I don’t know about you, but the quest for those coveted preschool problem solving skills has had me scratching my head on more occasion than one.
My little babe just learned to write (read: scribble) his name and I’m supposed to equip him with these magical abilities to assure that one day he is a contributor in solving the world’s ills? That’s heavy.
When I began reading up on problem solving activities, I ran into many a doomsday prophecy that insisted our kids are basically a bunch of dunces running around like headless chickens.
After more research (and yes, a soothing pint of ice cream), I realized that problem solving is nothing more than marrying a whole heck of a lot of creativity with the ability to persevere.
In those terms, I thought to myself, “Oh, my kid can do that!” The former (creativity) is the stuff that preschoolers are made of — that and a never-ending supply of energy.
The latter (the ability to persevere), is integral in problem solving and can be built up with practice. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), all that practice — dressed up as play) — will allow our little ones to become resilient, and plow on with difficult challenges.
The following problem solving activities satisfy the creativity-preseverence quest all while being unbelievably cool and incredibly fun. Enjoy!
1. Surprise Box Engineering Challenge
Every holiday season your wallet gives a resigned sigh at the thought of being emptied out for a toy that your preschooler will neglect a week later. “But this one will make my child a genius!” you assure yourself.
Guess What? No toy will make your child a genius.
Here’s the good news: creating fun everyday scenarios like this engineering box building challenge will get your child to think outside the box. Incidentally, by taking stock of what’s inside this box.
Take a small box (a shoebox will do) and fill it with clothespins, plastic cups and popsicle sticks. Use anything you have lying around that will provide some structural integrity to a building.
Prompt your child to create on. Build parallel to her to inspire her (or to show her what she can do with those clothespins). No pressure!
2. Ramp to a Certain Distance
When my little guy was 10 months old, his fascination with slides foreshadowed his love for creating ramps out of every material imaginable.
My delight in him preferring ramps (instead of forcefully thrusting himself over the highest possible slide) is twofold: 1) that reflex where my heart plunges into the depths of my stomach (out of crazy fear) is given a break and 2) building with ramps is one of the best ways for my kid to learn to solve problems.
It’s never by luck that a child will get a ball, car or marble to its desired destination. It takes a lot of ingenuity and a ton of trial and error.
Have your preschooler find household items to get an object from one elevated point to a second destination.
Hard cover books create great inclines in case you don’t have any specific ramping materials. Hollow pool noodles (split in two) work wonderfully too.
When your child has managed a direct, linear ramping path, add a bend in there — those are really tough (but unbelievably awesome) to navigate!
Mark the finish line clearly so the proper victory dance can be performed on cue.
3. Make bubble shapes
Bubbles are cool enough left alone but can be taken to the next level with this set-up.
The Problem to be solved: which wand shape makes the biggest, toughest bubbles?
All you’ll need here is a bit of the Super Mega Big Bubble solution and pipe cleaners.
The pipe cleaners will serve as your bubble wands. Fashion those wiry things into various shapes to see which ones hold up best in the bubble-making process. Get your child to make heart, square, triangle, or blob-shaped bubble wands.
Which shapes perform best? Do the bubbles retain their intended form?
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4. The “Don’t Touch the Hot Lava Ground!” Game
This one will be fun for both you and your daring adventurer. You may have to hold back some amused laughs in the name of helping your child persevere. Be civil here!
The game is simple: challenge your child to get across a room without touching the floor. Because the ground is made of hot lava — duh!
They may jump to any point, propel off of anything, or use any object as a maneuvering device.
If they touch the ground, er hot lava, they have to start again.
5. Build the tallest building
Since my youngest first learned to walk, not a day goes by that he doesn’t mosey his cute little butt over to the fridge. Not to snack away, but to build.
Our mini engineer pulls out as many condiments as he can manage, and stacks away.
The glee in his eyes is second to none, but my cherubic little darling grows especially frustrated with the olive jar as the lids are too slick and don’t properly support anything. Even with this minor setback, this is his favorite game.
In the same vein — hopefully without olive jars — you can have your more sophisticated engineer build as high as possible using absolutely any and every building toy she has in her arsenal. No building toys? What else is stackable around your home?
6. Aluminum foil boats
Have your child transport small objects across a sea of water (in a bathtub, pool or any a large container).
The way this problem solving activity works is this:
Give your child several aluminum squares (make them a manageable size — like the size of a half sheet of paper). Then, provide your preschooler with small objects (a stack of coins works well) and challenge her to build a vessel strong enough to transport the desired cargo. Start small and work up.
When your child has this aluminum foil boat thing down, add more building materials into the mix to hold greater quantities of stuff.
7. Literature based problem solving
One of the best ways to see the true wonderment of a preschooler’s imagination is by prompting them with a story.
As you read, ask your child, “What would you do instead?”
This works great for two reasons: 1) if a problem solving idea has been presented, your child can easily expand on it to come up with a more thorough solution and 2) your child can use prior experience to show off her expertise in a situation.
My favorite story to use for literature-based problem solving is The Big Turnip.
I checked and there are various versions of this title to choose from. All of them involve some superlative meaning big in the title, like “enormous” or “gigantic.” Each features the same predicament.
The problem is that a turnip has grown in somebody’s garden that is really much too big to pull out.
The story characters each present their own kooky solutions. Each retelling of this tale involves scenarios more outrageous than the last. Your child will giggle away all while exercising those fine-tuned preschool problem solving skills to come up with her own solution.