Ten of our favourite early years problem-solving activities
A lot of the time when we hear the term ‘problem-solving’, our brain jumps back to the tricky maths teasers from our school days, and we immediately recoil a little. However, problem-solving is much more than number conundrums.
Problem-solving is a key part of early years development and can support learning across many of the My First Five Years streams. The skill of problem-solving starts developing very early in a child's life and stems from the knowledge of the world that they are constantly building.. For instance, your baby may cry when hungry as they know that crying gets the attention of an adult who can feed them.
Problem-solving is a part of everyday life for children, from being a baby through to their future adulthood. When children learn how to solve problems, it can support them in building resilience, self-confidence and self-esteem. Taking part in problem-solving activities with others can also help children develop social skills, communication and relationships.
Psychologist Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development also focuses on the importance of problem-solving for early childhood development. In each developmental stage of his theory, the psychologist emphasised the importance of play-based learning for young children when it comes to problem-solving, and in turn building skills across the spectrum.
When thinking about problem-solving activities for your child, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
To keep children engaged, enabling them to take the lead and follow their interests, is key. Play-based, hands-on learning makes acquiring new skills more interesting and memorable for young children.
Many activities can support children when developing their problem-solving abilities – the possibilities are wide open. When considering which problem-solving activities are the most effective, it is also important to consider how they can be adapted to multiple interests, abilities and how accessible they are when it comes to using resources and materials.
To help you out, here are ten of My First Five Years’ favourite problem-solving activities that you can try with your child.
Den-building is brilliant for problem-solving as it requires creative and critical-thinking, foresight, and planning. It is also a wonderful way to promote sustained shared thinking with your child. Sustained shared thinking is a way of working together that encourages individuals to evaluate the problem that they are working on and is focused on collaboration, using experiences and prior knowledge.
When building a den with your child, encourage your child to take the lead. You could provide materials such as boxes and blankets, or you could even ask your child to decide what materials you need before starting, encouraging them to plan out their work. Den-building can also be done both indoors and outdoors and with children from a young age. You may find that people have already started creating these in your local woodland that you can add to, adapt, or just enjoy!
2) Cooking and baking
Cooking and baking are not only fun activities, but they also focus on mathematical problem-solving. To bring problem-solving into a cooking and baking activity, you can ask your child to count out simple measurements, for instance, cups of flour or sugar. Activities like cooking or baking are great for children to be able to take ownership of what is happening; encourage them to choose what you will make and allow them to do all the elements themselves.
What’s great about cooking is it really doesn't matter how it turns out! Problems can arise often in cooking or baking, for example, the mixture may turn out too dry, you may be an ingredient short, or your cakes might not rise how you expected them to. If this is the case, talk to your child about what might have gone wrong and how you can rectify it next time! Then when they come to do it again, they can use their prior knowledge to help them.
3) Playing with patterns
Patterns are a great activity for mathematical problem-solving. You can create patterns of any objects that you can find! For example, with pieces of fruit, pebbles from the garden, building blocks or even snacks! You could encourage your child to continue patterns, fill in the missing pieces or even create their own for you to solve problems with as they grow more confident.
4) Sorting and categorising
Sorting and categorising objects is an activity that supports children in mathematical problem - solving and can be easily adapted to individual children’s abilities . You could encourage your child to sort by shape, size, colour, or better yet , their interests . For example, if they are a dinosaur enthusiast, they could classify them by wh ich is their favourite or least favourite , or order them by the size of their feet. They may even find enjoyment in helping you with daily sorting such as recycling or washing!
Puzzles are a fun resource that can be used with children from a very young age. There are a wide variety of puzzles for children to access , such as chunky wooden puzzles or traditional shape sorters. When playing with puzzles, children will have to use their prior knowledge and experience of shape, space and measure whil e also experimenting with different angles and placements. They will use trial and error to find the best way to complete the puzzle and then will use this knowledge in future attempts.
6) Ice rescue
As well as being a great problem-solving activity, ice rescue enables children to explore seasonal changes, temperatures and develop their fine and gross motor skills using tools. To play ice rescue, freeze toys inside ice overnight. This could be in cake moulds or small bowls. Use toys that will motivate your child, for instance, their favourite small figurines.
Once frozen, place your blocks of ice in a big bowl or tray, and encourage your child to think about how they can get the items out. You could provide tools, or even get your child to find tools themselves.
7) Obstacle courses
Obstacle courses are versatile and can be made with a wide variety of resources. When setting up an obstacle course for your child, try to include sections where your child will have to stop and think about how they will have to adapt their body to move through it , for example, something that they must climb over or under, or a section where they have to move differently. You could even include them in trying to create the obstacle course and allow them to make it the most challenging they can.
8) Filling, emptying and investigation
Many children enjoy filling and emptying during play. Investigating this way helps children to get a sense of size, capacity and explore predicting and estimation. For instance, if your child likes playing with sand, you could ask them to guess how many scoops they will need to fill a container, or if they like water play you could challenge them to find a way to move the water between two containers as quickly as possible , or from one tray to another.
