There are so many opportunities for young children to practice their problem-solving skills throughout each day, but so often the adults in their world take away these chances by simply being helpful and supportive. Like any skill, learning and becoming proficient takes time and practice, success and failure! Based on Garth Sundem, author of Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Character: Choices That Matter Around the World, children need time, experience and a quiet mind (turning off the noise around them) to become good problem solvers. Here are some ideas to honor the struggle and help build capacity for problem solving with our youngest learners.
Provide fewer supplies on the table than needed for the number of students. Stand back and see what your students do when they realize they don’t have enough of something. Most likely, they will look to an adult to help them problem solve. Honor their struggle – see if they can figure out a solution. It will be a brilliant, original idea to solve the problem. Let them try – it may or may not work out the way they had planned, may take more time and energy, but they will solve the problem!
Purposely set up odd number of groupings of students (I prefer three) that have very different styles and personalities for a group project (i.e.: three leaders, three followers, three quiet students, three with high cognitive skills, etc.). Stand back and see what happens; let conflict arise and see who starts to problem solve. You may be amazed at what happens. Again, try not to intervene with adult suggestions. If it is just not working out and they are not moving forward, provide three different ideas for them to try. Let them choose and try it out.
Create an area where it is a little congested. See what the students do when they are unable to walk, sit, or play in an area because there are too many people. Are they able to figure out they need to take turns, move their work to another area, move to the right or left, make a bigger circle, etc. Honor their struggle and see what they do.
Use teachable moments every day to practice problem solving. Verbalize that there is a problem and let the students suggest ways to solve it. Try out ones that you know will not work and solicit another way to solve the problem. The more opportunities they have to practice, the more proficient they will be.
It is natural to step in as the adult and help our students problem solve, but when we do that we are telling the child or children that they are not capable of solving their own problem and that they need an adult to help them. Most of the time, we just have not given them enough time to figure it out on their own. We do not like to see our students struggle, but we need to realize that by taking away opportunities to practice, fail and succeed, we stunt their skill set. So – honor the struggle and you will see your little people solving problems on their own!
The link to the TACSEI website will provide you with Make and Take templates for Problem Solving: http://challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/communities/make_n_take/make_n_take_home.html