math skills, word problems force your child to conceptualize the problem in their head. They don’t necessarily have an image provided to help them solve the problem; rather, they might draw the factors of the problem or learn to organize the information in a way that makes the problem easily solvable! 
  • Memory Games : If you already have a matching memory game, great! If you don’t, create your own! In a memory matching game, your child must match two cards of the same image. Have your child create these cards, cut them out, and set them down so that they cannot see the image on the other side. We recommend using crayons as markers may bleed through the other side, ruining the mystery! 

In order to win, your child must remember where the matching card lays! 

Be Creative!

Problem solving occurs whether the environment is controlled or uncontrolled, meaning even if you don’t intend for a problem, it can happen anywhere and at any time. Use these moments as teaching moments! You don’t need a formal plan to help your child work on problem solving as a skill. Instead, use the world around you! 

How can I help my toddler with problem solving?

Now, you may be wondering, “How exactly do I work on and/or teach problem solving?”. You now understand what a problem solving activity is, but you now need to actually try one out. Here are some ideas for you to use as inspiration! 

Work alongside your child!

Having your support will help your child feel comfortable to ask questions and think through the problem in front of them. At times, it's important to allow your child to figure out a problem or toy on their own! Here at ToyVentive we highly recommend Montessori toys that emphasize independent play, but we also know the value of being a source of support for your child. 

Prompt your child through questions

At times, the only thing standing between your child and a solution is the right question being asked. Communication is so important in problem solving at any age! Emphasize asking and answering questions to help your child understand the importance of talking out a problem. 

Make sure they understand what the problem is 

Similar to asking the right questions, make sure your child understands what the problem exactly is in front of them. If they don’t understand this, they’re likelihood of solving the activity is very low. Have them verbally identify the problem so you know they are on the right track for success! 

Offer alternative solutions! 

Oftentimes, there are multiple solutions to a single problem. After your child has taken the time to come up with a solution, consider throwing out other options! This will help them see the problem in new ways and that there isn’t always one way to approach a problem. This creates conversation between you and your child! 

Make the activity fun and lighthearted! 

Problem solving can be scary. Your child is working on their vulnerability and confidence by offering up a solution to a newly presented problem. If they get it wrong, encourage them to try again and emphasize that it's okay to be wrong. If they feel comfortable, they are more likely to offer up answers and try out new solutions. 

Allow them to fail! 

As harsh as it sounds, failing is inevitable. However, it's an important lesson that can be applied to many aspects of life. Oftentimes failing leads to a new and better solution. Talk to them about why that solution didn’t work so they can learn from the moment. If you see them working in a way that won’t lead them to success, don’t intervene. Rather, watch, assess, and use this failure as motivation to keep trying. 

problem solving games for 1 year olds

How do you teach preschool problem solving?

In teaching anything, it's important to engage your child in the lesson. Customize your activity to your child’s interests. Food is a great tool. If your child loves bananas, consider talking about bananas in your activity. For example, think about a simple math problem. You could ask your child if they had three bananas and they ate one, how many would be left? This will help your child be interested and want to learn. 

Also, make the activity relevant to what your child is learning about. Your little one may be working on feelings and understanding many different emotions. Create an activity with hypothetical situations and ask your child what they would do and how they would feel. They can incorporate their knowledge on emotions while working on figuring out how to solve certain situations. 

If your child is in school, ask them about what they are learning. Not only do you show interest in their life, but you are also gaining valuable knowledge that you can use at home! 

Consider purchasing premade toys that emphasize problem solving! We know you don’t always have the time to come up with activities and lesson plans. Check out our products for some great options! With each of our toys , your child is faced with a unique set of challenges. 

With our wooden activity cube , your toddler has a variety of problems to solve. Each side offers a new challenge.  

Montessori toys for babies

With our puzzles , your child begins to understand and conceptualize size and shape. Check out this article for new ways to play with puzzles!

Even if you don’t use our products or want to clutter your house with a new toy, your environment is full of options for your child to problem solve. If you use your creativity, your child will also work on their own! 

Emphasize patience 

In problem solving, the answer is not always an easy solution, especially for children still learning so much about the world around them. For your toddler, it can be easy for feelings of frustration and anger to take over. Let them feel whatever they feel. It’s so important to validate and affirm feelings; however, use this as an opportunity to teach patience as well! 

Tell them that even you as an adult struggle with frustration. It’s a lifelong struggle! However, just like anything, practice makes perfect. As long as you put in the effort, you’ll get a result. 

At any age, problem solving is no easy task. But, the younger you start to work on problem solving, the easier it will be to solve challenges as you grow. When your child is an adult, they will need to problem solve in their workplace and in their personal life. The younger you start teaching them, the stronger and more effective their skills will be! 

We hope you found this blog helpful and as a great starting point in helping your 2-3 year old solve their current or future problems! Comment down below any challenges or successes you have found! 

Activity cube large toddler

Works Referenced: 

https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/problem-solving-skills

https://empoweredparents.co/problem-solving-activities-preschoolers/

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How to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills

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  • 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

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

Öğülmüş S, Kargı E. The interpersonal cognitive problem solving approach for preschoolers .  Turkish J Educ . 2015;4(17347):19-28. doi:10.19128/turje.181093

American Academy of Pediatrics. What's the best way to discipline my child? .

Kashani-Vahid L, Afrooz G, Shokoohi-Yekta M, Kharrazi K, Ghobari B. Can a creative interpersonal problem solving program improve creative thinking in gifted elementary students? .  Think Skills Creat . 2017;24:175-185. doi:10.1016/j.tsc.2017.02.011

Shokoohi-Yekta M, Malayeri SA. Effects of advanced parenting training on children's behavioral problems and family problem solving .  Procedia Soc Behav Sci . 2015;205:676-680. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.09.106

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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Problem Solving for Preschoolers: 9 Ways to Strengthen Their Skills

By Carrie Mesrobian on 12/20/2021

Photo of an adult interacting with preschoolers who are coloring and asking questions.

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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About the author

Carrie Mesrobian

Carrie is a freelance copywriter at Collegis Education. She researches and writes articles, on behalf of Rasmussen University, to help empower students to achieve their career dreams through higher education.

Mesrobian

Posted in Early Childhood Education

  • child development
  • ECE activities
  • early childhood education

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Problem Solving Activities for Preschoolers

  • by Colleen Beck
  • October 22, 2021

Amazon affiliate links may be included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

It can be frustrating when children act without thinking of the consequences. In this blog post, you’ll learn about the development of problem solving in specific parts of our brain, discover important aspects of executive functioning that impact problem solving abilities, how to teach problem solving to preschoolers, and problem solving activities for preschoolers and young children so they can use words instead of the preschooler’s behaviors  or tantrums.

Best of all, many of our favorite fine motor activities for preschoolers support problem solving skills in early childhood.

Problem solving skills in preschool

Problem Solving Activities for Preschoolers

Before we get into the problem solving activities for preschoolers, and specific strategies to use in early childhood, it’s important to understand the development of the problem-solving process in kids. Supporting small children by giving them the skills to be problem solvers takes time and practice. We’ll get to those specific strategies below.

But first, does this scenario sound familiar at all…

I just don’t understand why Johnny keeps throwing the ball in the house. Doesn’t he realized that he could break the window? Johnny is three and he loves to play with his tennis ball in the house. Even though I have told him over and over again that we don’t throw them in the house, I still catch him sneaking them indoors at least once a week. 

Before we can address problem solving by helping kids look at the big picture and coming up with creative solutions for problem solving issues, we need to understand what is happening developmentally. Self-reflection is a challenging cognitive skill, and for young learners! 

Let’s take a better look at the development of problem solving skills…

Development of problem solving skills in preschoolers

Development of Problem Solving Skills

It’s through play, observation of others, and practice that young learners are developing problem solving skills in early childhood .

Problem solving, rational thinking and reasoning are all skills that are controlled by a part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex. Our brains grow exponentially over the first five years of life, but not the part of our brain that helps us with critical thinking and problem solving skills. This part of our brain, called the prefrontal cortex, isn’t fully developed until we turn 25 years old! 

As babies, we are exposed every day to new experiences, but at this age we don’t comprehend how these experiences affect us and those around us. If only children could think through their problems. This resource on executive functioning skills offers more information.

Have you noticed that it can be a bit scary when teenagers get their drivers licenses? They don’t always think of “what might happen.” This is due to their prefrontal cortex not being fully developed. 

But what about our three and four year olds? We know they can count, ask questions and get the cookie off the counter in a very sneaky way when we aren’t looking. In the Early Years study of 2011 called Making decisions, Taking action , they describe the prefrontal cortex entering a rapid period of development, making critical interconnections with our limbic system. (link: )

This study states “The prefrontal cortex pathways that underlie these capacities are unique to human brains and take a long time to mature. Early connections begin in infancy. Between age 3 and 5 years, the prefrontal cortex circuits enter a rapid period of development and make critical interconnections with the limbic system. During adolescence and early adulthood, the neural pathways are refined and become more efficient.”

What is so great about this part of the brain anyway? 

As the prefrontal cortex (that is located behind out eyes) develops over the years, we are able to engage with situations differently, assessing our surroundings in a new way. As we develop these new executive functioning skills, we are able to keep ourselves safe, build friendships and become successful in our careers.

Related, these friendship activities for preschoolers offers ideas and strategies to support social emotional development.

This peer reviewed report competed by Merve Cikili Utyun, called Development Period of Prefrontal Cortex, discusses how amazing this part of our brain is, and how each of the three sections control different aspects of our functioning. It states that: 

“ PFC includes the following Broadman Areas (BA): 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 44, 45, 46, 47. “The dorsolateral frontal cortex (BA) 9/46 has been functioned in many cognitive process, including processing spatial information, monitoring and manipulation of working memory, the implementation of strategies to facilitate memory, response selection, the organization of material before encoding, and the verification and evaluation of representations that have been retrieved from long-term memory. 

The mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex (BA 47) has implicated cognitive functions, including the selection, comparison, and judgment of stimuli held in short-term and long-term memory, processing non-spatial information, task switching, reversal learning, stimulus selection, the specification of retrieval cues, and the ‘elaboration encoding’ of information into episodic memory.

BA 10, the most anterior aspect of the PFC, is a region of association cortex known to be involved in higher cognitive functions, such as planning future actions and decision-making. BAs 44 and 45, include part of the inferior frontal and these regions’ functions are language production, linguistic motor control, sequencing, planning, syntax, and phonological processing.

Finally, the orbitofrontal cortex mostly (BA 47, 10, 11, 13) in the orbitofrontal cortex has been implicated in processes that involve the motivational or emotional value of incoming information, including the representation of primary (unlearned) reinforcers such as taste, smell, and touch, the representation of learnt relationships between arbitrary neutral stimuli and rewards or punishments, and the integration of this information to guide response selection, suppression, and decision making.” 

Wow! No wonder it takes so long for this part of our brain to fully develop. Problem solving skills in preschoolers take time to develop!

When Johnny is throwing the ball inside the house, he is thinking about what is happening now, in the present. Not what has happened in the past (when he broke the window at grandmas house a year ago) or that breaking a window might happen in the future. 

What are some problem solving techniques?

Solving problems is a skill that all preschoolers need support with. This critical skill doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and practice to become second nature.

It’s hard for us, as adults, to remember that children ages 3-5 (preschool-aged) don’t yet have the brain capacity to problem solve on their own, or remember what they learned from a situation a week ago. 

Just like when Andrew was painting at the easel and his paintbrush got stuck in the container. Instead of asking for help or trying to “unstick” the brush, he screamed.  Or when Sally and Samantha ran outside to grab the red bouncy ball, Samantha screamed when Sally grabs it first. She didn’t see the other red bouncy ball in the bucket next to the bikes. 

Try some of these problem solving activities for  kids :

Observation- Children need problem solving strategies that they can observe, and then practice in their everyday lives. Let kids see you talk through problems as you “figure out” a solution. This gives children a chance to see a problem-solving approach in real life situations. They get to see problem solving scenarios in action.

Repetition- Repetition supports brain growth in every area of development including problem solving, executive functioning, motor development, language skills and social development.

Multisensory Activities- Children learn best with multi-sensory cues, learning new skills through seeing, touching, hearing and experiencing the skills they are learning. In 2013, the US National Library of Medicine published an article titled  Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat.  stating “The prefrontal cortex acquires information from all of the senses and orchestrates thoughts and actions in order to achieve specific goals.” (link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/)

Creative Activities- Solving problems is a skill that all preschoolers need support with. It’s hard for us, as adults, to remember they don’t yet have the brain capacity to problem solve on their own. The best way to teach children how to problem solve, it to create activities that support these new skills in a positive way, that their developing brain understands. This letter to future self is one activity to work on goal achievement even at a young age. Preschoolers can draw a picture of what they would like to do or be as an older child or as a teenager or adult.

Problem Solving Activities for Preschool

Here are 3 Simple Ways to Teach Preschoolers to Solve Problems

1.Teaching executive functioning and problem solving skills in everyday situations will support the growth of a child’s prefrontal cortex. For example, these activities that teach executive functioning at the beach show how much thought and preparation goes into building a simple sand castles.

  • Children have to think about how much sand to use, how to keep it standing, how to prevent sand from getting into their eyes and how to create another one if the one they are building falls down.
  • They must create, plan ahead, problem solve when things get tough and communicate to adults and peers for help.

What other activities does your child do on a regular basis that requires all areas of the prefrontal cortex to activate?

2.When children become upset, their emotions become so overwhelming that they can’t think. In order to calm down and problem solve, they need to access a multi sensory way to help them remember how to do that.

Soothing Sammy gives children tactile and visual cues that remind them how to calm down and problem solve in a developmentally appropriate way. They can be reminded of this positive reinforcement with two words “Sammy Time!”

By reading the book about the sweet golden retriever, who understands that everyone feels upset sometimes, children are encouraged to use all of the sensory strategies to calm down. They can talk to Sammy about what is happening and think through their problem to create a solution.

Ashlie’s four year old daughter did just this. She reports: “When Molly was having some big emotions about coloring a picture and needed to calm down, she visited Sammy and returned with a solution to the problem she came up with all on her own (well with Sammy’s help).”

Click here for more information on the Soothing Sammy resources .

3.Problem solving requires us to remember what just happened, what is happening now and what do we want to happen next. A preschoolers brain tends to blend all three of these situations together, not able to communicate any of them until prompted by an adult. And as an adult, we are left “guessing” what our children are thinking about. Visual cues are a wonderful sensory communication tool to support both children and adults in the realm of solving problems.

Using tools like “First/Then” cards to support routine and common situations like transitions and completing tasks. Using visuals clearly communicates what needs to be done, especially if using pictures of real children doing these tasks.

A Final note about problem solving skills in preschool

Solving problems are hard for young children, even teenagers, as their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed yet. Using multisensory teaching tools to support brain development, practicing tasks that teach executive functioning skills and using developmentally appropriate tools to help children calm down, will help even the most frustrating moments become a bit less stressful for children and adults. 

As we learn to be more patient with children, understanding that the part of their brain needed to solve problems is just beginning to develop, repeating the same directions over and over again may not be so frustrating. Our children are doing the best they can. It’s up to us to provide them with experiences to help their brains grow and develop. 

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

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6 Effective Strategies to Promote Problem-Solving Skills in Young Children

Problem-solving is a critical skill that helps children navigate the challenges they face throughout their lives. As early childhood educators, we can encourage and promote problem-solving skills in young children from the earliest stages of development. Here are some strategies for promoting problem-solving skills in young children:

1. Encourage exploration and experimentation

Young children are naturally curious and love to explore their surroundings. Encourage this natural curiosity by providing opportunities for your child to experiment with different materials and objects. This can help them develop their problem-solving skills by encouraging them to explore and discover new solutions to challenges. Here are some examples of how to encourage exploration and experimentation in young children:

  • Sensory Play Sensory play involves providing children with materials that stimulate their senses, such as touch, sight, smell, and sound. Examples of sensory play materials include water, sand, play dough, and different textures of fabrics. Sensory play allows children to explore their environment and develop their creativity and problem-solving skills by manipulating materials to create different outcomes.
  • Block Play Blocks are an excellent tool for promoting exploration and experimentation in young children. Children can build structures and experiment with different block combinations to create different outcomes. Block play encourages children to develop their spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, and problem-solving skills.
  • Outdoor Play Outdoor play provides young children with endless opportunities for exploration and experimentation. Nature provides an endless variety of materials for children to explore, such as rocks, sticks, and leaves. Children can create their own outdoor play spaces and experiment with building structures or creating games.
  • Art and Craft Activities Art and craft activities are a fantastic way to encourage exploration and experimentation in young children. Children can experiment with different materials such as paint, glue, and paper to create different outcomes. Encouraging children to experiment with different materials and techniques can help them develop their problem-solving skills and creativity.
  • Science Experiments Simple science experiments are a great way to encourage exploration and experimentation in young children. Children can observe cause and effect relationships by experimenting with different materials or processes. For example, children can experiment with different ingredients to make slime, or create a volcano eruption with baking soda and vinegar.

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

2. Promote imaginative play

Imaginative play can be a valuable tool for promoting problem-solving skills. By engaging in pretend play, children can develop their creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities. Encourage your child to engage in imaginative play by providing them with props and toys that stimulate their imagination. Here are some examples of how to promote imaginative play in young children:

  • Pretend Play Pretend play involves children creating imaginary scenarios and acting them out using props and toys. Children can engage in pretend play with dolls, toy cars, play kitchen, and other props that stimulate their imagination. Pretend play allows children to explore different roles, experiment with different scenarios, and develop their problem-solving skills by working through imaginary conflicts and scenarios.
  • Dress-Up Dress-up allows children to experiment with different identities and roles. Children can dress up in different costumes and props and create imaginary scenarios. Dress-up encourages children to use their creativity, develop their empathy and social skills, and engage in problem-solving by working through imaginary conflicts.
  • Storytelling Storytelling is an excellent way to promote imaginative play and encourage problem-solving skills. Children can create their own stories, or teachers can read them stories and encourage them to retell or create their own versions. Storytelling encourages children to use their creativity, develop their language skills, and engage in problem-solving by imagining different outcomes.
  • Creative Play Spaces Creating a dedicated play space can promote imaginative play and problem-solving skills in young children. A play space can be designed to encourage imaginative play, such as a play kitchen, a dress-up area, or a building area. Providing children with the necessary props and materials to stimulate their imagination can help them develop their problem-solving skills by encouraging them to create different scenarios.
  • Open-Ended Toys Open-ended toys, such as blocks, art materials, and playdough, can be used in a variety of ways to promote imaginative play and problem-solving skills. Children can experiment with different combinations and create their own scenarios, developing their creativity and problem-solving abilities.

