Children learn while doing. Their hands and brains are so connected at this early age and when the two are working in concert, children are learning so much!
Problem solving and critical thinking are very important life skills. The question is “How do we teach young children this set of skills?” While there are plenty of books and websites out there with detailed activities, children learn these skills best when doing normal daily routines.
Children who are as young as one are ready to learn critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Here’s What I Did:
In Kindergarten we were just finishing an activity and getting ready to put our materials away. As I was giving the directions on where things go, I noticed that children weren’t really in a mood to listen. They had a small white tray and about 100 pieces to put away. So, I told them they were to pick up the pieces without using their hands. Immediately children started practicing how to pick up the pieces with their elbows. Nobody thought of using the trays.
With what I saw, I then added they couldn’t use any part of their arms to pick up the pieces. This time, people started saying it was going to be impossible to do this. Now, most 5 and 6 year olds would rather eat their vegetables than admit they couldn’t do a particular task and this time was no different. The room went silent and the thinking and problem solving kicked into high gear. When this happens, I know I’ve hit a home run because children are too busy to do anything else except think.
Again true to this age group, people were working individually until one child wanted to work cooperatively. This child was going from student to student checking in to see if anybody wanted to work together. I watched every child say “No.” and then I offered to work together. This independent working isn’t surprising, mean spirited or anything else. Children at this age have so many ideas and they are not ready to negotiate; that’s the reason every child gets their own set of materials.
This child’s idea was for us to push our trays together so we could scoop up as many pieces as possible. While we were working together, the other children stopped long enough to watch what we were doing and I heard the most amazing thing: “I never thought of that!” With that, everyone was ready to work together and the job got done so much more quickly.
I know some people might say “Big deal!” and discount the idea. In my world, this was huge! Children are growing up to a world that will require the ability to think, solve problems, and communicate more so than any single academic skill. The only way (and I do mean the only way) children will become competent at these skills is through practice, practice, and even more practice. So, before you solve your child’s problem or tell them how to do a task, take a deep breath and ask “How are you going to solve your problem?” or “How are you going to clean the garage?” Give them the time they need to think and solve their problem. You just might be surprised by their responses!