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Problem Solving Skills - Part Two

Problem Solving Skills Part 2

Missed part one? Click here to read!

Now that we know the basics for problem solving skills, let's go deeper and discuss how to teach each age group how to consistently work on problem solving skills.


Our littlest ones are already learners! Infants are naturally curious and eager to explore their world. Each interaction with our infants has the opportunity to help develop their physical and mental health.

  • Explore Offer up new and interesting textures for them to enjoy. Let them explore a large wooden spoon versus a metal one. A velvety book vs a hard backed one. As they are on the floor, watch them interact with their surroundings and offer up ones out of their reach. Make everyday a learning opportunity.

  • Communicate yourself One of the best things we can do is talk to our babies as if they can understand each word that we say. If they are getting fussy doing tummy time and we are working on their next bottle, talk to them and tell them what we are finishing up, what they are doing, and that we are on the way.

  • Respond to their communication Crying, fussing, giggling, cooing, reaching, eyeing, and reaching is how our babies communicate to us. Responding to their communication helps them learn that they are having an impact on their environment.

  • Scaffold As parents, we always want to make the world an easier place for our babies. However, it’s good for them to have an opportunity to figure things out on their own. Model, guide, and scaffold them to success! Show them how to put the ball on the top of the tube, then guide their arm up, and then let them try it out for themselves! They can do it!


One year old's are great at the trial and error aspect of learning how to solve problems. What happens if I drop this plate? Can I dump this cup? What will happen if I poke my friend? I like when the box pops up, how can I do that again?

  • Trial and Error One of the best things that you can do for your one year old is give them time to figure out problems that are within their wheelhouse to solve. If they are wanting to pull the scarf out of the box but struggling to figure it out, give them time first to try different ways to solve their problems.

  • Model A good way to teach without doing it for them is to model the behavior. Back to the struggle of pulling out a scarf. You can sit beside them with another box and model how to pull it out.

  • Set Up Setting up situations where they can succeed is an easy way to increase their problem solving skills. Multiple toys, puzzles, putting favorite toys just out of reach are a few examples of ways that you can help practice communication, modeling, and scaffolding.


Two year old's are great at imitation. They see their friends doing something, they do it too. They are eager to communicate with their caretakers and friends. Trial and error happen much more frequently and they usually have a mindset of “I wanna do it!”

  • Language A great way to help a child learn problem solving skills is to give them the language. Ask questions to include who, what, when, why, where and look to them to help you solve it. Where did the fire truck go? What can fit into this box? Who is that?

  • Communicate Talk through what problems you are facing, what issues a favorite character in a book is facing, and what their friends are doing. Describe what tool or object you are using to help you solve your problem. If you spill beans, talk about how a broom will help you with your mess.

  • Confidence Encourage each and every step in the problem solving process. If they get frustrated because they can’t get the lid off or push a favorite toy in the right way- communicate by your face, words, and actions that you believe in them and understand how it can be frustrating to not get it right the first time. It’s ok for them to be upset when they are learning a new skill! You can model and scaffold until they solve it!

(side note: Timing is pertinent in the two’s age, help too soon, and you’ll be interrupting. Help too late and they are now too frustrated to accept any help. It’s at these times that compassion and staying calm and present is key to teaching emotional skills instead of the initial problem solving skills!)


Children who are around three years old, usually have a mind set of what happens if? They are eager to use tools in their environment and figure out problems on their own. Communication with their peers are beginning to become much more important as well.

  • Experimentation Letting three year old's seek solutions in their own environment is a great way to encourage them to gain problem solving skills. If they decide that sand will help their own play-doh ball not be sticky, let them try it and see.

  • Practice social problems Problem solving skills also come into play during peer play. Practicing and modeling how to solve their communication problems before it happens gives them an opportunity to use gained skills.

  • Observe and talk As you go through your day, talk about what skills you are using and encourage them to talk about what they observe. Saying things like, “hmm…I need to reach this bowl on the shelf, but I can’t reach it. What can I use? I know! A stool! What did I use to solve my problem?”


Four year olds are eager to expand upon their own skills. Support and modeling are key to raising their confidence as they practice.

  • Tools Giving this age a wide expanse of tools to solve their problems helps encourage them to think creatively and apply a wide number of solutions. If they would like to put on a play, but need a large dinosaur, maybe they could tape a lot of boxes together to create what they envision.

  • Cooperate Having fun with friends means that they have to learn how to compromise and listen to friends. Being involved in their play and helping to model the words and reactions to others is key to developing social/emotional skills.

  • Embrace mistakes When you or others make a mistake or can’t solve a problem right away, talk about it and encourage patience with others and ourselves. Switch to taking care of their emotional state to then get back to the original problem.

Older Students

“I think that it should be this way!” “I wanna do it my way!” This phrase is common around elementary ages. It is important to continue to support and scaffold their skills as they interact with peers and their own internal goals.

  • What do you think? Getting older children involved in solving both tangible and abstract problems can strengthen their confidence and problem solving skills. Asking guided questions like, “What do you think we should do?” “Why do you think they reacted like that?” “How do you think this works?”

  • Deductive Reasoning Children are natural observers and pick up cues during everyday events. Playing games of riddles, I’m thinking off.., treasure hunts, and more will build problem solving muscles.

  • Open ended When your child comes to you with a problem, make sure that you don’t just jump into the answer. Ask open ended questions that get them to create a possible solution.

Each age group builds upon the previous learned skills. Everyone has the opportunity to learn and improve skills in their life. Always remember that one isn’t “bad” or “wrong” if they have trouble using problem solving skills 100% of the time. It’s all about progress, not perfection.

Let us know your thoughts on developing problem solving skills!

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