Being able to solve problems independently is an essential ready-for-school skill. As a parent, it is easy (and almost always quicker) to solve problems for your child. However, giving your child enough uninterrupted time to figure things out independently or with light intervention is an important skill for success in school and life.
Here are some scenarios that a preschooler may face and be able to solve independently, given minimal guidance, freedom, and time:
- Juan has been asked to put his bike away, but he can’t seem to get it to fit in the already full storage shed. He pushes other things around, but there still isn’t enough space.
- Stephanie wants to make her own peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but the bread tears every time she tries to spread it.
- Darryl wants a toy he saw at the store, but his mom says he will have to save up the money himself.
See situations like these for the rich learning opportunities that they are - if you provide your preschooler with the know-how needed to solve them.
Step-by-Step: Teaching Children How to Plan & Implement Solutions
Be a Problem-Solving Role Model
- Understanding the problem: When your child is facing a challenge, allow him plenty of time to explore the problem in depth. Don’t rush in with your own solution too quickly. Instead, let him consider causes of the problem and how those might be clues to fixing it.
- Planning solutions: To spark creative thinking, ask your child open-ended questions vs. “yes-no” questions: “What could you do to make this solution work?” or “What other things can you think of?” There are no bad ideas - so keep the conversation up-beat and supportive.
- Carrying out the plan: Enthusiastic explorers, many children will want to quickly try out their solutions. The resulting trial and error learning is invaluable. Even though you know an idea won’t work, it’s important for your child to see that for herself.
- Reviewing the solution: Assist the learning process by reflecting together on what was tried and how the solution came to be. It is equally important to reflect on both what didn't work and what did work. “Which worked better to spread the peanut butter, the plastic knife or the metal knife?” “Did you notice a difference between the white bread and the wheat bread?” At the same time, don’t ask too many questions. If your child is ready to move on to a new challenge, allow him to do that. The whole problem-solving process may just take a matter of minutes, or it could take quite a bit longer depending on the scenario, your child’s interest in the problem, and the time available.
Model the process above as you tackle your own challenges. Discuss your process as you move from problem discovery to successful solution. Keep your thinking fluid and flexible, communication open, and attitude positive. The lesson you’re teaching your child will be memorable and imitated!