Dress-Up Play in Early Childhood Education

3. Teach problem-solving vocabulary

Introducing problem-solving vocabulary is an important way to promote problem-solving skills in young children. By learning problem-solving vocabulary, children can better understand and communicate about the problem-solving process. Here are some examples of problem-solving vocabulary and how to teach it to young children:

  • Identify the problem To identify a problem, children need to be able to recognize when something isn’t working as it should. Teach children words and phrases like “I’m stuck,” “This isn’t working,” or “I need help.” Encourage them to communicate when they encounter a problem and ask for help when needed.
  • Brainstorming Brainstorming involves generating many different ideas to solve a problem. Teach children words and phrases like “let’s think of some ideas,” “what are some possible solutions,” or “what else could we try.” Encourage them to come up with many different ideas, even if they seem silly or unlikely to work.
  • Evaluate solutions After generating ideas, children need to evaluate each solution to determine which is the best one. Teach children words and phrases like “let’s see which idea would work best,” “what are the pros and cons of each idea,” or “which solution would be most helpful.” Encourage them to consider all the possible solutions and evaluate each one carefully.
  • Make a plan Once a solution has been chosen, children need to make a plan to implement it. Teach children words and phrases like “let’s make a plan,” “what steps do we need to take,” or “how can we make this happen.” Encourage them to break down the solution into smaller steps and create a plan for each step.
  • Reflect on the outcome After trying out a solution, it’s important to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Teach children words and phrases like “how did it go,” “did our plan work,” or “what could we do differently next time.” Encourage them to reflect on the outcome and use what they learned to solve similar problems in the future.

problem-solving vocabulary

4. Model problem-solving skills

Children learn by watching and imitating the behavior of adults around them. Therefore, modeling problem-solving skills is essential for promoting these skills in young children. Let your child see you working through problems, and encourage them to ask questions and offer suggestions. When children see adults or peers effectively solve problems, they are more likely to learn and apply those skills themselves. Here are some examples of how to model problem-solving skills for young children:

  • Narrate your problem-solving process When you encounter a problem, narrate your problem-solving process out loud to show children how you think through and solve the problem. For example, “I’m trying to figure out how to fix this toy. First, I need to look at the instructions and see what’s wrong. Then, I can try a few different solutions until I find one that works.”
  • Use real-world scenarios Use real-world scenarios to model problem-solving skills, such as fixing a broken toy, figuring out a puzzle, or finding a lost item. Show children how you use critical thinking and problem-solving strategies to tackle the problem, and encourage them to ask questions and offer their own solutions.
  • Role-play Role-playing scenarios where children can practice problem-solving skills can be a fun and effective way to model these skills. For example, you can set up a pretend store where children can practice making decisions and solving problems related to shopping.
  • Provide opportunities for problem-solving Provide children with opportunities to practice problem-solving skills in everyday activities and invite parent to do the same while cooking, cleaning, or planning a family outing. Encourage them to work through problems and come up with solutions, and praise them for their efforts.
  • Collaborate on problem-solving Collaborating with children on problem-solving tasks can model effective problem-solving skills and promote teamwork. Work together to solve problems, and show children how to communicate, negotiate, and compromise to achieve a common goal.

Model problem-solving skills

5. Allow for independent problem-solving

While it’s essential to support young children as they develop their problem-solving skills, it’s also important to allow them to work independently. Allowing children to work through problems on their own can help them develop their critical thinking skills and build confidence in their abilities . Here are some examples of how to allow for independent problem-solving:

  • Give them space Allow children to have some time and space to work through problems on their own. Resist the urge to jump in and solve the problem for them, unless it’s a safety issue. Instead, observe from a distance and offer encouragement and support as needed.
  • Encourage risk-taking Encourage children to take risks and try new things, even if they might not work out. When they encounter a problem or setback, remind them that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process and encourage them to keep trying.
  • Offer open-ended activities Offer open-ended activities that allow for creativity and problem-solving, such as building with blocks, creating art, or playing with sensory materials as was mentioned earlier. These activities encourage children to use their imagination and experiment with different solutions.
  • Provide tools and resources Provide children with tools and resources that they can use to solve problems independently, such as a toolbox or a collection of building materials. These resources can give children the confidence to tackle problems on their own.
  • Praise effort and progress When children are working on solving a problem, praise their effort and progress, even if the solution isn’t perfect. Focus on the process of problem-solving, rather than the end result, and encourage children to keep trying and learning.

Independent problem solving

6. Encourage persistence

Encouraging persistence is critical for promoting problem-solving skills in young children. When your child encounters a problem, encourage them to keep trying and not give up. Celebrate their successes and encourage them to learn from their mistakes. When children learn to persevere through challenges and setbacks, they build resilience and develop the confidence to tackle difficult problems. Here are some examples of how to encourage persistence:

  • Provide age-appropriate challenges Provide children with challenges that are appropriate for their age and skill level. Challenges that are too difficult can be frustrating and lead to giving up, while challenges that are too easy can be boring. Finding the right level of challenge can motivate children to keep trying and push themselves.
  • Offer encouragement Offer words of encouragement and support when children encounter challenges. Let them know that you believe in them and that you know they can figure it out. Encourage them to keep trying and remind them of their past successes.
  • Focus on progress Focus on progress rather than perfection. Celebrate small successes and milestones along the way, even if the problem isn’t fully solved yet. This can help children see that progress is possible and encourage them to keep going.
  • Model persistence Model persistence and a positive attitude in your own problem-solving efforts. When children see you persisting through challenges and setbacks, they are more likely to adopt a similar mindset.
  • Use positive self-talk Encourage children to use positive self-talk when they encounter challenges. Teach them to say things like, “I can do this,” “I just need to keep trying,” and “I’ll figure it out eventually.”

positive self-talk

In conclusion, promoting problem-solving skills in young children is critical for their overall development. By providing opportunities for exploration and experimentation, promoting imaginative play, teaching problem-solving vocabulary, modeling problem-solving skills, allowing for independent problem-solving, and encouraging persistence, we can help our children develop these essential skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

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Problem-solving and Relationship Skills in Preschool

Woman: Places, everyone. Are the lights ready? Three, two, one.

Saameh Solaimani: Hi, everyone. I'm Saameh Solaimani. Welcome to "Teacher Time.” Thank you so much for being here with us today.

Gail Joseph: Hi, everyone. I'm Gail Joseph, and I'm so excited to be joining you on "Teacher Time" today. Now, Saameh, I always think it's better when we start with a song, so shall we?

All: [Singing] "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time."

Gail: Here we are. I love your puppet moves. You've got some really good moves.

Saameh: Thank you. I worked hard on this.

Gail: Well, hi, everyone, and welcome to our third preschool episode of "Teacher Time" this program year. I'm Gail Joseph.

Saameh: I'm Saameh Solaimani, and we're from the National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning.

Gail: We are so excited to have you here with us today. We have been focusing on positive behavior supports this season of "Teacher Time.” Hopefully, you've joined us for some of the previous episodes. So far, we've talked about the importance of relationships and how to support emotional literacy. And today, we're going to be focusing on problem-solving and relationships, and friendship skills in preschool.

I want to draw your attention to the viewer's guide. I've printed mine out here. It's beautiful. You can find it in the resource widget. If you haven't looked at our viewer's guide for a while, I strongly encourage you to. This season, our viewer's guide is a viewer's guide for birth to five, including specific age group information for infants and toddlers and preschool children. It is packed with information about development, about teaching practices. There are quick tips in here. There are reminders. There are things you can cut out and post and put up in your learning space. There are spaces for notetaking.

On the last page is just an extensive resource list that you are going to love. You can download the guide and use it throughout our time together for taking notes, for reflecting, planning how you might use some of the "Teacher Time" practices we're going to talk about in your own settings. And please share your viewer's guide with colleagues. Also, we want your ideas in the next issue of "Teacher Time.” You can see on the back that we ask you to submit some of your own strategies and tips, and then you'll be published in the "Teacher Time" viewer's guide.

Saameh: That would be awesome. We always love to hear from you. Thank you so much, Gail. During our time together, we're going to be discussing teaching practices that support positive behavior. We're going to take some time to promote your wellness with our It's All About You segment. We're going to connect effective practice to brain development in our new segment, which some of you may have seen in our last episode's Neuroscience Nook.

We're going to discuss small change, big impact, and in our focus on equity segments, individualized strategies that build a sense of belonging and promote social and emotional skills with all children, including children who have a variety of learning characteristics. And we're going to wrap up our time together, as we always do, with our BookCASE, where we connect our topic to books that you can share with children and families.

Gail: We love the BookCASE and our "Teacher Time" librarian. Like we do at the beginning of most "Teacher Times," we want to check in with how you're feeling, such an important thing to do periodically throughout the day. Look at our "Teacher Time" feeling tree, find a feeling creature. They all have little numbers on them.

And post in the Q&A which number creature you most relate to at the moment and why. We want to hear from you. We have our amazing Q&A team there, ready to see your input. I'm going to go ahead and start. Now, every time I look at — what I love about our little "Teacher Time" tree here is that I always think a little bit differently about how these creatures are feeling, which is fun. It helps children do that, too.

Saameh: Right.

Gail: I think the little guy that is swinging from the tree there. I'm just pretty excited to be here. I've been on some travel. I'm excited to be back with you and back with our "Teacher Time" viewership. How are you feeling, Saameh?

Saameh: I actually was thinking about this. And I think number 12, sitting on the leaf, surrounded by friends, by community, by all of you. Yeah, I'm feeling very part of this learning community.

Gail: I love it. And our viewers are checking in. Five, a rough week. Some weeks are like that. I hope it gets better for you, Amy. We've got a 12. Somebody is feeling like you. One, five. Our viewers are all over the tree, checking in. I feel like number five, pretty rough afternoon. My goodness. We hope that spending some time today thinking about your own professional development might feel a little bit uplifting for you. But we definitely know how it feels when you're not having a great week, too. Just hanging in there. Thank you so much for sharing.

