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Sudoku for Beginners: How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

Are you a beginner when it comes to solving Sudoku puzzles? Do you find yourself frustrated and unsure of where to start? Fear not, as we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to improve your problem-solving skills through Sudoku.

Understanding the Basics of Sudoku

Before we dive into the strategies and techniques, let’s first understand the basics of Sudoku. A Sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid that is divided into nine smaller 3×3 grids. The objective is to fill in each row, column, and smaller grid with numbers 1-9 without repeating any numbers.

Starting Strategies for Beginners

As a beginner, it can be overwhelming to look at an empty Sudoku grid. But don’t worry. There are simple starting strategies that can help you get started. First, look for any rows or columns that only have one missing number. Fill in that number and move on to the next row or column with only one missing number. Another strategy is looking for any smaller grids with only one missing number and filling in that number.

Advanced Strategies for Beginner/Intermediate Level

Once you’ve mastered the starting strategies, it’s time to move on to more advanced techniques. One technique is called “pencil marking.” This involves writing down all possible numbers in each empty square before making any moves. Then use logic and elimination techniques to cross off impossible numbers until you are left with the correct answer.

Another advanced technique is “hidden pairs.” Look for two squares within a row or column that only have two possible numbers left. If those two possible numbers exist in both squares, then those two squares must contain those specific numbers.

Benefits of Solving Sudoku Puzzles

Not only is solving Sudoku puzzles fun and challenging, but it also has many benefits for your brain health. It helps improve your problem-solving skills, enhances memory and concentration, and reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In conclusion, Sudoku is a great way to improve your problem-solving skills while also providing entertainment. With these starting and advanced strategies, you’ll be able to solve even the toughest Sudoku puzzles. So grab a pencil and paper and start sharpening those brain muscles.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


problem solving activities in early years

Ten of our favourite early years problem-solving activities

Ten of our favourite early years problem-solving activities - Featured Image

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.[1]. 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.[2]   

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.[3]    


Supporting problem-solving  

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.[4]    

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.   

1) Den-building


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.[5]  

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.   


[1]  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 .  

[2] 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 .  

[3] Piaget, J. (1983). Piaget's Theory. In P. Mussen (ed). Handbook of Child Psychology. 4th edition. Vol. 1. New York: Wiley.  

[4] Unicef. (2018). Learning Through Play. Available: https://www.unicef.org/sites/default/files/2018-12/UNICEF-Lego-Foundation-Learning-through-Play.pd .  

[5] 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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Empowered Parents

10 Simple Activities to Teach Your Preschooler Problem Solving

By: Author Tanja Mcilroy

Posted on Last updated: 24 April 2023

Categories Cognitive Development

problem solving activities in early years

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
  • Persistence
  • 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.

Boy thinking about a problem

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

Lady at work doing problem solving

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.

Pinterest image - 10 simple activities to teach problem solving.

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?

Mom and child constructing

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.”

This post contains affiliate links for educational products that I personally recommend. If you purchase through one of them, I earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Read the terms and conditions for more details.

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.

problem solving activities in early years

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.

problem solving activities in early years

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.

problem solving activities in early years

Card games like Go Fish are also great for teaching young children to think ahead and solve problems.

8.  Tic-Tac-Toe

This is a perfect game to teach decision-making skills , thinking before acting and weighing up the possible consequences.

Tic-tac-toe game

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.
  • Play category games .

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.

Get FREE access to Printable Puzzles, Stories, Activity Packs and more!

Sign up and you’ll receive a downloadable set of printable puzzles, games and short stories , as well as the Learning Through Play Activity Pack which includes an entire year of activities for 3 to 6-year-olds. Access is free forever.

Signing up for a free Grow account is fast and easy and will allow you to bookmark articles to read later, on this website as well as many websites worldwide that use Grow .

Printables and Learning Through Play Activity Pack

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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

Tanja Mcilroy

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

Thanks Ann.

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

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Maths problem-solving activities for Early Years settings

  • Written By: Judith Dancer
  • Subject: Maths

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Maths problem-solving activities for Early Years settings

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?