9) Story problems
Stories are an effective way of introducing problem-solving and they can be a highly engaging way to promote creative and critical-thinking. You could use familiar or traditional stories to help scaffold play opportunities for your child. For example, you could try building a house for the three little pigs that cannot be knocked over. You could test out different methods using materials that you can find around your home.
If you are feeling creative, you could also make up a little story using your child’s favourite toys. An example of this could be figuring out how to share food between their favourite teddies during a picnic and making sure that everyone gets enough.
10) Playing with loose parts or open-ended resources
Natural materials such as leaves, conkers, sticks, acorns, and pinecones are all brilliant open-ended play opportunities (if supervised). You can also use household objects like bottle caps, curtain rings, tubes, tins, boxes, buttons etcetera in this sort of play. All it requires is a tray of different objects that you've collected and time to explore them. Your child will have to think creatively about how to utilise the objects and in doing so will be challenging their cognitive capacity by problem-solving to achieve the desired outcomes.
 Rachel Keen. (2011). The Development of Problem Solving in Young Children: A Critical Cognitive Skill. Available: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.psych.031809.130730#_i22 .
 Sheila Ebbutt. (2009). EYFS best practice - All about ... problem-solving . Available: https://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/features/article/eyfs-best-practice-all-about-problem-solving .
 Piaget, J. (1983). Piaget's Theory. In P. Mussen (ed). Handbook of Child Psychology. 4th edition. Vol. 1. New York: Wiley.
 Unicef. (2018). Learning Through Play. Available: https://www.unicef.org/sites/default/files/2018-12/UNICEF-Lego-Foundation-Learning-through-Play.pd .
 Kathy Sylva, Edward Melhuish, Pam Sammons, Iram Siraj-Blatchford and Brenda Taggar. (2004). The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Findings from Pre-school to end of Key Stage1. Available: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/8543/7/SSU-SF-2004-01.pdf .
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Home > Learning & Development
Learning and Development
Maths problem-solving activities for Early Years settings
- Written By: Judith Dancer
- Subject: Maths
Critical thinking doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect. There are simple, effective and exciting ways to encourage children’s mathematical investigation and exploration, says Judith Dancer…
Maths is a subject many adults lack confidence in. Having struggled with it at school they often avoid it, wherever possible, when grown up.
But if maths seems scary for some people, then problem solving in mathematics can cause even more anxiety. There is no ‘safety net’ of knowing the ‘correct answer’ beforehand as problem solving lends itself to investigation and exploration with lots of possible tangents.
Understandably this is often the area of maths where many practitioners feel least confident, and where young children, who are not restrained by right answers, feel the most enthused and animated.
The non-statutory Development Matters Guidance , as part of ‘creating and thinking critically’ in the Characteristics of Effective Learning, identifies that practitioners need to observe how a child is learning, noting how a child is:
● thinking of ideas;
● finding ways to solve problems;
● finding new ways to do things;
● making links and noticing patterns in their experience;
● making predictions;
● testing their ideas;
● developing ideas of grouping, sequences, cause and effect;
● planning, making decisions about how to approach a task, solve a problem and reach a goal;
● checking how well their activities are going;
● changing strategy as needed;
● reviewing how well the approach worked.
All of these elements are, at one time or another, part of the problem identifying and solving process – although not at the same time and in the same problem.
Role of the adult
Problem solving in mathematics for young children involves them understanding and using two kinds of maths:
● Maths knowledge – learning and applying an aspect of maths such as counting, calculating or measuring.
● Maths thinking skills – reasoning, predicting, talking the problem through, making connections, generalising, identifying patterns and finding solutions.
The best maths problems for children are the ones that they identify themselves – they will be enthused, fascinated and more engaged in these ‘real’, meaningful problems.
Children need opportunities to problem solve together. As they play, they will often find their own mathematical problems.
One of the key roles of practitioners is to provide time, space and support for children. We need to develop situations and provide opportunities in which children can refine their problem-solving skills and apply their mathematical knowledge.
You can effectively support children’s developing problem-solving strategies through:
● Modelling maths talk and discussion – language is part of maths learning because talking problems through is vital. Children need to hear specific mathematical vocabulary in context. You can promote discussion through the use of comments, enabling statements and open- ended questions.
● Providing hands-on problem solving activities across all areas of the setting – children learn maths through all their experiences and need frequent opportunities to take part in creative and engaging experiences. Maths doesn’t just happen in the maths learning zone!
● Identifying potential maths learning indoors and outdoors – providing rich and diverse open-ended resources that children can use in a number of different ways to support their own learning. It is important to include natural and everyday objects and items that have captured children’s imaginations, including popular culture.
Problem solving possibilities
Spell it out.
This experience gives children lots of opportunities to explore calculating, mark making, categorising and decisions about how to approach a task.
