Problem Solving in the 3-6 Environment

By Julia Damico, Preprimary Directress

Problem solving is an attitude. One of our goals for young children in the first plane of development is to create an environment in which they can solve issues by themselves. 

Yesterday, a child who was working with the movable alphabet approached his teacher and said, “I can’t write the word ‘ship’ because I am out of h’s.” As adults our natural inclination is to supply the solution to the problem and tell the child how to solve the problem. This is the most efficient and expedient response.  However, in a Montessori environment our response is to restate the problem and encourage the child to think through the problem and come to a conclusion. In this case, the dialogue may go something like this.

Teacher, “You are out of h’s. What could you do?”

Child, “I don’t know.”

Teacher, “Are there h’s anywhere else in this room?”

Child, “Yes, in the other boxes.”

Teacher, “What could you do?”

Notice how the teacher is leading the child to draw a logical conclusion. This takes time and patience on the part of the adult, but it is helping the child develop the skill and attitude of problem solving within a growth mindset. 

In the Montessori environment problem solving is also built into the materials themselves in the form of control of error. Here is an example: Children have a thorough lesson for the easel  This work requires retrieving water, getting paint, and placing the paper on the easel. As they go through this process themselves, if they have forgotten anything, it is very clear. They cannot wash their paint brush to change colors if they’ve forgotten the water. In most cases, the children will solve this without prompting by an adult. If not, you would hear a similar version of the conversation described above The whole classroom is designed for children to think for themselves. 

Incorporating problem solving skills with your child at home can be done pretty easily by putting systems in place for the child to solve problems and using language to encourage thinking through the problem to come to a logical conclusion. This can happen with everyday routines and issues. Here are some examples: 

  • Instead of…..”Pick your coat up and hang it on the hook.”
    • Say…………. “Your coat is on the floor.”
    • This way you are stating the problem and giving the child the chance to problem solve. 
    • Having a small hook within reach of the child also helps prepare the environment to ensure success. 
  • Instead of……”Your monster truck is under the couch in the living room.”
    • Say……… “You can’t find your monster truck. I wonder where you played with it last. I wonder if it would be easier to find if you put it away in your toy box.”
    • This way you are helping to give a context in which the problem occurred and set-up procedures to prevent problems in the future.
    • Having a specific place for toys and other items gives an order for continued success.
  • Instead of….. “Oh, I’ll help you clean up that water.” 
    • Say…………..”You spilled your water. What can you do?”
    • This way you are helping the child gain the confidence as well as the independance to be self-reliant

Problem solving at this first plane of development may sometimes look like inappropriate behavior. However, if you look closely you will see creative and ingenious thought at work. 

Picture the child who stacks two chairs and the turned over bucket against the refrigerator to reach the cookies stored on top or the one who works diligently to figure out the child locks on the cabinets. This kind of  thinking should be encouraged. 

These children are going places….solving problems along the way.