Saameh: Yes, yes.

Gail: Thank you. Keep it going. Keep it going.

Saameh: We're very excited to be focusing on positive behavior supports this season, as you know. And social and emotional development. As you may know, is one of the domains in the Head Start ELOF, which stands for Early Learning Outcomes Framework. The practical strategies we're going to be discussing today are going to be focusing on the relationships with other children subdomain of social and emotional development. And you can see that highlighted here.

Gail: I love that. Now, like we said last month, this season of "Teacher Time" is focused on working our way through the Pyramid Model. Some of you might be really familiar with the Pyramid Model. Maybe your program is participating in a pyramid training. But if you're not familiar with it, the Pyramid Model is really a model or a framework of positive behavioral support for proactively addressing the social and emotional development. And for preventing and addressing challenging behaviors of young children. The framework offers a continuum of evidence-based teaching practices that are organized into four levels of support. And you can see those there.

At the foundation, it's all about nurturing and responsive relationships. Not only between the teacher, the educator, and the children but between children and between educators. It's all about these relationships. And we want them to be nurturing and responsive no matter what relationship they're in. That's the foundation. The next are high-quality supportive environments. How can we create both the physical and temporal structure of the environment to support positive behavior?

Then we level up and go to social and emotional teaching strategies. That's where we're at right now, is going to dig into some of those social and emotional teaching strategies. Then at the very top, when all of the bottom three pieces are in place, there might still be some children that have some behaviors that could require a little bit more intensive intervention. And we're going to talk about that in May. Be sure to come back.

But if you want to learn more about the Pyramid Model, you can check out the resource list in the back of your viewer's guide for a lot more information about it. Now, we would love to hear what strategies and practices you have in place to support young children's problem-solving and their friendship skills with children that you're working with.

Go ahead and start entering those in the Q&A. And our Q&A team, we've got, like, the star Q&A team today. They're going to start sending those out, too. We're going to be tracking them, but they're also going to be sent out so other people can see them as well when you share what strategies you're using. We always learn so much from our viewers. And there's always something that we're, like, a gem out there in how you're supporting young children's problem-solving.

Saameh: Such a wealth of resources out there.

Gail: Absolutely. Now, as a reminder, positive behavioral support, or sometimes called PBS, sometimes you might hear it called PBIS. Sometimes you might even hear it called a multi-tiered system of support. But positive behavioral support is a positive and proactive approach to preventing and addressing challenging behavior. It focuses on using very intentional teaching strategies to proactively, that's such a big part of it, proactively build all social and emotional skills. And today we're specifically thinking about building problem-solving skills and relationship skills for young children. Now, positive behavioral support recognizes that all behavior communicates a message or a need. And some behaviors, as they're trying to get their needs across, we might find challenging.

Once an educator understands the meaning, what is the message that the child is trying to send with their behavior? What's the meaning? They want something. They want to get away from something. They're not sure how to play with their friends, but they're trying in the way that they can. Once you know what the meaning of that challenging behavior is, then we can figure out how to teach the child a more effective way to communicate their needs and problem-solve with support.

Saameh: So important to keep in mind. Now what we're going to do is we're going to turn our attention to you in our All About You segment. We know that we do our best caregiving and teaching when we feel well ourselves. Engaging in self-care practices can help educators build greater social and emotional capacity to work through problem-solving together. And our ability to support children with problem-solving and relationship skills starts with our ability to center ourselves by noticing and observing what's happening with as little judgment as possible.

We can help young children work through challenges with peers from a more grounded, soft, and objective place, naming what we see happening calmly without so many of the other things going on when we're feeling stressed and overwhelmed. What we're going to do is a little body scan. Before we can support the children in our care with problem-solving and relationship skills, it's important to find ways to regulate our own feelings throughout the day.

Taking a minute to do something like a body scan like we have here to notice what's happening in our own bodies is softening in the moment. We can slow down and center ourselves throughout the day. This practice supports our own well-being first, enabling us to hold a non-judgmental space, as we were saying, respond intentionally to children's cues, behaviors, and communications as we support them in building healthy relationships with each other.

Here we go. Start with a deep breath. Okay, I noticed as I was saying that I was holding my breath. Breathe. Okay, so we're going to start in a seated position or laying down, whatever is comfortable for you. And now you can bring your attention to your body, and you can close your eyes if that's comfortable for you. And you can notice your body wherever you are.

As you exhale, you have a sense of relaxing, and you can notice your feet or body on the floor. You can notice your back against the chair or maybe on the floor. Bring your attention into your stomach area. If it feels tight, let it soften. Notice your hands, arms, shoulders, and let them be soft. Let your jaw and facial muscles be soft. Notice your whole body present, and take one more deep breath. Okay.

Okay, we would love to hear how you were feeling during that or feel now or after the body scan. What do you notice? And let's see. And I noticed like I was saying, that I was holding my breath.

Gail: I feel like we should do that right before "Teacher Time.” It would be really helpful.

Saameh: That's right.

Gail: I felt so calm and centered.

Saameh: We'd love to hear from you how that experience was. Thank you so much for taking the time to take time for yourself. Calm. Self-aware. Conscious. More relaxed.

Gail: It doesn't take very long too, and I know that when I was teaching on a regular basis, just having those moments where I could just feel that tension in my body, and it just takes a moment to take a breath before I interact.

Saameh: It is amazing how much one minute of breathing can do. Yes. It’s not something that requires a lot of time, which I know we don't necessarily have as teachers sometimes.

Social competencies like self-regulation, empathy, perspective-taking, and problem-solving skills are key to foundational healthy social-emotional development. And these include positive interactions and friendships and relationships between peers, as we know. Educators can help children learn the skills necessary to develop healthy peer relationships and find ways to work through social conflicts with adult support.

And that's where we come in. And teaching and modeling problem-solving skills early on with preschool children builds a foundation of problem-solving and relationship skills that most children can access with adult support and start to use independently as they continue to develop. The more we can support young children in developing problem-solving skills in their learning environments, the less we'll see some of those challenging behaviors that oftentimes arise from not having the resources, the tools to work through the problem as they come up, which they will because that's life.

It's important to note that there might be some children in your care who don't readily learn these skills through foundational teaching strategies. This might include children with disabilities or suspected delays. It's important to be aware of the progress for all children and use more individualized practices to work on these skills with children who need a little more support. That’s what we'll be doing today, sharing some strategies to do just that.

Gail: Some key ideas and practices for supporting problem-solving and peer relationship skills with preschool children are the first little slide that you see there or picture that you see there is about promoting healthy relationships. Preschoolers are increasingly interested, as our viewers know, in developing friendships with one or two preferred peers, like we see in the photo on the left. They're able to engage in group play and independently initiate interactions with peers, which is so fun to see develop.

Preschoolers might suggest something to do, like let's play a restaurant or let's build a swimming pool for our animals together or join in an existing activity. Hey, can I play too? Educators can support preschoolers in promoting healthy friendships in quite a few ways that I'm sure our viewers are already doing. But just to name a few, one is that you can help children plan what and how they will play together.

One thing that I always like to, I'm going to go off for a moment, is that one thing that I think about a lot as a preschool teacher is thinking about materials and resources and activities that require two children to play together so that you set the stage for children to interact with each other. Things like those teeter-totters or rowboats in classrooms is just one obvious idea that takes two children.

Another thing is providing suggestions for initiating interactions with other children. And a quick tip there too is right before children go to play, if there's a child that you think could use a little bit more support, is to do a little priming and say, “hey, point to two or three things that you could play with a friend,” and you'll see that they can increase their initiations with other children.

Then, encouraging children to consider other ideas. I don't know if anybody out there is a big puppet user, but I used a lot of puppets when I was teaching at Head Start, and this was a great way to model like at a circle time, model with a puppet and other children role-play how I could consider somebody else's idea. Lots of ways to do that.

Saameh: This is a great time for us to pause and think about what value do I place on peer relationships, and how do I expect peers to act with each other? Sort of that, taking a moment to think about our own ideas because we're subjective beings, and we have our own experiences. It's really important to just take a moment. And awareness of our responses to these questions is supportive of our equitable practice. I do have to say I love what you said about puppets, and we're going to be seeing a little bit of puppet work later on in our episode today. I am also a fan of puppets.

As you see, the second photo you see is representing teaching problem-solving steps, which is so important. Preschoolers are willing to try different strategies to solve problems and show flexibility in their actions and behavior, and they can plan ways to solve a problem and evaluate solutions with our support. In a minute, we're going to hear from Dr. Angel Fettig, Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Washington, who will share strategies to support problem-solving in preschool classrooms. She's going to talk about the steps.

Gail: That's great. Of course, another way that we can support children, which you probably feel like you're doing all the time, is teaching problem-solving in the moment. One is to proactively teach, which we're going to hear about strategies for doing that. But the other thing is then supporting that problem-solving as it occurs in the moment. There are a few steps that educators can do to work through that. One is anticipating that social conflicts are going to happen, and you try and anticipate it before they happen.

You might notice a child that's coming into the classroom or into the learning setting feeling a little bit tired, maybe something upsetting happened before, maybe you have some communication with the family and understand that something troubling has just happened at home, and the child is coming into the space. Maybe they're not usually having a difficult time with problem-solving, but today they might be.

But another thing that you can do is anticipate, did you introduce a new toy into your learning space? Maybe you introduced some new props in the dramatic play area, and you know that a lot of children are going to want to use them. You're anticipating that probably in that space, there's going to be a little bit more need to support problem-solving in the moment. You want to anticipate social conflicts before they happen.