What you need to provide:
● Assorted containers filled with natural materials such as leaves, pebbles, gravel, conkers, twigs, shells, fir cones, mud, sand and some ‘treasure’ – sequins, gold nuggets, jewels and glitter.
● Bottles and jugs of water, large mixing bowls, cups, a ‘cauldron’, small bottles, spoons and ladles.
● Cloaks and wizard hats.
● Laminated ‘spells’ – e.g. “To make a disappearing spell, mix 2 smooth pebbles, 2 gold nuggets, 4 fir cones, a pinch of sparkle dust, 3 cups of water”.
● Writing frameworks for children’s own spell recipes, with sparkly marker pens and a shiny ‘Spell Book’ to stick these in and temporary mark-making opportunities such as chalk on slate.
The important thing with open-ended problem-solving experiences like this is to observe, wait and listen and then, if appropriate, join in as a co-player with children, following their play themes.
So if children are mixing potions, note how children sort or categorise the objects, and the strategies they use to solve problems – what happens if they want eight pebbles and they run out? What do they do next?
When supporting children’s problem solving, you need to develop a wide range of strategies and ‘dip into’ these appropriately. Rather than asking questions, it is often more effective to make comments about what you can see – e.g. “Wow, it looks as though there is too much potion for that bottle”.
Acting as a co-player offers lots of opportunities to model mathematical behaviours – e.g. reading recipes for potions and spells out loud, focusing on the numbers – one feather, three shells…
Going, going, gone
We all know that children will engage more fully when involved in experiences that fascinate them. If a particular group has a real passion for cars and trucks, consider introducing problem-solving opportunities that extend this interest.
This activity offers opportunities for classifying, sorting, counting, adding, subtracting, among many other things.
● Some unfamiliar trucks and cars and some old favourites – ensure these include metal, plastic and wooden vehicles that can be sorted in different ways.
● Masking tape and scissors.
● Sticky labels and markers.
Mark out some parking lots on a smooth floor, or huge piece of paper (lining paper is great for this), using masking tape. Line the vehicles up around the edge of the floor area.
Encourage one child to select two vehicles that have something the same about them. Ask the child, “What is the same about them?”. When the children have agreed what is the same – e.g. size, materials, colour, lorries or racing cars – the child selects a ‘parking lot’ to put the vehicles in. So this first parking lot could be for ‘red vehicles’.
Another child chooses two more vehicles that have something the same – do they belong in the same ‘parking lot’, or a different parking lot? E.g. these vehicles could both be racing cars.
What happens when a specific vehicle could belong in both lots? E.g. it could belong in the set of red vehicles and also belongs in the set of racing cars. Support the children as they discuss the vehicles, make new ‘parking lots’ with masking tape, and create labels for the groups, if they choose.
It’s really important to observe the strategies the children use – where appropriate, ask the children to explain what they are doing and why.
If necessary, introduce and model the use of the vocabulary ‘the same as’ and ‘different from’. Follow children’s discussions and interests – if they start talking about registration plates, consider making car number plates for all the wheeled toys outdoors, with the children.
Do the children know the format of registration plates? Can you take photos of cars you can see in the local environment?
Constructing camps and dens outdoors is a good way to give children the opportunity to be involved in lots of problem-solving experiences and construction skills learning. This experience offers opportunities for using the language of position, shape and space, and finding solutions to practical problems.
● Materials to construct a tent or den such as sheets, curtains, poles, clips, string.
● Rucksacks, water bottles, compass and maps.
● Oven shelf and bricks to build a campfire or barbecue.
● Buckets and bowls and water for washing up.
Encourage the children to explore the resources and decide which materials they need to build the camp, and suggest they source extra resources as they are needed.
Talk with the children about the best place to make a den or erect a tent and barbecue. During the discussion, model the use of positional words and phrases.
Follow children’s play themes – this could include going on a scavenger hunt collecting stones, twigs and leaves and going back to the campsite to sort them out.
Encourage children to try different solutions to the practical problems they identify, and use a running commentary on what is happening without providing the solution to the problem.
Look for opportunities to develop children’s mathematical reasoning skills by making comments such as, “I wonder why Rafit chose that box to go on the top of his den.”
If the children are familiar with traditional tales, you could extend this activity by laying a crumb trail round the outdoor area for children to follow. Make sure that there is something exciting at the end of the trail – it could be a large dinosaur sitting in a puddle, or a bear in a ‘cave’.
Children rarely have opportunities to investigate objects that are really heavy. Sometimes they have two objects and are asked the question, “Which one is heavy?” when both objects are actually light.
This experience gives children the chance to explore really heavy things and explore measures (weight) as well as cooperating and finding new ways to do things.
● A ‘building site’ in the outdoor area – include hard hats, builders’ buckets, small buckets, shovels, spades, water, sand, pebbles, gravel, guttering, building blocks, huge cardboard boxes and fabric (this could be on a tarpaulin).
● Some distance away, builders’ buckets filled with damp sand and large gravel.
● Bucket balances and bathroom scales.
