Solving problems helps children learn about their bodies and their world and builds a stronger sense of self. Problem solving is a building block of early learning that allows young children to make discoveries about the physical world, learn the “rules” of how to relate to others, and develop communication and thinking skills.
Opportunities to solve problems arise throughout a young child’s day. You can use these opportunities to foster a nurturing learning environment and help your child achieve success and independence. Allow your child to learn at his or her own pace. This means allowing your child to make mistakes and take time to make discoveries.
As they develop problem-solving skills, children learn to think logically and creatively. Pre-academic skills, such as learning colors, letters, and numbers are memory skills. While children need such skills to be prepared for school, they also need opportunities to develop higher-order intellectual skills, such as logical and creative thinking. These set the basis for independent and abstract thinking when they’re older.
When a child chooses or initiates solving a problem and exploring it in his own way, he’s taking charge of his learning. You can support active learning by making observations about what he’s doing, offering gentle guidance, and supporting him to discover his own solutions. In doing so, you are fostering your child’s development as a self-confident, logical, creative, flexible, and independent thinker, which promotes both social and academic success.
Typical Development of Problem-Solving Skills
A child’s capacity to solve problems typically emerges between the ages of nine and eighteen months. Infants begin to develop problem-solving skills as they discover how their bodies work: “How far do I need to move my arm in order to put my fingers in my mouth?” This learning process continues as the infant’s motor skills develop, allowing him to explore a wider range of toys and objects: “What kind of sound will this wooden spoon make if I hit it on the carpet? On the floor?” “How can I make this block fit inside my pail or fit these shapes into a shape sorter?” Young children solve simple problems throughout their day, which prepares them for more complex problem-solving challenges they’ll face in preschool and elementary school.
Here’s an example of a toddler’s impressive problem-solving skills: Eighteen-month-old Sofia walks toward her mother and reaches for a cup that is on the kitchen counter. When her mother misreads the cue and offers Sofia a cracker, the toddler shakes her head and pulls her mother by the hand towards the refrigerator, using complex gestures to clarify that she wants juice. When her mother opens the refrigerator, Sofia points to the bottle of orange juice and looks back at her mother. She smiles as her mother begins to pour the juice into a cup.
This example makes clear that even a very young child is capable of complex problem solving. Sofia must string a series of gestures together to solve a problem, combining her motor, communication, social, and intellectual skills to achieve a goal. Each time a child achieves a goal, she develops a more cohesive sense of self and builds her motor, communication, social, and intellectual capacities. Link to Intellectual milestones
Problem Solving » Links & Resources
Greenspan, S.I., with Breslau Lewis, N. (1999). Building Healthy Minds: The Six Experiences that Create Intelligence and Emotional Growth in Babies and Young Children. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.