Another thing that's so important is being close and helping children manage their feelings. If I'm anticipating that there might be some problem, maybe an individual child might need some more support, or there's an area in the classroom that I think, oh, I'm probably going to want to be close there, is to get close because children will, as they get excited or upset, that fight or flight comes in. You want to be there to support them to help remember some of the problem-solving steps that you've provided.

Now, providing support and reminders of problem-solving steps would be next. I'm going to be close with them, and then I'm going to provide support, and that support could be verbal like I could remind them of the problem-solving steps. It can also be visual, and we're going to talk about some of the visual supports you can have in your classrooms.

Some people in our Q&A have already talked about ways that they've used visuals with problem-solving solution kits, et cetera. We can encourage children to generate and evaluate multiple solutions. I'm going to say that this is really where it's at for preschool children, is to encourage them to generate as many different solutions to a problem as they can. When children have a restricted number of solutions they can try, they're bound to run out of things that are working for them. We want to encourage them to keep being really creative and generating so many different solutions.

Last but not least, when children do problem-solving, find some way to celebrate that. It might be a thumbs-up. It might be a high-five. It might be with a super friend cape or with some other type of big celebration because this is hard work, and it's really hard work when you're a young child just figuring it out. We want to make sure that we're celebrating that. We're going to remember that we always want to individualize the strategies that we're going to use to provide support based on the skills of the children that you're supporting.

Some children might need some additional amount of language that needs to be modified. Some children might need visual cues or gestures paired with verbal language. Some children might need some specific feedback on the consequences to help them learn the effect of their behavior on the environment. Stay tuned for BASICS where we're going to share about some more strategies for providing feedback.

Saameh: I love that. I love what you said about anticipation. I think it goes such a long way. Also, what you were saying about problem-solving and the children coming up with the solutions, generating the solutions, and I keep thinking about how problem-solving is also play in a way.

Gail: Yeah.

Saameh: It's exploration. It's play. In a way, it's fun. It's not necessarily a negative thing. Sometimes we think problem as negative, and it doesn't have to be.

Gail: It can be like a fun challenge. I would support children, and I'd say, “are they making it tough on you?”

Saameh: Exactly.

Gail: And they'd be like, yeah. But then they'd be encouraged to keep going. Sometimes I'd say, let me look. Let me look. I think you've got more solutions in there. I'd peer into their ear, and they'd think that was really fun. You can just really be fun and encourage them to be creative and think of more solutions.

Saameh: I love that one. We’re going to hear from Dr. Angel Fettig, who we were talking about earlier, as she discusses strategies to teach problem-solving skills.

[Video begins]

Angel Fettig: I think in early childhood settings, I think the best thing is to think about simple steps to teach kids. So simple, concrete strategies they can use in the setting. My favorite is to really think about the four-step problem-solving technique. Step one is, what's my problem? Really being able to know that there's a problem here, and this is the problem. Being able to identify it.

Angel: And then step two is helping them brainstorm. What are some things I can do to solve this problem? Guiding them in understanding, How do you brainstorm for solutions?

Gail: Okay.

Angel: And then the next step, step three, is to think about evaluating the solutions you came up with. Do I think using this step is going to be fair for my friends? Is it a safe solution?

Gail: Right.

Angel: Am I going to feel good? Is my friend going to feel good?

Angel: And then step four is guiding them to try it out.

Angel: You try it, see if it works.

Angel: If it doesn't work, then encourage them to try a different strategy, try a different skill. Those are the four steps. And it's really important that we teach those steps systematically and with visuals, just like how we will typically teach any content in early childhood classrooms.

Angel: I think as early childhood educators, we need to plan these into our curriculum in teaching problem-solving skills.

Gail: Great.

[Video ends]

Saameh: So wonderful. As we saw, Dr. Fettig outlines four important steps to go through with preschool children to help teach problem-solving skills. First of all, helping children identify what the problem is in the first place. Next, inviting children to generate and evaluate multiple solutions through brainstorming, as you were sharing, Gail, and then evaluate the solutions. How are these solutions working out? Lastly, we can help children select a solution and try it out and see how it works. We'd love to hear from you in the chat. What are some ways that you support problem-solving with children in your care? Please share in the chat.

As you're doing that, I wanted to share something I remember being surprised to learn early on in my career as an early childhood educator. It was just, like, what a big part of our job supporting children and problem-solving is. It's a huge part. I mean, it was most of the day. It was really doing that, and I was in for a surprise. But, getting down on the children's level, taking the time to be present and understand what's happening, how we can support children to work through the problem in that moment, which I'm sure you all experience many times a day. And the solution kit. We will be talking about that.

Gail: That's right. Owl's Pals, that's a great social and emotional curriculum. I see that one coming up. Tucker the Turtle, we know about that. That's a great one. Trying to hang in there. Sarah, yes, that is so important. It's just that trying to hang in there, taking those deep breaths, getting centered, and getting back into it and knowing that this is part of the job.

Saameh: It truly is.

Gail: What a great job it is to help build this, like, social and emotional foundation for young children so that when they're entering into even larger group settings, they're going to be really successful. Yes, trying to hang in there but knowing you've got a great purpose.

Saameh: Absolutely. What we're going to do now is we're going to take another moment to pause and reflect, a reflective moment, on questions that will support equitable teaching practices. We're going to invite you to reflect on the following questions. How do I expect peers to act with each other? How do I feel about conflict? Do I listen openly to all children when there is a problem? To just take a moment and think about those things. We're going to revisit these questions in our Focus on Equity segment. We thought it would be nice this time to weave throughout.

Gail: I love it. Those are such good questions. I'm just thinking about it myself, like, what was I expecting?

Saameh: Right. Now for our Neuroscience Nook segment. Research tells us that the early years are foundational for brain development. And adults play an important role in supporting healthy brain development connections and architecture.

In this segment, our Neuroscience Nook, we are excited to connect this research to everyday teaching practices. I'm going to just take a moment for this side note. As questions are coming up for you, we want to hear them. Please put them in the Q&A or post them in the "Teacher Time" Community in MyPeers. Just wanted to say that.

What we're going to do is we're going to shift our focus. We're going to talk a little bit about executive functioning, which is a very important brain function. The prefrontal cortex begins to develop very early in life. This area of the brain is responsible for what are called executive functioning skills, which some of you may have heard of. They're essential for development of strong and healthy relationships.

This is a really great graphic here, as you can see. It includes what are some of the main functions of executive functioning and executive functioning skills. What are they? Attention, that would be being able to stay focused on a task. Working memory, which is being able to remember rules and procedures. Self-regulation and the ability to control impulses.

Right there, you can see how important that would be for developing strong and healthy relationships. Organization, things like switching between tasks, that would be called flexible thinking. Problem-solving, planning, behavior, decision-making, and motivation. As you can see, hopefully, you're convinced that executive functioning skills are very important indeed. You can see how all these skills are important.

Gail: Absolutely.

Saameh: Also are interrelated in a lot of ways. What we can do is help young children start to develop these critical relationship building and problem-solving skills. I know what all of you are doing every day, through responsive caregiving and effective teaching practices that are responsive to an individual child's needs. In our most recent episodes of "Teacher Time," those were building relationships and emotional literacy in preschool, we've talked about ways that you can support executive functioning through things like serve and return, and the flipping your lid, the hand model.

Gail: Yes, I remember.

Saameh: Yes. From Dr. Dan Siegel. I practiced that a lot before, by the way.

Gail: Yeah, it was good.

Saameh: We also encourage you to look back at the last two viewers guides, that would be building relationships with children, birth through five, and emotional literacy with children, birth through five, to see more about the importance of nurturing and responsive relationships on the developing brain. What we're going to do is we're going to hear — now we're going to hear from Dr. Juliet Taylor, as she describes the development of executive function.

Juliet Taylor: I'm going to show you a graphic of how executive function develops over time. Here's sort of a graphic representation. And one thing to point out is that we are not born with executive function skills in place. We're born with the potential to develop them, or not, depending on our experiences, our neurophysiology, and the interactions between those things.

This graph shows that on the horizontal axis you can see this is ages birth to 80, and notice that there's not an even distribution between the ages. And that is because there are particular peaks in executive function development. You can see skill proficiency on the vertical axis. And I'm going to highlight a couple of areas where you see tremendous growth in executive function skills, and that is really in the preschool ages, between three to five, and then in early adolescence to early adulthood, there's another spike in development.

The foundations of executive function are laid down in the earliest months and years of life, and that really happens through basic sort of serve and return, it's sometimes called, or those basic interactions between child and adult that happen over and over and over again. And that spike really does happen in the preschool years after children have verbal language.

Saameh: As you can see, that graphic, it's just so helpful to see the development pattern. And we see that we aren't born with executive function. We are, however, born with the potential to develop them, and why our support as educators is so important. We know that the foundation of executive function skills are laid down in the first months and years of life. And what we heard and saw, the yellow highlight, is a spike in executive function development between three and five years old after many children have developed verbal language.

Gail: I love that, and I saw the other spike was like that, like, early or later teen years.

Saameh: I noticed that.

Gail: I've got two of those at home. I feel like I see that on a regular basis. Yeah, very true.

Saameh: It resonates.

Gail: It really resonates, both as a preschool teacher and as a mom of adolescents. That's so great. And, like, looked like some declines as we get older. It's not fun.

Saameh: A little less fun.

Gail: We're going to get to the "Teacher Time" BASICS, and we're going to talk about how we can use BASICS to support problem-solving and relationship skills. If you haven't joined us before, let's just go through really quickly what BASICS is. It's an acronym that helps us remember some really powerful teacher-child or adult-child interaction moves that we can make that can support children's growth and development in any area.