With an open-ended activity such as this, it is even more important to observe, wait and listen as the children explore the building site and the buckets full of sand and gravel.
Listen to the discussions the children have about moving the sand and the gravel to the building site. What language do they use?
Note the strategies they use when they can’t lift the large buckets – who empties some of the sand into smaller buckets? Who works together collaboratively to move the full bucket? Does anyone introduce another strategy, for example, finding a wheelbarrow or pull-along truck?
Where and when appropriate, join in the children’s play as a co-player. You could act in role as a customer or new builder: “How can I get all this sand into my car?”; “How much sand and gravel do we need to make the cement for the foundations?”.
Extend children’s learning by modelling the language of weight: heavy, heavier than, heaviest, light, lighter than, lightest; about the same weight as; as heavy as; balance; weigh.
Judith Dancer is an author, consultant and trainer specialising in communication and language and mathematics. She is co-author, with Carole Skinner, of Foundations of Mathematics – An active approach to number, shape and measures in the Early Years .
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10 Simple Activities to Teach Your Preschooler Problem Solving
By: Author Tanja Mcilroy
Posted on Last updated: 7 Nov 2022
Categories Cognitive Development
During the first years of a child’s life, an important set of cognitive skills known as problem-solving abilities are developed. These skills are used throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Find out what problem solving is, why it’s important and how you can develop these skills with 10 problem-solving games and activities.
What is Problem Solving in Early Childhood?
So, what exactly is problem solving? Quite simply, it refers to the process of finding a solution to a problem .
A person uses their own knowledge and experience, as well as the information at hand to try and reach a solution. Problem solving is therefore about the thought processes involved in finding a solution.
This could be as complex as an adult working out how to get out of a financial crisis or as simple as a child working out how two blocks fit together.
Problem Solving Skills for Kids
Problem-solving skills refer to the specific thinking skills a person uses when faced with a challenge. Some problems require the use of many skills, while others are simple and may only require one or two skills.
These are some examples of problem-solving skills for preschoolers , as listed by kent.ac.uk .
- Lateral thinking
- Analytical thinking
- Decision-making skills
- Logical reasoning
- Communication skills
- Negotiation skills
The Importance of Developing Problem-Solving Skills in Early Childhood
Problem solving is a skill that would be difficult to suddenly develop as an adult. While you can still improve a skill at any age, the majority of learning occurs during the early years.
Preschool is the best time for a child to learn to problem solve in a fun way. The benefits of learning early will last a lifetime and the beauty of learning anything at a young age is that it is effortless .
It is like learning to play an instrument or picking up a new language – it’s just much easier and more natural at an early age.
Of all the many things preschoolers need to learn , what makes problem solving so important?
There aren’t many situations in life, at work or at school that don’t require some level of problem resolution.
Child’s play itself is filled with opportunity upon opportunity to solve all kinds of tricky situations and come up with solutions to challenges.
Problem Solving in Preschool
During the foundational years, children are constantly solving problems as they play .
Here are just a few examples of problem solving in early childhood :
- Resolving a fight over the same toy
- Reaching a ball that’s stuck in the tree
- Forming a circle while holding hands
- Making a bridge to connect two block towers
- Tying or untying a shoe
- Making up rules for a new game
- Trying to get the consistency of a mud cake right so it stops falling over
The more creative play opportunities and challenges children are given, the more they get to exercise their problem-solving muscles.
During free play , there are non-stop experiences for this, and parents and teachers can also encourage specific problem-solving skills through guided activities .
Problem Solving for Older Children
During the grades, children experience problems in many forms, some of which may be related to their academic, social and emotional well-being at school. Problems may come in the form of dealing with life issues, such as:
- Problems with friendships
- Struggling to understand something during a lesson
- Learning to balance the demands of sport and homework
- Finding the best way to study for a test
- Asking a teacher for help when needed
Problems will also form a large part of academic life as teachers will be actively developing this skill through various activities, for example:
- Solving a riddle or understanding a work of literature
- Working on projects with a friend
- Finding solutions during science experiments
- Solving mathematical problems
- Solving hypothetical problems during lessons
- Answering questions and completing exam papers
Children who have had practice during preschool will be a lot more capable when facing these challenges.
Solving Problems in Mathematics
Mathematics needs to be mentioned separately as although it is part of schooling, it is such a huge part and it depends heavily on a child’s ability to solve problems.
The entire subject of mathematics is based on solving problems. Whether you are adding 2 and 3, working out how many eggs will fit into each basket, or solving an algebraic expression, there is a problem in every question.
Mathematics is just a series of problems that need to be solved.
What we refer to as problem solving in Maths is usually answering word problems .
The reason many children find these so difficult to answer is that the question is presented as a problem through a story, rather than just numbers with symbols telling you what operation to use (addition, division, etc.)
This means a child is forced to think carefully, understand the problem and determine the best way to solve it.
These problems can involve various units (e.g. mass, capacity or currency) as well as fractions, decimals, equations and angles, to name a few. Problems tend to become more and more complex over the years.