Camping out

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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problem solving activities in early years

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.

problem solving activities in early years

Mathematics in the EYFS is called Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy. It's an odd title, probably chosen because it has a rhythmic assonance with Knowledge and Understanding of the World and Communication, Language and Literacy. It's odd, first because problem-solving and reasoning are applicable across all learning, not just maths, and second, because maths is about more than numeracy.

My dictionary defines being 'numerate' as 'able to perform arithmetical operations'. But 'mathematics' has a much wider definition: 'the science dealing with measurements, numbers, quantities, and shapes'. That's a gripe of mine, but let's focus on problem-solving and reasoning. Each of the areas of learning could have had 'problem solving, reasoning and ...' added to their titles.


The Early Years Foundation Stage has a mixture of very clear, brief descriptions of learning development and more complex general ones.

Simple and brief:

'Continue a rhyming string'; 'respond to simple instructions'; 'handle books carefully'; 'recognise numerals 1 to 5'; 'say the number that is one more than a given number'; 'select a particular named shape'; 'use simple tools competently and effectively'; 'notice and comment on patterns'; 'sing a few familiar songs'; 'go backwards and forwards as well as sideways'.

Complex and general:

'Have an awareness and pride in self and as having own identity and abilities'; 'question why things happen, and give explanations'; 'use language for an increasing range of purposes'; 'use talk to connect ideas, explain what is happening and anticipate what might happen next'; 'use writing as a means of recording and communicating'; 'use developing mathematical ideas and methods to solve practical problems'; 'describe solutions to practical problems, drawing on experience, talking about own ideas, methods and choices'; 'explain own knowledge and understanding, and ask appropriate questions of others'; 'collaborate in devising and sharing tasks, including those which involve accepting rules'; 'talk about personal intentions, describing what they were about to do'; 'work creatively on a large or small scale'.

It is easy to allocate the simple descriptions to particular curriculum areas, and these are recognisable discrete skills that we know we have to teach. 'Continue a rhyming string' is language and 'recognise numerals 1 to 5' is maths.

The general descriptions are harder to allocate, unless there are clues like 'mathematical' and 'writing'. These complex statements have embedded in them a problem-solving approach. How do you teach 'question ...', 'collaborate ...', 'pride ...', 'personal intentions ...'? Well, you don't. You have to set up the environment and the ethos that will encourage these things, and support the children with planned interventions.

It's difficult working with such a mix of complex concepts. You know how to approach 'begin to form recognisable letters' and 'select a particular named shape'. You show children how to form letters. You teach them the names of the shapes. But how do you ensure that this develops into 'use writing as a means of recording and communicating' and 'use developing mathematical ideas and methods to solve practical problems'?

What are the children learning?

Clearly, children are learning about shapes and how they move and fit together; about how to manipulate large objects; about relative heights; about hollow and solid shapes; about filling spaces; about the properties of materials. But they are also learning about collaboration and working to a common goal, and about perseverance; and above all, they are setting themselves problems that they have to solve.

The work in the case study below involved a problem-solving chain, each one with its own goal to be set, obstacles to be overcome, and the solution to be found. One goal is to build a tower with tyres, but the problem is how to lift and place the tyres.

Another goal is to fetch the tyres to add to the tower, but the problem is how to get the tyres to the tower. Another goal is to make the tower as tall as possible, but the problem is how to reach the top of the growing tower - and so on.

Seeking solutions to the problems involves analytical reasoning, conscious or unconscious. How do I move the tyre? Turn it into a wheel by putting it on its edge and rolling it.

Later, during circle time, the children talked about their play with the tyres. Although there was not a lot of talk during the activity, just brief and necessary instructions and comments, the children were able to put into words what they had been doing.


Problem-solving is an integral part of everyday provision, an expectation rather than an added extra, and it relies on a 'have a go' ethos. Successful problem solvers have these kinds of strategies:

- setting themselves a goal - recognising there are obstacles in the way of the goal - getting a feel for the nature of the obstacles - having a sense of possible ways of overcoming the obstacles - planning ahead, and predicting what will happen - checking progress as they go - trying out different possibilities in a systematic way - trying different approaches to see which will work best - looking for even better solutions.