The "Teacher Time" BASICS are B is for behavioral expectations in advance. It is always helpful to tell a young child what you're expecting from them before you start a new activity. A is for attending to and encouraging positive behavior, which is so relevant to the topics that we're talking about now. S is for scaffolding with cues and prompts.

Those can be verbal cues, visual cues. You're going to see some of that today. Increasing engagement is the I. C is for creating and adding challenge. Young children grow when we add some challenge to, whether it's intellectual challenge or social and emotional challenge, that creates some growth for young children. And S is for that specific feedback.

If you've joined us for other webinars, you know that we only take two of these letters to focus on. It's too much to do all of them in one episode. We've focused on different letters at different episodes. You'll see that if you want to go back and look at some prior episodes. You'll see some of the other letters.

But today we're going to focus on the C and the S, create or add challenge, and the second S, which is about providing specific feedback to support problem-solving and relationship skills. We're going to jump to it. We're going to start with creating or adding challenge. This is one of my favorite things.

One fun way that we can create or add challenge to problem-solving and relationship skills is to create a friendship kit and invite children to use it when they notice that another child is upset. You can see on the screen that the friendship kit can have lots of little things in it. Really it could be like a shoebox. It could be a file folder. It could be any way that you can contain it. It could be a lovely basket.

But the idea is that in this friendship kit, there are things like maybe a pack of tissue if somebody is crying. Maybe there's a soft toy for someone to cuddle with if they're feeling like they're missing somebody. Maybe there's a pack of bandages to not only help with a small cut, but maybe if your feelings are hurt. We've had children also apply bandage. Very sweet. A sheet of stickers. Maybe a sticker would help someone.

There can be visual support cards of simple problem-solving solutions and things that you can do when a friend is in duress. Things like giving a gentle hug. Maybe saying, I'm sorry. That is certainly a challenge that we offer to young children is to provide a genuine apology, which is a great repair strategy for them to learn. That's one thing. I'd be curious to see if people are using friendship kits. You can enter that into the Q&A.

I've had lots of lovely experiences in my classroom with these friendship kits where children go to them when another child is upset. I had one experience. Well, I'll tell that story in a little bit. But they're just such great, lovely stories about how young children will use it. It's just like a physical reminder of what it takes to develop those special friendships. Now, there's another way that we can create or add challenges. Thank you for advancing that. That was a nice thing to do from our friendship kit.

Gail: Thanks for advancing the slide.

Saameh: Of course.

Gail: Is to actually create a problem-solving solution kit or problem-solving basket. We have already had viewers tell us that they're using these out and about. You'll see lots of resources for supporting those in your viewer's guide. But this is to add a bunch of visuals about supporting problem-solving. Remember we said that one of the more difficult things for young children to do is to generate multiple solutions that are different from each other.

I do always remember when I started doing a lot of social and emotional development, problem-solving in a classroom, in my preschool classroom, I had a student in there, a child in my classroom named Freddy. I loved that. It was the only Freddy I've ever had. Freddy ran up to me on the playground and he said, "Teacher Gail, I've got a problem.” I was like, "Perfect, so excited about this problem.” I said, "What is it?” "Jordan took the ball and won't give it back.”

Now, that is a real problem that happens on a regular basis in preschool classrooms. I said, "Well, what solutions did you try?” Because we were working on solutions. He said, "I tried five.” I was so excited because that's a lot. I said, "What were they?” He said, "I said, 'Please, please, please.'"

One of the things that this problem-solving basket or solution kit can provide for young children are different solutions. You want children to understand that it's not just trying the same solution over and over again or louder. But it is actually trying different solutions, like wait and take turns, hardest solution. I think to try, make another choice, play together. We could ask an adult if it becomes a big problem.

Gail: Just take a break. Lots of things that can be in there. And check your viewer's guide out because there's lots of visuals that you could cut out and use in your own classrooms and learning settings. We're on to the next. We are going to watch one of our favorite teachers ever. Teacher Heather is going to introduce the problem-solving solution basket to preschoolers in her care. And just pay attention. What do you notice? Share those in chat as you take a look.

Heather: We've been working really hard with the problem-solving basket. I think I'm ready. I'm still mad, but I'm ready. I'm going to use that problem-solving basket you guys told me about. Is that a good idea?

Child: Yeah.

Heather: No, no, no. We got it right here. Remember, guys, we planned it this time. Oh, Eddie, hey, I just happen to have it right here. OK, wait. Here's my mad card because I need to breathe some more. I feel better now. I'm going to get one of those books you guys told me about. Teacher, will you help me? I will. It's hard for Eddie to hold the book, huh? I'm going to find an idea because that's what you guys told me last time. Find an idea in my book. And I don't have to read it, right? We have to look at it, right, Marilyn, because there's pictures, right? Pictures for Eddie. Oh, yeah, I remember. We've been practicing a long time, ever since we started school. Okay, here we go. Sharon, can I trade a block with you? Say no.

Heather: Uh-oh, she said no. I'm so disappointed. I don't know how to fix this. What should we help Eddie say? Hey, Eddie, you know what? Our class does something funny when we feel disappointed. You guys want to help him again? Ready? We say, oh, pickle. And then we try another idea. I'm going to try another idea from a different book because that book didn't have the idea I wanted. Let me see. I'm going to share. Jocelyn, can I have one of your blocks? Great, great, great. Sharon, say yes this time. Can I give you this block and you give me back my three blocks?

Saameh: Love it.

Gail: So great. Oh, pickles.

Saameh: I told you about the puppets.

Gail: Yes, exactly.

Saameh: The puppets showed up.

Gail: Exactly. Puppets are so great for supporting and role-playing social and emotional problems because you can control their —

Saameh: Totally.

Gail: I mean, in a helpful way. You can control what they're saying and experiencing, and the children can help the puppet out. It's really great.

Saameh: I love that.

Gail: She does a great job of that, and our viewers agree. They are commenting that they're loving that, and hopefully we'll share that video with others.

Saameh: I just love that. It's sort of just a way of children stepping outside of the scene and being able to see what's happening.

Gail: It’s like a little fishbowl in a way.

Saameh: When you're in it, you're feeling so many feelings, so many things happening, it's hard to use those executive functioning skills around it. You're actually developing those executive functioning skills when you're like, okay, I wonder how I can support these puppets and planning and working it out and da-da-da. It's really wonderful. It's a great way. Very powerful.

Gail: Yes. Huge puppet family.

Saameh: Yes, we can do so much.

Gail: We're going to have to have a whole episode on puppets.

Saameh: Puppet Time. Yeah, both you and I. Great. We have our S now from our BASICS, and that is specific feedback. Providing specific feedback is another way educators can support problem-solving and relationship skills, and that's naming and acknowledging when we see a child engaging and building relationships. It's really important to be specific about what you see, and we have some examples here.

Like, you're helping me put Natalie's coat on, or I saw you get a tissue for Kai, which was so kind. And I can see that you were both feeling frustrated, and let's get the solution kit and get some ideas of how we might solve the problem. Noticing and acknowledging goes a long way. It's I see you, I hear you, and right there you have buy-in. It's like, OK, let's work together. I think all of us, children, and adults alike.

Educators can provide specific feedback to a child when they see them taking turns, sharing, trying to solve problems, or helping a friend. I can see you being a helpful friend and working with Isaiah to get his mat set up for nap time. That's probably a typical one. Nap time is a big one. Setting up for nap time is a big one. That itself is a whole thing. A lot of ripe opportunities for problem-solving.

Saameh: Providing specific feedback is also a helpful teaching tool. And we might provide feedback on how to be a friend or how to solve a problem, like another one that resonates with me. I hear that you would all like a turn on the tire swing.

Gail: Oh, yes.

Saameh: Many opportunities for problem-solving with a tire swing. Very popular tire swing. Let's try using the sand timer to make sure everyone gets a turn. Or I can see that you're both feeling frustrated. Okay, we talked about this one. Let's get the solution kit. Get some ideas how we might solve the problem. Offer specific ideas of what the child might do next. Remember that how feedback is given, including what you say, how you say it, it should really be individualized to meet the learning characteristics and temperament of each child. It's not just like one size fits all model.

Gail: Absolutely. I think like the key word is the specific here in specific feedback. Because I noticed all the examples that you gave, it wasn't like, a good job. It was really specific and it didn't even have to have a praise statement. It really could just be like saying what you noticed. You got a tissue for Kai. That was so kind.

It's just labeling the behavior that they're doing can be enough to provide them specific feedback that like, wow, that was important enough for my teacher to say or my educational support person to say. Then that specific feedback about like, let's try something new. Let's try something a little bit different. Also, very helpful. It's so great.

Saameh: Yeah.

Gail: I just think it's like the S in there is really important, that specific part. I really love that. Specific. It's almost more important than the praise is the specific sort of I see you.

Saameh: Because empty praise is not necessarily the most helpful.

Gail: Yeah. That's another whole thing that we're going to talk about.

Saameh: At some point.

Gail: But we are so excited that we're going to check back into Teacher Heather's classroom and see how she provides specific feedback while helping two children solve problems. See if maybe a few know this, some of that specific feedback that she's providing.

Heather: Uh-oh. Amy and Jami, what's the problem? You're getting it to make the fort. And it looks like Amy's holding it, too. Thanks, Elina, for moving so I could get up. What are we going to do about it? You both want the same block? What are we going to do about it? How are we going to fix the problem? I'm going to hold the block for a minute while you guys help figure it out. What's your idea? You want to play with it over there. Should we find out what Jami's idea was? What was your idea, Jami? Oh, and she thinks she needs it for that building. You both need this block for two different buildings.