My experience in the classroom has shown that many, many children struggle with solving word problems, from the early grades right into the senior years.
They struggle to analyze the question, understand it, determine what information they’ve been given, and what exactly they are required to solve.
The good news is that exposing a child to regular problem-solving activities and games in preschool can greatly help him to solve word problems later on in school.
If you need one good reason to do these kinds of activities, let it be for a smoother experience in mathematics – a subject so many children unnecessarily fear.
Problem Solving in the Workplace
Adults in the workplace seldom thrive without problem-solving skills. They are required to regularly solve problems .
As adults, employees are expected to independently deal with the frequent challenges, setbacks and problems that are a big part of every working environment.
Those who can face and solve their own problems will go further and cope better than those who seek constant help from others or cannot show initiative.
Some career websites even refer to problem solving as a universal job skill. They also mention that many employees are not good at it.
Again, although it may seem far removed, learning this skill at a young age will help a child cope right into adulthood and in the working world.
How to Teach Children Problem-Solving Skills
If early childhood is the best time to grow these skills in your young children, then how does one go about teaching them to toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners?
Problem solving can be taught in such a way that you expose your child to various opportunities where they will be faced with challenges.
You would not necessarily sit your 3-year-old down and tell or “teach” him all about fixing problems. Instead, you want to create opportunities for your child to grow this skill .
Using the brain to think and find solutions is a bit like working a muscle over time. Eventually, your muscle gets stronger and can handle more “ weight. ” Your child will learn to problem solve in two ways:
- Incidentally – through free play
- Through guided opportunities provided by a parent or teacher
If you make a point of encouraging thinking through games and activities, your child will develop stronger skills than if you let it all happen incidentally.
Problem-Solving Strategies and Steps
If we take a look at the steps involved in solving a problem, we can see that there are many layers involved and different types of skills. Here are the problem-solving steps according to the University of Ken.
Step 1: Identify the problem
Step 2: Define the problem
Step 3: Examine the options
Step 4: Act on a plan
Step 5: Look at the consequences
Therefore, activities at a preschool level need not present complicated high-level problems.
- A simple activity such as identifying differences in a picture can work on the first skill needed – identifying a problem.
- Playing with construction toys can develop a child’s ability to try various solutions and examine the options when faced with a problem such as trying to find the best way to build something.
- Playing Tic-Tac-Toe would make a child predict the consequences of placing their mark in a particular square.
The most basic of activities can work on all these skills and make children competent solution finders.
How to Teach Problem Solving with Questions
The language you use around your child and your questioning technique will also greatly affect their understanding of a problem or challenge as merely something waiting for a solution to be found .
While your child is playing or when she comes to you with a problem, ask open-ended questions that will guide her in finding a potential answer independently. Use the steps listed above to formulate your questions.
Here are some examples of questions:
- What do you think made the tower of blocks fall down?
- If we build it again, how can we change the structure so that it won’t fall down next time?
- Is there a better way we can do it? If you think of a different way, we can both try it and see which works better.
- Did that work? The tower fell again so let’s try another solution.
Resist the temptation to fix every one of your child’s problems, including conflict with friends or siblings. These are important opportunities for children to learn how to resolve things by negotiating, thinking and reasoning.
With time, your child will get used to seeing a problem, understanding it, weighing up the options, taking action and evaluating the consequences.
Problems will be seen as challenges to be faced logically and not “problems.”
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10 Problem-Solving Activities for Preschoolers
Here are 10 simple, easy games and problem solving activities for kids at home or at school. Many of them are the kinds of activities children should have daily exposure to.
Puzzles are one of the best thinking activities out there. Each puzzle is basically one big set of muddled-up things to be sorted out and put back together again. Find out why puzzles are important for development .
Children should have regular exposure to puzzles. They are great for developing thinking skills.
2. Memory games
Memory games will develop your child’s memory and attention to detail.
Get your own memory game cards by downloading the FREE set of printables at the end of the post.
Use pairs of matching pictures and turn them all face down, shuffled, on a table. Take turns choosing any two cards and turning them face up on the table. If you turn over a matching pair you keep the cards and if the pair doesn’t match, turn the cards back over until it is your turn to try again.
Encourage your child to concentrate and pay attention to where the pictures are and try to find a matching pair on each turn.
3. Building with Construction Toys
Construction toys such as engineering blocks , a proper set of wooden blocks or Legos should be a daily staple in your home.
Everything your child builds is a challenge because it requires thinking about what to build and how to put the pieces together to get a design that works and is functional.
Leave your child to construct freely and occasionally set a challenge and ask him to build a specific structure, with conditions. For example:
- Make two towers with a bridge joining them together
- Build a creature that stands on its own and has 3 arms.
Then watch your child wracking his brain until he finds a way to make his structure work.
4. Activity Books
These activity books are really fun and develop a child’s ability to identify problems and search for information.
5. Following Patterns
This simple activity can be played with a set of coloured blocks , shapes or counters.