Children who feel confident and secure in their surroundings, and free to make choices, are better able to solve problems, both on their own and collaboratively.

Problems can be minor and arise incidentally, or they can be major projects. But the most important thing is for children to set themselves a challenge, or to engage with the challenge that is there, and then to know that they can choose their own ways of solving it. If children are told the problem and then told the method to use to solve it, they are not problem-solving.

To become confident, proficient problem solvers, it stands to reason that children must have access to a wide range of appropriate resources they can use independently.

The ethos of the setting must support their investigations and allow them to move resources between areas of provision. For example, the children working with the tyres knew with confidence that they could move the tyres around, they could fetch a chair, and they could empty into the tower a range of objects at their disposal, without adult intervention. One of the important things about problem-solving is that it involves choice and that children have opportunities to reason and make decisions.


Two highly influential thinkers have stressed the importance of problem-solving as a vehicle for learning: Piaget and Vygotsky.

Piaget thought that children under seven saw the world differently from older children and adults, and they need time to explore the world in their own way. These are some of Piaget's key ideas:

- Children need to be in charge of their own learning by choosing their own activities and taking their own time in that exploration.

- We should provide children with materials to explore, such as block play, role-play materials, small-world toys, and so on. We should involve children in planning the uses of these resources, such as setting up a shoe shop or organising a picnic.

- We need to observe children to find out what they are focusing on and what their interests are, and respond to them if they ask for it. Our role as an adult is as a facilitator in their play.

- We should be aware of the stages of learning that children go through so that we can offer appropriate materials and activities for each stage, and note when children become 'ready' for the next stage.

- We should value each child as an individual.

Vygotsky emphasised collaborative and guided problem-solving. He focused on the social aspect of children's learning, and how they develop their thinking skills through shared experiences. This meant that language is a vital tool for thinking and for sharing ideas. He also looked at the roles of older children and adults in influencing learning. These are some of Vygotsky's key ideas:

- Children learn best through active self-directed play.

- Children learn more effectively in collaboration with other children and with adults.

- Our role is to offer help and support in helping children learn how to do things they cannot quite do on their own. Language is very important here.

- We need to observe children to find out where they are on their own learning trajectory.

- We must focus on language, as this is vital in helping children make sense of the world.

- We must be sensitive in how we take part in children's learning. Sometimes we can take the lead and instruct, at other times we will have minimal engagement.

The EPPE (Effective Provision of Pre-School Education) project corroborated Vygotsky's ideas, by finding that quality conversations between adults and children, and children and other children, enhanced children's problem-solving and reasoning skills. The work of the nursery settings in Reggio Emilia also puts into practice Vygotsky's ideas, with children and adults working collaboratively on long and complex projects.

Children's thinking will only develop well if they can spend their time solving problems. As they solve problems, their confidence and self-esteem increases. However, their self-esteem will decline if they fail too often to solve a problem. The role of the adult is so important in providing appropriate help, support, knowledge and skills.

Problem-solving involves reflection and thought. The adult can help by modelling strategies and encouraging children to talk about their methods. Children can develop a range of methods by collaborating with adults and with other children, and by discussing the range of methods.


- Create an atmosphere where exploration and having a go are more important than getting the right answer or doing the expected thing to please an adult.

- Provide a rich and stimulating environment, with plenty and varied activities, and don't make things too easy for the children.

- Be an opportunist and look for problem-solving possibilities in everyday activities, such as parties, picnics, tidying-up, arriving and leaving, charity events, a new baby, children's own interests.

- Approach everyday activities as problem-solving opportunities. In adult-led guided learning sessions, make sure children have choices within the framework of the objectives of the session. For example, if children are focusing on counting, play an interesting game that involves choices.

- If children ask you to be involved in their problem-solving, prompt them with comments or questions that will help them to continue to grapple with the problem themselves, or supply further resources that will keep the problem with them. A comment or a look can be as effective as questioning. Certainly, asking questions should not be an inquisition, but a collaborative conversation.

