Today I reveal how I discovered the best preschool problem solving strategies for my child.
Once upon a time when I had time for myself, I decided to spend time catching up with the world.
After wasting two hours reading celebrity nonsense and drooling over recipes I would never make, I decided to be productive instead.
At this point, I began looking for which preschool-type would put my little one on the path to becoming a certified whiz (those strategies are coming — wait!).
That’s when I came across the preferred preschool type for some innovative and trailblazing folks.
After reading on about this method, I found that the creative peeps at some tech company love this school-type because it emphasizes problem solving and independence.
“Sign us up for that!” I thought.
Next came the blackout and the revelation:
After seeing the price for this popular method, I came to on my couch with magnetic cars resting on my hips.
After realizing I hadn’t hallucinated… I decided to try out for myself the strategies that churn out such smart preschoolers.
Yes, you can pay a pretty price to have someone else take on this challenge. But if you can do it yourself, why would you?
From me to you: the best preschool problem solving strategies — free, tested by my preschool cuties and tailored for home use.
1. Let them do it
First step to helping your child problem-solve is to admit you have a problem.
We’re all guilty of opening that water bottle, zipping up that tricky jacket and fastening that lunchbox the right way. Stop it.
We do it because we love to nurture. And gosh darn it if it doesn’t save us ten minutes of “But it’s too hard!” moaning.
Stop because you are robbing your kid of meaningful and organic problem solving opportunities.
Fastening a lunch box? Yes. It’s not a problem for you but it is a small one for them.
When your little one begins to wear you down with an “I don’t know how!” patiently instruct them on how to proceed and reassure them you believe in them.
When they realize they can tackle little challenges, they will confidently take on big ones.
2. Create a meaningful mantra
Along with letting them try things on their own, give them a little something to boost their spirits when they’re down in the problem solving dumps.
Try, “Every problem has a solution” or “I can do this!”
This type of positive thinking doesn’t sell millions of books a year for nothin’!
You’ll find that instead of storming out when something hard presents itself, they’ll stop to pep-think themselves up to any problem (after much, much practice).
3. Model perseverance
The key to solving problems is to be able to fail. And then fail again. And then keep at it.
The best way for your child to learn how to persevere is to see it done first.
You are your preschooler’s first and most valuable teacher. Teach them about perseverance. This is not only a great preschool problem solving strategy, but a great lifelong skill too.
When a problem arises, push on and solve it.
Say you’ve run out of gas in the middle of the highway (I knew of someone to whom this happened *wink), narrate your thought process as you persevere to find the most efficient solution.
Whatever you are feeling (frustration, sadness, or fear) during these moments, it helps your child realize that when he feels the same when facing challenges, it’s normal.
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4. Problem solve along with your kid
You’ve modeled how to be awesome, help your kid do the same.
When he comes up against a challenge that he can easily take on (e.g. that toy he won at the arcade — that you knew he would lose — is lost in the couch cushion abyss), think it out.
Ask, “What do you think we should do?”
Try out his theories with him. Don’t shoot anything down. You are there to be a problem-solving facilitator and to witness and celebrate his successes.
5. Encourage research
When your kid inquires about how you can tell an alligator from a crocodile, instead of going for the oft used “Ask your dad,” or the more practical, “Ask your teacher!” try to find the answer alongside her.
Researching is a form of problem solving and encourages your child to nurture her curiosity about her world.
Where might you find out about crocodiles and alligators? How will you prove that what you read or see is correct?
Teach your preschooler that it’s fun to not only wonder but to figure out answers as well.
6. Encourage play
You already know that if your preschooler could, she would do nothing but play outside all day. The classroom? “Gross — forget that!” you can hear her say.
Play, apparently, is where it’s at.
Researchers in Canada found that play (like the type that is done outside with friends) activates the entire neocortex in the brain. That’s the part that does the important stuff, like thinking and problem solving.
To further support their claim that play helps with the type of thinking necessary for school success, the study cites academically successful countries. There, more recess means higher test scores.
I mean, what else are those preschool dears doing when reaching the tops of trees, making it across the monkey bars without falling, or winning the hide-and-seek wars, if not solving problems?
7. Ask a friend
This one doesn’t seem like it fits in with the rest, but it’s incredibly important. When you teach your child to ask a friend (another preschooler or child of any age), you are asking them to use a precious and ready resource.
When your child can’t complete a preschool task on her own (like tying her shoes), asking a friend may provide her with an explanation suited to her way of thinking.
Collaboration is a lifelong skill and an integral one for tackling many problems. Two preschool heads are definitely better than one.
8. Use the environment as a third teacher
“What the what?” was my reaction when I first came across this brilliant advice.
The environment teacher is a quizzical term for two things. First, it means letting your child be inspired to wonder and ask about her immediate environment.
Second, it simply means organizing your child’s space in a problem-solving-friendly way.
To be clearer: keep open-ended materials around that your child can use to build sturdier buildings, or create contraptions to fulfill various needs.
There are a slew of really cool (and really expensive toys) that can serve this purpose, but open-ended materials can be bought anywhere.
Here are some easy-to-find preschool problem solving bits that will inspire your little thinker: pipe cleaners, all-purpose glue, tongue depressors, construction paper, clothespins and paper cups.
I know that these materials aren’t always cheap (especially when your preschooler goes through glue like water), but if your child learns to find multiple uses for just one thing, you’re getting the best bargain.