Simply make a pattern with the blocks and ask your child to continue it. Vary the pattern by changing the colours, shapes or sizes.
This activity will train your child to analyse the given information, make sense of it, recognise the pattern and re-create it.
6. Story Time Questions
Get into the habit of asking questions during your daily story time that develop higher-order thinking skills . Instead of just reading and your child passively listening, ask questions throughout, concentrating on solving problems.
Here are some examples:
- Why do you think the bear did that?
- Do you think his friend will be happy? Why?
- What would you do if you were the monkey?
- How do you think Peter can make things better with his friend?
- If the crocodile had decided not to eat the rabbit, how could the story have ended?
7. Board Games
Board games are an excellent way to develop problem-solving skills.
Start off with simple games like Ludo and Snakes and Ladders to teach the skill of following rules and moving in a logical sequence.
Card games like Go Fish are also great for teaching young children to think ahead and solve problems.
This is a perfect game to teach decision-making skills , thinking before acting and weighing up the possible consequences.
Use a Tic Tac Toe Board or d raw a simple table like the one above on paper or a chalkboard. Take turns to add a nought or a cross to the table and see who can make a row of three first.
Your child will probably catch on in no time and start thinking carefully before placing their symbol. This game can also be played with coloured counters or different objects.
9. Classifying and Grouping Activities
This activity can be done with a tin of buttons or beads or even by unpacking the dishwasher. The idea is to teach the skill of classifying and categorizing information by learning with physical objects. Here are some other ideas for categorizing:
- Separate the washing – mom’s clothes, dad’s clothes, etc; or socks, tops, shorts, etc.
- Empty out the cutlery drawer for cleaning, mix all the utensils up and then sort into knives, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.
- Classify and sort out the toys in your child’s bedroom together – all books, construction toys, soft toys, etc.
Here are more button activities for kids .
10. Building a Maze
This activity is lots of fun and suitable for any age. It is also going to be way more fun than doing a maze in an activity book, especially for younger children.
Draw a big maze on the paving with sidewalk chalk . Make passages, including one or two that end in a dead-end. Teach your child to find her way out .
As your child gets better at figuring out a route and finding the way out, make the maze more complex and add more dead-end passages.
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Friday 3rd of June 2022
hi maam , This Is Uma from India,Can i get this in pdf format or a book. Thank You
Monday 6th of June 2022
Hi Uma, thanks for your message. These articles are not available in PDF, but you are welcome to copy and paste them from the website, as long as you add the reference: https://empoweredparents.co/problem-solving-activities-preschoolers/ Thanks for reading!
Wednesday 20th of May 2020
Very very useful content. Good work. Thank you.
Friday 22nd of May 2020
Tuesday 19th of May 2020
Would like to download the free activity pack please.
Hi Kelly, Please download the activity pack on this page: www.empoweredparents.co
Mathematical Problem Solving in the Early Years: Developing Opportunities, Strategies and Confidence
Published 2016 Revised 2019
- familiar contexts
- meaningful purposes
- mathematical complexity.
- which they understand - in familiar contexts,
- where the outcomes matter to them - even if imaginary,
- where they have control of the process,
- involving mathematics with which they are confident.
- taking some from one doll and giving to another, in several moves,
- starting again and dealing, either in ones or twos,
- taking two from each original doll and giving to the new doll,
- collecting the biscuits and crumbling them into a heap, then sharing out handfuls of crumbs.
- brute force: trying to hammer bits so that they fit,
- local correction: adjusting one part, often creating a different problem,
- dismantling: starting all over again,
- holistic review: considering multiple relations or simultaneous adjustments e.g. repairing by insertion and reversal.
- getting a feel for the problem, looking at it holistically, checking they have understood e.g. talking it through or asking questions;
- planning, preparing and predicting outcomes e.g. gathering blocks together before building;
- monitoring progress towards the goal e.g. checking that the bears will fit the houses;
- being systematic, trying possibilities methodically without repetition, rather than at random, e.g. separating shapes tried from those not tried in a puzzle;
- trying alternative approaches and evaluating strategies e.g. trying different positions for shapes;
- refining and improving solutions e.g. solving a puzzle again in fewer moves (Gifford, 2005: 153).
- Getting to grips: What are we trying to do?
- Connecting to previous experience: Have we done anything like this before?
- Planning: What do we need?
- Considering alternative methods: Is there another way?
- Monitoring progress: How does it look so far?
- Evaluating solutions: Does it work? How can we check? Could we make it even better?
- Construction - finding shapes which fit together or balance
- Pattern-making - creating a rule to create a repeating pattern
- Shape pictures - selecting shapes with properties to represent something
- Puzzles - finding ways of fitting shapes to fit a puzzle
- Role-play areas - working out how much to pay in a shop
- Measuring tools - finding out how different kinds of scales work
- Nesting, posting, ordering - especially if they are not obvious
- Robots - e.g. beebots: directing and making routes
- preparing, getting the right number e.g. scissors, paper for creative activities
- sharing equal amounts e.g. at snack time
- tidying up, checking nothing is lost
- gardening and cooking e.g. working out how many bulbs to plant where, measuring amounts in a recipe using scales or jugs
- games, developing rules, variations and scoring
- PE: organising in groups, timing and recording
- Decision making - what shall we call the new guinea pig?