What do you think would help you to reach up there?

Mmm ... I don't know ... What have you tried so far?

Why didn't that work? I wonder if there is another way of doing it.

I wonder if we need anything else here to help us.

How does it look now?

I'm not sure I can do it either! Let's have another go.

- In group sessions, encourage children to describe their play, and the problems they tackled and overcame. Invite them to share ideas and thinking to show what they have done.

- If children are becoming frustrated, or if you feel they are on the cusp of new learning, introduce them to a technique or strategy for taking them on to the next step of learning. You can suggest breaking the problem down into smaller steps, or draw their attention to key features or clues.

- On the other hand, also allow children to get into a muddle so they can see that they need to think things through and develop systematic strategies. Don't take the problem away from the children. Healthy confusion is a good starting point for trying to sort things out.

- Make sure that children have long, uninterrupted periods of time at their own self-directed play.

- Observe children regularly to gain insights into their learning. Analyse and interpret these observations to help understand how to support them in their further learning.

For children to engage in and learn from problem-solving, they need to solve problems that they understand, in familiar contexts, where the outcomes matter to them, either on their own or in collaboration with others. They need to have control over the problem-solving process, and the problems should involve knowledge and skills they are confident with. They should have the opportunity to talk about the process, and have adult help to scaffold smaller steps in the process where they need it.

Two boys are playing with the tyres in the outdoor area of the setting. Their play leads them to start piling one tyre on top of the other. There are lots of tyres lying around the grassy area, and gradually they collect them and add them to their growing cylindrical tower.

Two more children join them, but in a different activity. They each find a container - one a bucket and spade and the other a dustpan and brush - and they gather up leaves and twigs and stones and empty them into the growing tyre cylinder.

The children building the tower have difficulty manipulating the tyres, as they are big and unwieldy. They have to turn each one on its edge and try to roll the tyre along. Sometimes another child sees this going on and volunteers to help.

Lifting the tyres increasingly higher is also difficult and reqiures two children, at least. As the tower grows, one child runs off and fetches a chair, puts it up against the tower, and lifts each tyre up on top. Meanwhile, the fillers continue to collect material to put into the central cavity.

Now that the hole is deeper, they add larger items such as lumps of wood and bark from the digging area. There are eight or nine tyres, one on top of the other. The children work at this activity for an hour and a half with no adult intervention. There is an adult observing from time to time and making notes.

problem solving activities in early years

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Home • Toddler • Play & Activities

12 Problem-Solving Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers

Intriguing ideas to boost their analytical and rational thinking skills.

Elisabeth Daly MSEd

Specialty: English Teacher and Book Blogger

Experience: 20 years

Elisabeth Daly is a state-certified high school English teacher. Over her two decade career, she has taught students in grades 9-12 at both public and private high schools, and worked as an adjunct professor at her local community college. ... more

kavita kankani MBA, BEd

Specialty: Child education & activities

Experience: 7 years

Kavita has a diverse background in finance, human resources, and teaching. She did her MBA in Finance and HR at Solapur University, and bachelor in Education at Pune University. After working for thre... more

Image: Shutterstock

Problem-solving preschool activities are an essential part of learning, leading to the development of the most crucial skills for your child. Your child’s journey between realizing a problem and finding a solution involves effort, thinking, and patience. What comes in between realization and solution is important to understand, as it is the key to a lightning-fast intellect. The process is the most beautiful part, which is also the beginning of making a new genius for the world to witness. These little minds could one day become billionaires, philanthropists, or someone far more successful .

Read on to know some of the problem-solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers and how it helps them.

What Is Problem-Solving?

Image: IStock

Problem-solving is the art of realizing a problem and finding an apt solution by a series of interconnected thoughts in the cognitive area of the mind (1) . It requires identifying the problem and pondering over the causes and attempting to chalk out the reason. The next step would be to find a solution out of the many alternatives. Identifying the causes of a problem would involve some deep thinking, which can benefit a child’s growth and aid in their character development.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are what every child needs to survive in this world. A few problem-solving skills are analytical thinking, logical reasoning, lateral thinking, creativity, initiative, persistence, negotiation, listening skills, cognitive skills, math skills, and decision-making. Good communication skills are also important as they improve the self-esteem of your child.