Do you want to look for an idea in the basket? Grab the book. See what you can come up with. There's another one over there, right? I think Amy's got the book. What are we going to do? She's looking. Let's play together. That would be building the same building together. Take a break. You just take a break from building. Wait until she's done. One more minute. She would have it for a minute and then you would have it for a minute.

You build with something else. Maybe next time. Talk to me. Elina dropped it in there. Playing together. You would build it together. Do you want to build together, Jami? Look, Amy's talking to you. Sorry, I just said it and Amy was saying it. Sorry about that, Amy. Here. Amy, you're going to help Jami build her tower. Excellent. You guys are expert problem solvers.

Gail: So great.

Saameh: Live in action.

Gail: And people are providing some feedback on that as well. I mean, she does such a great job of providing that specific feedback along the way.

Saameh: Absolutely.

Gail: Along the way, absolutely.

Saameh: We are ready to move on to our Small Change, Big Impact segment. Small Change, Big Impact, where we share how small adjustments to the way we set up our learning environment, modify our curriculum, or engage with children can make a big difference for a child's learning.

We know that children vary in their learning characteristics and how they engage with the people and materials in their learning environments. These small changes, also known as curriculum modifications, are made based on the individual needs of the child to help promote their engagement and participation. We know that when children are more engaged, they have more opportunities to learn.

Some children might need more highly individualized teaching to help them learn problem-solving, such as embedded teaching or intensive individualized teaching, making curriculum modifications based on a child's individual learning needs. This can be a great place to start to support engagement.

Gail: Absolutely. And today we are focusing on using social stories. I would be so excited to hear how our viewers are using social stories. I imagine that some people are already using these. But for those of you who might not be familiar with social stories, they are a great little curriculum modification, or not little, because they actually take a little bit of time to put in place. But they are there to support a child who might have some more specific or individualized needs to navigate a social situation or just providing them with a little bit more information as to how to navigate a social situation or a change.

These are written from a child's perspective. And this is very individualized. They have the child's picture in them often. The child's name is used in them. The social story highlights and clearly describes to a child what the most important aspects of the social situation are, like what the appropriate behavior expectations are in that situation, how people, including the child, might be feeling or what they might be thinking about in that social situation.

Social stories, hard to say, sometimes social stories can help increase a child's understanding of a social situation. It can help prepare them to use that new focus skill or focus behavior that's going to help them navigate the situation as successfully as possible. They are very effective in introducing many types of new skills and behaviors to children that might need that, again, more focused and turning the volume up, as I like to think about it, on some of the social atmosphere that might be going on for a child to help them learn.

There is a great video, if you haven't seen it yet, because we've actually shown it before. But if you haven't seen it yet, there's a great video on "Teacher Time" Community in MyPeers about how to make and how to use social stories for teaching purposes. We are going to show a video of one preschool educator using a social story to support a child in the learning environment. As we watch, share what you notice about what the teacher is using, how they're using the social story, or anything else that you notice in the Q&A.

Teacher: Andy. Andy, not a big deal, okay?

[Children shouting indistinctly]

All right, Andy, check it out. You need to keep your hands and legs to yourself.

Andy: [Inaudible]

Teacher: And a calm voice.

Andy: It's too hard.

Teacher: Can you show me a calm voice like this? Hmm? Let's do one more.

Andy: I need some help.

Teacher: Look, Andy.

Teacher: If my friends do something I don't like, I can say, "Please.”

Andy: Please.

Teacher: "Stop.”

Andy: Stop.

Teacher: And get a teacher to help me.

Teacher: Well, what do you need help with, Andy?

Andy: That.

Teacher: You can use a calm voice and say, "Please stop.”

Andy: Please stop!

Teacher: This is what we're good at, right, David?

Gail: Well, I love that. That is a real situation. There's a busy, bustling classroom going on, and that teacher still has enough organizational support going on in that classroom to be able to go over and individualize the support for that young child. They are going through a social story, which the child is referencing with the teacher support, but eventually I think the child's able to use it independently on their own.

Again, if you want to know how to create social stories, or if you want some links to social stories, check out your viewer's guide. We've got lots of links to some social stories that you can use, such as using one for Tucker Turtle. There's also that video in MyPeers about how to get those set up.

Saameh: I see somebody in the chat who speaks so much to the relationship that the child has with the teacher, which, yes, as we can see how important that is to starting out, really building that relationship so the child is trusting the teacher to support.

Gail: Absolutely. And Roxanne's comment about being very calm and listening to the child, right, it just takes me back to what you had us do at the beginning. It takes a moment.

Gail: You have to be mindful as an educator to be like, OK, there's a lot going on in the classroom. This child is really needing my support. Taking a deep breath and then walking them through it.

Gail: It's great so that you can stay calm and support them. I love it

Saameh: Very important. Throughout this webinar, as you've noticed, we have been discussing ways to foster social emotional skills for all children. Today in our Focus on Equity segment, we're going to be using our equity lens to take a closer look at implicit bias and how it impacts how we interact with children and support them in building problem-solving and relationship skills.

The value that we place on peer relationships and the way we go about building and maintaining them are influenced by our families, our culture, our community, and our experiences. And sometimes subtle biases can interfere with our ability to support and partner with children and their families with an open mind. Uncovering these biases takes time and reflection.

What you may have noticed is that we paused and we took those reflective moments throughout this webinar today for reflective practice and starting to think about the following questions. These are ones that we've gone through today here at the webinar. What value do I place on peer relationships? How do I expect peers to act with each other? How do I feel about conflict? Do I listen openly to all children when there is a problem? Is there a child that I am more likely to make negative assumptions about when a problem involves that child?

It's really to take a moment to reflect on these things throughout our day or week or in certain situations. It can be really helpful to ask a friend, colleague, or coach to video record you during a time of day where there tends to be more conflict between children and then to watch that video and notice how you respond and interact with each child involved in a conflict. This is interesting because it reminds me of a puppet thing again. It's like taking a step outside and looking at yourself from the outside.

Saameh: It's kind of hard to see your own back is what somebody told me before.

Saameh: This is a way of doing that.

Saameh: And does every child receive the support and instruction they need?

Gail: That's right.

Saameh: We're going to wrap up with our BookCASE. This month, Dr. Gail Joseph had the chance to meet with our "Teacher Time" Librarian, Emily Small.

Saameh: I'm so excited to hear about the books this month.

Gail: I got to go to the library. It's pretty fun.

Saameh: Oh, nice. Let's watch them make the CASE.

Gail: Hi, everyone. It's time for one of our favorite segments, The BookCASE. And how lucky are we to have our very own "Teacher Time" Librarian, Emily Small.

Emily Small: Thanks for having me back.

Gail: We're so excited. This is just such a treat. Emily has brought a collection of fabulous books for us to talk about. And she’s going to make the CASE for one of them. If you're new to "Teacher Time," let me just remind you what the CASE is.

The CASE really stands for an acronym for four strategies that are really helpful to help you maximize the learning you can get from children's books. C is for connect. We want to think about how we can connect the content or the characters or the story of the book to one of the ELOF outcomes. And the A is for advanced vocabulary.

We know that children love big words and finding big words in books is a great strategy to help support their growing vocabulary. S is to support their active engagement with the book reading. And E is to extend the learning beyond the book. Finding ways that you can keep that magic of the book alive. With that, tell us about the books you have.

Emily: The first one we have is "Luli and the Language of Tea.” This book just came out in 2022. It is probably one of my favorites. It features some children that don't know each other because their families are going to an English language learning class. I also feel like we don't see that very often in picture books.

Gail: I've never seen it.

Emily: Luli is trying to connect with the other children in the space. And she discovers that tea is all a part of their culture. They have a tea party. It's just a great way for kids to learn that you are connected to others. And you just have to find that connection piece.

Gail: Love that. And the illustrations look amazing.

Emily: Yes.

Gail: So engaging.

Emily: We have "Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome.” This is the third one in the "Amy Wu" series. Highly recommend them all. There's a new child in Amy's class who doesn't speak English. And Amy really wants him to feel welcome. You see the steps she takes to help the child feel welcome in class. It's a really great story.

Gail: Again, illustrations are beautiful. I don't even know this book and I want to read it.

Emily: Yes, I love how bright the colors are. Just like, yes, it draws you in immediately. We have "I Forgive Alex: A Simple Story About Understanding.” This is a wordless picture book. Wordless books are fantastic to use for all families, but especially ones where English may not be their home language because anyone can tell a story in any language with a wordless book.

Gail: That is such a great strategy to bring in.

Emily: Yeah. I'll show you some of the photos. But basically it's a story of a child that accidentally ruins another child's artwork. It's just an accident and then the steps that are taken to rekindle that friendship.

Gail: It's such a beautiful story and I love it. Without words, but you can still tell the story.

Emily: And for the CASE, we have "The Little Book of Friendship.” This book is tiny but has so much great stuff in it.

Emily: For the connection, it has really good concrete examples of how to be a good friend, how to make a friend, and then it even addresses when you're not getting along with your friends and those challenges that come up.

Gail: Which happens. A lot.

Emily: Yes, yes.

Gail: Great. Emily, for our A, our advanced vocabulary, we see words like bloom, grumpy, amazing, complimenting. We've got a lot of good emotion words.

Emily: For our supporting engagement, this book asks a lot of questions. It would be great for people to pause while they're reading, maybe write them down so kids can reference them later.

Gail: Great strategy.

Emily: Then for our extend the learning, at the beginning it talks about making a friendship garden. And you could make a friendship garden in your classroom where they all work together to build a garden. Also taking photos of your own children in the classroom so that kids can reference back to them, maybe in a photo album or posting when they're having a hard time with friends.

Gail: Such a great way to make the CASE for this book, "The Little Book of Friendship.” We hope you will find all these books at your local library.