- Parties, picnics and trips e.g. how much lemonade shall we make?
- Design Projects - the role play area, new outdoor gardens or circuits
- Hiding games - feely bags with shapes, the 'Box' game
- Story problems - e.g. unfair sharing, with remainders and fractions, making things to fit giants or fairies
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EYFS best practice - All about ... problem-solving
Sheila Ebbutt, a freelance consultant and was formerly managing director of BEAM (Be A Mathematician) Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Responding to challenges and finding solutions is not confined to mathematics but arises in all areas of learning, says Sheila Ebbutt.
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Early Years Careers
How to promote problem solving in the early years
5th November 2015 by Kelly Leave a Comment
Ways to incorporate problem solving in the Early Years
Developing problem solving skills is an area of development early years ’ practitioners are familiar with, and the importance of developing these problem solving skills is well known, but what exactly are problem solving skills? And how do we encourage children to develop these?
Within the Early Years Foundation Stage, problem solving comes under the category Mathematical Development, however this does not limit problem solving to just mathematical circumstances! There are opportunities for children in early years to explore problem solving every day, within all aspects of their development. Children are natural problem solvers from birth, all the way from learning to communicate problems through crying, through learning to talk and learning to walk. They develop a natural problem solving process through trial and error, for example, an infant will fall down many times before taking their first steps, but it’s the process of getting back up and trying again which helps them to achieve their goal.
Although problem solving can occur naturally, practitioners should still encourage children to recognise the process of problem solving and become familiar with it.
Shape sorters are a great activity for younger children to explore problem solving through trial and error. The children can get a feel of the shapes and see the holes, but will not yet have the knowledge of shapes to place the correct shape in the correct hole, they will attempt to fit shapes into holes, and when they realise it will not fit, they move onto the next hole. As the children get older, they can apply their knowledge and learning to this activity, understanding that the square shape will fit with the square hole, thus overcoming a problem. Jigsaws are another effective way of children developing problem solving skills in the early years. With younger children larger puzzle pieces can be used made out of tactile materials and they can attempt to solve the jigsaw through trial and error again. Slightly older children can expand onto smaller puzzle pieces, once they have mastered more simple jigsaws. Practitioners should take note of the different strategies children use in order to fit different puzzle pieces together and offer directional help such as matching the colours of pieces together should a child become frustrated.
Early Years practitioners can help children apply problem solving skills to real life situations as well as various activities. For example, practitioners can encourage children to help set up at meal times, but pose them with a problem of not having enough cutlery for each child. Children could be able to recognise this problem, or be guided by the practitioners to realise that not enough cutlery could pose a problem. Practitioners can then encourage and support the children to think of a solution to this problem. Allow children to use their imagination to solve problems, the sky is the limit! If they suggest sharing cutlery or even crafting their own cutlery out of different items, then this is all part of the problem solving process! They are recognising a problem and attempting a solution.
Overall, there are many activities and real life scenarios practitioners can implement in order to help children explore problem solving skills and guide them to create a solution. Using numbers and mathematics are not the only methods of developing problem solving skills as seen from above, but they can be an effective way to develop learning numeracy skills which can help in later life.
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A selection of resources containing a wide range of open-ended tasks, practical tasks, investigations and real life problems, to support investigative work and problem solving in primary mathematics.
Problem Solving in Primary Maths - the Session
Quality Assured Category: Mathematics Publisher: Teachers TV
In this programme shows a group of four upper Key Stage Two children working on a challenging problem; looking at the interior and exterior angles of polygons and how they relate to the number of sides. The problem requires the children to listen to each other and to work together co-operatively. The two boys and two girls are closely observed as they consider how to tackle the problem, make mistakes, get stuck and arrive at the "eureka" moment. They organise the data they collect and are then able to spot patterns and relate them to the original problem to find a formula to work out the exterior angle of any polygon. At the end of the session the children report back to Mark, explaining how they arrived at the solution, an important part of the problem solving process.
In a second video two maths experts discuss some of the challenges of teaching problem solving. This includes how and at what stage to introduce problem solving strategies and the appropriate moment to intervene when children find tasks difficult. They also discuss how problem solving in the curriculum also helps to develop life skills.
Cards for Cubes: Problem Solving Activities for Young Children
Quality Assured Category: Mathematics Publisher: Claire Publications
This book provides a series of problem solving activities involving cubes. The tasks start simply and progress to more complicated activities so could be used for different ages within Key Stages One and Two depending on ability. The first task is a challenge to create a camel with 50 cubes that doesn't fall over. Different characters are introduced throughout the book and challenges set to create various animals, monsters and structures using different numbers of cubes. Problems are set to incorporate different areas of mathematical problem solving they are: using maths, number, algebra and measure.