Why Is Problem-Solving Important In Preschool?

As parents, you may not want to fill your child’s minds with every problem-solving ability. But you must trust the process, as it is the most important phase of life, and they are learning new things every day.

  • During preschool, they are constantly interacting with friends and surroundings. They come across various problems and learn from them. The best part is that it will be effortless for them to pick up these skills faster as they are in their learning stage.
  • Also, the earlier they learn, the better it is (2)
  • Children in preschool are introduced to the realm of creativity and imagination through storytelling and poems. It will be the perfect time to enhance their creative abilities.
  • Children usually try to ignore things beyond their understanding. But problem-solving skills might help them see things differently.
  • Developing problem-solving abilities can help them take new initiatives.

How To Teach Problem-Solving Skills To Preschoolers?

Making them listen with patience and willingness is a skill that will help them comprehend what you teach them. Here are some steps that you can follow:

  • Teach them how to approach a problem in a practical way. Allow them to explore and find solutions by themselves. Problem-based learning will stick with them forever.
  • Make them do simple household chores in their own way. And, there is no right or wrong style to it. Kitchen experiments are a great way to learn.
  • Every kid is unique and has a different pace of learning. A teacher/ parent will have to be observing to analyze the best way to teach them.
  • Usually, the first step would be to identify the problem.
  • Once they find solutions, tell them to evaluate the pros and cons. And choose the best solution.
  • Teach them to take failure positively.
  • Encourage group activities as children tend to be active when their peers are along.

12 Problem-Solving Activities For Toddlers

You may try several problem-solving activities at home. We have listed some of the best activates here:

1. Simon Says

One of the children becomes Simon and gives commands. The rest have to follow the commands and enact only when they hear ’Simon says’ at the beginning of the command. If anyone acts when the words ‘Simon says’ is not told at the beginning, then that particular child is out. This game will improve listening skills and response time.

2. Tic–tac–toe

The game teaches decision-making and the cost of consequences. This game involves two players. One player has to mark X anywhere on the tic-tac-toe, followed by another player marking O. The idea is to make a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line with either three X’s or O’s. Both players have to stop each other from winning. Sounds fun, right?

3. Treasure hunt

Divide the children into groups and give them clues to find hidden objects. Activities such as treasure hunt evidently improve their problem-solving skills and induce the idea of competition.

Puzzles can make a child think out of the box. They can develop a child’s logical reasoning. Arranging the crumbled pieces will surely improve their level of patience.

5. Hide and seek

Playing in a group can make them less shy and socialize with others. And, with hide and seek activity, children can learn devising strategies, escaping from a troublesome situation, and various other skills.

6. Sorting together

Give them various toys, pieces of clothing, or other random objects at home and some bins. Now ask your child to sort and place everything in the right bin. See how good they are at classifying the objects.

7. Spot the difference

Show them printouts of two similar pictures, with one picture having some differences. Ask them to spot the differences. This helps in actively improving their concentration and attention to detail.

8. Matching animals with sounds

Play sounds of various animals and let the children guess their names. You can also take them to an animal farm where they can observe their behavior. This activity may improve their sound recognition ability over time.

Give your child a blank canvas and some paints or coloring pencils. Let them get creative and produce a masterpiece.

10. Memory games

Memory games can improve a child’s retaining capacity. One such game is to sit in a circle and play “Chinese Whisper.” In this game, kids sit in a circle. Each of them has to whisper a word in their peer’s ear. The same word, along with a new one, is whispered into the next child’s ear. This should be continued till the last child in the circle announces it for all to hear.

11. Fort building

Building forts using toy material, Lego, pillows, or blankets can be fun. During the process of building a fort, children may have to face minor or major difficulties. Overcoming such issues and completing the target successfully helps in the improvement of logical and analytical abilities.

