Problem solving.

Over the last few weeks I have been observing the children in my care a little more closely than I usually do. I was looking for something to write about in this blog.

As I was watching the children play outside in our large sandbox, I soon realized that there is a whole lot of problem solving going on. I do of course realize that a large part of growing up is solving problems, in order to move forward and grow, both mentally and physically, but I don’t think that I had quite realized just how much problem solving there really was going on!

A lot of the time, we adults just act without thinking about what we are doing or why we are doing what we are doing. When a child asks us for help we are quick to do for the children what they need to figure out for themselves, not because we do not care, but because it is quicker or because we are tired and don’t want to deal with problem solving ourselves.

Oh no, the wagon wheel is stuck! How do we get it unstuck?

Oh no, the wagon wheel is stuck! How do we get it unstuck?

My first observation in our sandbox was a 3-year-old boy on a tricycle who pretended to be stuck, and who wanted me to come to his rescue. We have a concrete path that goes all the way around our very large sandbox, on which the children ride their tricycles, run or walk. We call this path the sidewalk. The boy had managed to get one of the tricycle wheels stuck between the sidewalk and the sand. My first impulse was to go over to him and lift him and his tricycle back up on the sidewalk, problem solved, quickly! Then I paused and thought to myself, no I will try something else. I asked the boy what he could do to get back up onto the sidewalk himself. He just shrugged his shoulders and told me that he didn’t know what to do. I was not convinced that he had even stopped to consider any options at all in that short time of space. I waited, giving him some more time to think about his problem and then I wondered out loud what could be done to solve his dilemma. By this time, several other children had gathered around us, curious to see what was going on. I explained what the problem was and asked them if they had any ideas on how to help our friend.

How can I get my trucks unstuck? Perhaps a bucket and a shovel will help?

How can I get my trucks unstuck? Perhaps a bucket and a shovel will help?

After some serious contemplation, several suggestions were offered: “We can put the tricycle back on the sidewalk”. “We can push the tricycle back up onto the sidewalk”. “I think that he (the boy on the trike) should get off first”. During the discussion I had taken a step back, both to observe the situation but also not to interfere with their young minds in problem solving mode. Before long, both tricycle and boy were back on the sidewalk again. Now the boy pretended to get stuck every 10 feet or so! When he asked me for help, I just smiled at him and said “What shall we do?”, and several children would offer both advice and help. All of a sudden, toy trucks and toy wagons had their wheels stuck in the sand and needed rescuing! Children’s feet got buried and needed digging up!

Where is that cup?

Where is that cup?


Buckets from our outdoor kitchen were lost and needed finding! There were problems everywhere and the children were eager to find solutions to them all!

Another day, again in our great sandbox, our director had put several tree stumps in the sand, for the children to climb and balance on. One of my 2-year old students loves these tree stumps! He is very agile, very determined and unafraid. As soon as we go outside he runs to these tree stumps, to climb and balance on them. Two of the stumps were positioned a little farther apart from each other than the rest, so my young friend was not able to walk from one to the other.

Balancing on tree stumps.

Balancing on tree stumps.

He reached for my hand, to help him. With my help, he was now able to jump from one stump to the other, with great delight, I may add. I was a bit concerned about his safety, knowing that he was going to try to jump between the stumps without adult supervision, as soon as I turned my back to him, something that was unknown to him, beyond his capabilities. The next time the boy reached for my hand I told him that he should try it on his own. I stayed nearby to observe him and to make sure that he didn’t jump on his own. When the boy got to the gap in the stumps he stopped and tried several tactics. He somehow realized that he was not going to be able to just walk across. He tried to touch the stump with his tippy toes. He got off the stump and into the sandbox and climbed up onto the next stump. He tried crawling across. Once he had tried all these techniques, he was able to reach his leg far enough in front of himself that he only needed to make a small jump to get to the other side. Problem solved. Success!

Jump for joy - the problem is solved!

Jump for joy – the problem is solved!

Children are natural problem solvers. By giving them time and opportunity to solve their own problems we are actually helping them to grow. Children’s ability to do things for themselves will give them the self-confidence that they need in order to tackle bigger and more complex problems all throughout their lives. We all have to start out small and build on what knowledge we have. Our job as adults is to help children become independent and we can do this by helping them feel competent and confident that there is a solution to their problem and that we are confident in them that they can find this solution for themselves. Of course, from time to time, we can all use a little help from our friends.

– Miss Maria, Teacher for the 2’s Class.


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