Problem solving with EYFS, Key Stage One and Key Stage Two children
Quality Assured Category: Computing Publisher: Department for Education
These three resources, from the National Strategies, focus on solving problems.
Logic problems and puzzles identifies the strategies children may use and the learning approaches teachers can plan to teach problem solving. There are two lessons for each age group.
Finding all possibilities focuses on one particular strategy, finding all possibilities. Other resources that would enhance the problem solving process are listed, these include practical apparatus, the use of ICT and in particular Interactive Teaching Programs .
Finding rules and describing patterns focuses on problems that fall into the category 'patterns and relationships'. There are seven activities across the year groups. Each activity includes objectives, learning outcomes, resources, vocabulary and prior knowledge required. Each lesson is structured with a main teaching activity, drawing together and a plenary, including probing questions.
Primary mathematics classroom resources
Quality Assured Collection Category: Mathematics Publisher: Association of Teachers of Mathematics
This selection of 5 resources is a mixture of problem-solving tasks, open-ended tasks, games and puzzles designed to develop students' understanding and application of mathematics.
Thinking for Ourselves: These activities, from the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM) publication 'Thinking for Ourselves’, provide a variety of contexts in which students are encouraged to think for themselves. Activity 1: In the bag – More or less requires students to record how many more or less cubes in total...
8 Days a Week: The resource consists of eight questions, one for each day of the week and one extra. The questions explore odd numbers, sequences, prime numbers, fractions, multiplication and division.
Number Picnic: The problems make ideal starter activities
Matchstick Problems: Contains two activities concentrating upon the process of counting and spotting patterns. Uses id eas about the properties of number and the use of knowledge and reasoning to work out the rules.
Colours: Use logic, thinking skills and organisational skills to decide which information is useful and which is irrelevant in order to find the solution.
GAIM Activities: Practical Problems
Quality Assured Category: Mathematics Publisher: Nelson Thornes
Designed for secondary learners, but could also be used to enrich the learning of upper primary children, looking for a challenge. These are open-ended tasks encourage children to apply and develop mathematical knowledge, skills and understanding and to integrate these in order to make decisions and draw conclusions.
*Every Second Counts - Using transport timetables, maps and knowledge of speeds to plan a route leading as far away from school as possible in one hour.
*Beach Guest House - Booking guests into appropriate rooms in a hotel.
*Cemetery Maths - Collecting relevant data from a visit to a local graveyard or a cemetery for testing a hypothesis.
*Design a Table - Involving diagrams, measurements, scale.
Go Further with Investigations
Quality Assured Category: Mathematics Publisher: Collins Educational
A collection of 40 investigations designed for use with the whole class or smaller groups. It is aimed at upper KS2 but some activities may be adapted for use with more able children in lower KS2. It covers different curriculum areas of mathematics.
The forty student investigations in this book are non-sequential and focus mainly on the mathematical topics of addition, subtraction, number, shape and colour patterns, and money.
The apparatus required for each investigation is given on the student sheets and generally include items such as dice, counters, number cards and rods. The sheets are written using as few words as possible in order to enable students to begin working with the minimum of reading.
NRICH Primary Activities
Explore the NRICH primary tasks which aim to enrich the mathematical experiences of all learners. Lots of whole class open ended investigations and problem solving tasks. These tasks really get children thinking!
Mathematical reasoning: activities for developing thinking skills
Quality Assured Category: Mathematics Publisher: SMILE
Problem Solving 2
Reasoning about numbers, with challenges and simplifications.
Quality Assured Category: Mathematics Publisher: Department for Education
Supporting problem-solving · 1) Den-building · 2) Cooking and baking · 3) Playing with patterns · 4) Sorting and categorising · 5) Puzzles · 6) Ice rescue · 7)
Encourage one child to select two vehicles that have something the same about them. Ask the child, “What is the same about them?”. When the children have agreed
Problem Solving in Preschool · Resolving a fight over the same toy · Reaching a ball that's stuck in the tree · Forming a circle while holding hands · Making a
With such a range of Foundation stage problem-solving activities, you can include these within your adult-led learning, focused activities and throughout your
Oct 17, 2018 - Explore Charlotte Voce's board "Problem solving for Early Years" on Pinterest. See more ideas about problem solving, preschool math
... our Early Years Practitioner Partners, to support you in developing the initial building blocks for mathematical thinking, reasoning and problem solving
Construction - finding shapes which fit together or balance · Pattern-making - creating a rule to create a repeating pattern · Shape pictures - selecting shapes
- Approach everyday activities as problem-solving opportunities. In adult-led guided learning sessions, make sure children have choices within the framework of
Within the Early Years Foundation Stage, problem solving comes under the category Mathematical Development, however this does not limit problem
A selection of resources containing a wide range of open-ended tasks, ... Problem solving with EYFS, Key Stage One and Key Stage Two children.