By Cathy Saunders, Director of Education, Providence Children’s Museum
As summer winds down and parents start to think about preparing for the school year, it’s easy to get caught up.
At the Children’s Museum, we’ve been thinking about problem solving a lot lately. We’ve looked at the obvious connections between the playful learning experiences we try to foster and some of the formal educational standards. Problem solving is a foundational skill that appears in the RI Early Learning Development Standards, Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards and is something that we have a lot of fun with.
How do you know when your child is exercising problem-solving skills? There are times that seem obvious – she completes a complicated puzzle or negotiates taking turns with a friend. But sometimes it can be easy to miss moments where a child is building his problem-solving tool kit.
Here are some of the things we look for and celebrate:
- Asking questions can indicate thinking process. Questions and wondering signify curiosity and interest. A “What happens if…?” shows planning for investigation.
- When a child uses descriptive language she is using observation skills and trying to connect meaning between vocabulary and her observations. This is true of a toddler discovering that a ball is “round” and “big” or a 9-year-old describing the same ball as “a sphere” and “the size of my hand.”
- Seeking peer support is evidence of a child trying to figure something out; she is looking for assistance and negotiating a social relationship.
- Stick-to-itiveness. It takes persistence to find solutions through trial and error. Each time he tries he is gaining new information about what works and what doesn’t.
And these are some ways we like to spur children’s problem solving:
- Ask open-ended questions – you know, those questions that don’t have a “yes” or “no” answer and that need to be answered with descriptive language.
- Offer just enough support – give a hint or stabilize a wobbly piece.
- Invite children to problem solve with you. Ask them for their ideas and solutions when puzzling something out.
- Problem solve out loud. How are children going to know how much problem solving we do on a minute-by-minute basis unless we clue them in? They need to hear us reason things out and think things through.
Problem solving opportunities occur throughout the day – when getting ready for school, making a meal, playing… Seize the opportunity in those small moments to notice and encourage your child’s innate ability to use logical thinking to reason things out.