Gail: And bring them into your classroom.

Emily: Yeah.

Gail: Thanks for being with us.

Emily: Thanks for having me.

Saameh: Awesome. That was wonderful.

Gail: It was so fun to be in our "Teacher Time" Library.

Saameh: Thank you. That's about all we have time for today.

Gail: That's it.

Saameh: And thank you so much for joining us. Join us again next month for Responding to Challenging Behavior with Infants and Toddlers. And again in May for with Preschoolers. And bye for now. Thank you so much for being here with us.

Gail: See you on MyPeers. Take care.

Children are born ready to solve problems, and they rely on supportive relationships to learn how to recognize problems and find solutions. Problem-solving involves patience, persistence, and creativity from both the child and the adults in their lives. As preschool children explore their world and engage in play with peers, challenges and conflicts provide opportunities to learn and grow. Discuss practical strategies to foster problem-solving and relationship-building skills in preschoolers.

Note: The evaluation, certificate, and engagement tools mentioned in the video were for the participants of the live webinar and are no longer available. For information about webinars that will be broadcast live soon, visit the Upcoming Events section.

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National Centers: Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning

Age Group: Preschoolers

Audience: Teachers and Caregivers

Series: Teacher Time

Last Updated: September 26, 2023

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Don’t Let Gen AI Limit Your Team’s Creativity

what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

Treat it as a partner in a structured conversation.

No one doubts ChatGPT’s ability to generate lots of ideas. But are those ideas any good? A recent real-world experiment showed that teams engaged in a creative problem-solving task saw only modest gains from AI assistance for the most part—and some underperformed. Surveys conducted before and after the exercise showed that the teams using AI gained far more confidence in their problem-solving abilities than the others did, but that much of their confidence was misplaced.

But don’t blame the technology, says Kian Gohar, CEO of the leadership-development firm GeoLab and one of the study’s authors. “Brainstorming with generative AI requires rethinking your ideation workflow and learning new skills,” Gohar says. This article offers guidance for approaching the exercise as a structured, ongoing conversation, opening up a staggering capacity to develop better and more-creative ideas faster.

No one doubts ChatGPT’s ability to generate lots of ideas. But are those ideas any good? In a recent real-world experiment, teams engaged in a creative problem-solving task saw modest gains from AI assistance for the most part—and some underperformed. Don’t blame the technology, says Kian Gohar, CEO of the leadership-development firm GeoLab and one of the study’s authors. Common misconceptions about generative AI, problem-solving, and the creative process are causing workers and their managers to use the tools improperly, sometimes leaving them worse off than if they’d proceeded without AI input.

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  1. problem solving skills activities for toddlers

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  2. How to Teach Problem-Solving to Kids (by age)

    what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

  3. What Is Problem-Solving? Steps, Processes, Exercises to do it Right

    what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

  4. The Ultimate List of Creative Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

    what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

  5. Problem Solving Skills To Teach Children

    what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

  6. Turn Playtime into a Brain-Boosting Adventure: Exciting Problem-Solving

    what are some problem solving techniques toddlers use

VIDEO

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  2. PROBLEM (solving) CHILD

  3. Problem-Solving With My Elementary Students

  4. Challenging Math Olympiad Problem from Germany: Can You Crack It?

  5. A nice Algebraic Equation

  6. problem Solving Skills

COMMENTS

  1. 15 Powerful Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

    Puzzles. Puzzles are fun and a great way to encourage cognitive development in children. They are great for spacial reasoning and strengthening problem-solving skills. They also develop memory skills, critical thinking, and the ability to plan and execute the plan. Toddlers will enjoy the simple puzzles, and preschoolers will do great with ...

  2. The Ultimate List of Creative Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

    Make way for your little creative thinker! Overcoming obstacles in clever ways is what your little one does best. These clever ways are not always verbal (especially at a younger age), it is important to practice nonverbal problem solving activities. So, what will your baby's creative problem solving abilities look like?

  3. 17 Valuable Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

    This is an excellent way of developing problem-solving skills using simple games and even small objects. Use chocolate chips and cheerios to create a pattern. ... In all seriousness, your toddler can learn some great problem-solving skills by playing this game with you their siblings or friends. #10 Grouping Activities.

  4. 13 Problem-Solving Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers

    A few problem-solving skills are analytical thinking, logical reasoning, lateral thinking, creativity, initiative, persistence, negotiation, listening skills, cognitive skills, math skills, and decision-making. Good communication skills are also important as they improve the self-esteem of your child.

  5. Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

    1. Building a maze Building a maze is fun outside and one of the best activities for 2-year-old toddlers. Since toddlers can't yet do a maze in an activity book, this is a great way to use their problem solving and navigation skills. Draw a big maze on the pavement with sidewalk chalk. Then, make passages, including a few that end in a dead-end.

  6. 8 Engaging Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

    The problem solving activities for toddlers listed below is a great place to start! While this skill can be learned during free play, children will develop even stronger problem-solving skills if you encourage this type of thinking and reasoning during certain activities. Strategies For Parents, Caregivers, or Teachers: 1. Model problem solving ...

  7. 25 Engaging Toddler Problem-Solving Activities

    Puzzle Time: Offer age-appropriate puzzles for toddlers to solve, encouraging them to match shapes or complete pictures. Block Tower Challenge: Challenge toddlers to build a tower using blocks without it toppling over. These GIANT blocks are so much fun!

  8. Problem-solving and Relationship Skills with Infants and Toddlers

    Problem-solving is hard work as we know, and educators can help toddlers use the problem-solving steps in the moment by first being proactive and anticipating social conflicts before they happen. This might be being close, as we see in this picture on the right, that the educator is close to the child, supporting her through this interaction.

  9. Developing Thinking Skills from 12-24 Months

    Help your toddler become a good problem-solver. Toddlers can use their thinking and physical skills to solve complex problems by creating and acting on a plan to reach a goal. For example, if they see a toy out of reach, they might climb on a child-safe stool to get it. Or, they might take your hand, walk you to the shelf, and point to what ...

  10. Seven Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

    For three-year-olds, a tower of six or more blocks is the expected milestone. That's because building anything, even a simple block tower, is a true problem-solving challenge for toddlers. Blocks, train sets, and other building toys let your child work out how to balance, fit pieces together, and deal with frustration as they learn to master ...

  11. Problem Solving with Others

    STRATEGY LIBRARY Social Problem Solving With Toddlers In this short series of lesson, you'll learn three simple steps to help toddlers engaging in social problem solving. With your support, young children can develop the social, emotional and language skills they need to engage in positive play experiences. Review this strategy TRAUMA-INFORMED CARE

  12. Seven Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

    The ability to build a block tower of four or more blocks is actually considered a cognitive milestone for two-year-olds. For three-year-olds, a tower of six or more blocks is the expected milestone. That's because building anything, even a simple block tower, is a true problem-solving challenge for toddlers.

  13. 10 Simple Activities to Teach Your Preschooler Problem Solving

    Lateral thinking Creativity Analytical thinking Decision-making skills Initiative Logical reasoning Persistence 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.

  14. How to encourage problem-solving skills in toddlers and young children

    Play is the most natural way to encourage problem-solving skills in toddlers and young children. By giving young kids plenty of time for free play, they will inevitably create and solve many different problems on their own, or with siblings and friends.

  15. Problem Solving with Little Learners (preschool, pre-k, and

    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 ...

  16. How to Strengthen Your Preschooler's Problem-Solving Skills

    Identify the problem. Brainstorm solutions to the problem. Choose and implement one of the solutions. Evaluate how that solution resolved the problem. Following this four-step guideline can help the adults in a preschooler's life address how a child acquires problem-solving techniques to help them navigate through the difficult and everyday ...

  17. Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

    Your child works on skills such as adaptability, creativity, resourcefulness, critical thinking, active listening, decision making, and even vulnerability. Problem solving activities can be more than some of the immediate things that come to mind. You may immediately think of math problems or hypothetical situations that they could solve.

  18. 44 Powerful Problem Solving Activities for Kids

    Email Inside: Tons of activities that will help boost kids' problem-solving skills and make them super critical thinkers! Table of Contents Who doesn't love a little challenge now and then? Especially if it's for our kiddos! You see, problem-solving isn't just for the puzzles and math sheets.

  19. How to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills

    Importance Steps to Follow Practice 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.

  20. Problem Solving for Preschoolers: 9 Ways to Strengthen Their Skills

    Rasmussen University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an institutional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. We highlight 9 proven approaches for building your preschoolers' problem solving skills.

  21. Problem Solving Activities for Preschoolers

    Here are 3 Simple Ways to Teach Preschoolers to Solve Problems. 1.Teaching executive functioning and problem solving skills in everyday situations will support the growth of a child's prefrontal cortex. For example, these activities that teach executive functioning at the beach show how much thought and preparation goes into building a simple ...

  22. 6 Effective Strategies to Promote Problem-Solving Skills in Young Children

    1. Encourage exploration and experimentation Young children are naturally curious and love to explore their surroundings. Encourage this natural curiosity by providing opportunities for your child to experiment with different materials and objects.

  23. Problem-solving and Relationship Skills in Preschool

    Last but not least, when children do problem-solving, find some way to celebrate that. It might be a thumbs-up. ... As we saw, Dr. Fettig outlines four important steps to go through with preschool children to help teach problem-solving skills. First of all, helping children identify what the problem is in the first place. Next, inviting ...

  24. Don't Let Gen AI Limit Your Team's Creativity

    Summary. No one doubts ChatGPT's ability to generate lots of ideas. But are those ideas any good? A recent real-world experiment showed that teams engaged in a creative problem-solving task saw ...