Solving mazes can also help a kid improve their approach towards dealing with problems and dead ends. It will enable lateral thinking and thinking out of the box.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the stages of problem-solving?

Problem-solving is a cognitive skill that works through six stages – searching and determining the problem, generating alternative ideas or solutions, evaluating alternatives, selecting the best suitable solution, implementing the solution, and follow-up (3) .

2. At what age do toddlers begin problem-solving?

According to research, children begin problem-solving right after birth. Children learn problem-solving through exploration between zero to two years, whereas, by three years of age, they learn problem-solving through experimenting and trial and error. Four-year-olds learn problem-solving through cooperative activities with peers and friends. By five and six years, kids get enough experience to deal with problems that would need abstract thinking skills (4) .

3. How do toddlers develop critical thinking skills?

Critical thinking skills don’t develop in a day or week. Rather, it takes constant exposure to environments that hone a child’s critical thinking abilities. Indulging toddlers in critical thinking activities by asking open-ended questions or engaging in activities such as block constructing and puzzles and motivating them to think out of the box are simple ways to bolster your child’s critical thinking.

Problem-solving activities for toddlers enhance their thinking abilities and promote early brain development. You may introduce problem-solving activities such as tic-tac-toe, Simon says, hide and seek, treasure hunt, puzzles, etc., to enhance cognitive skills in toddlers. The problem-solving skills in preschoolers help them cope with various situations and mingle with other children. Problem-solving skills help children think differently and take the initiative in making decisions and solving problems. These activities help build the skills without any force or pressure.

Infographic: Hone Your Toddler’s Problem-Solving Skills

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Key Pointers

  • Honing your child’s problem-solving skills during preschool can help them see things differently and enhance their creative abilities.
  • Teach them to find the problem and use their analytical abilities to find a solution.
  • Simon Says, treasure hunt, puzzles, and spot the difference are a few problem-solving activities a toddler can try.


  • You Can Do It: Teaching Toddlers Problem-Solving Skills. https://va.gapitc.org/you-can-do-it-teaching-toddlers-problem-solving-skills/
  • Developing Problem-Solving Skills At Early Age. https://kennedyglobalschool.edu.in/developing-problem-solving-skills-at-early-age-takes-kids-long-way-as-they-grow/#respond
  • Problem solving. https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/N_R/Problem-solving
  • Development: Ages & Stages–How Children Learn to Problem-Solve. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ738434

Kavita Kankani MBA, BEd

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Mathematical Problem Solving in the Early Years: Developing Opportunities, Strategies and Confidence

Published 2016 Revised 2019

problem solving activities in early years

  • familiar contexts
  • meaningful purposes
  • mathematical complexity.

problem solving activities in early years

  • 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.

problem solving activities in early years

  • 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?

problem solving activities in early years

  • 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

problem solving activities in early years

  • 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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problem solving activities in early years

10 ideas for problem solving activities.

problem solving activities in early years

When children start school in Reception they are given lots of opportunity to work together to solve problems; to find out that being stuck is good, because when they become unstuck, that’s where learning happens. At Willow Lane we know these types of activities are important not just for our Early Years children but also for other children throughout the school. That’s why we also use our Wild Life area to deliver forest school sessions. Many of these activities are taken from our Forest School Curriculum and can be done in the back garden or in the home. They are a great way to encourage children to think of different ways of solving problems and working together. They are also a great way for all of the family to be involved.

At the end of each Forest School session we have a period of reflection. This would be good to do at home as well. You could ask questions like: Did everyone get a chance to speak? Did you have different jobs or did you do the same jobs? How did you decide what to do? What did you do when something went wrong? When did you work best as a team? Why was that successful? If you could do it again, what would you like to be different?

1.  Tower building

There are lots of different variants on this game of engineering and teamwork. A favourite resource many teachers use is dried spaghetti and marshmallows, some give ten balloons and 1 long strip of masking tape. When we have done this in Forest School we have used what we can find in our Wildlife Area – you could use tins, cereal boxes, recycling, DVD cases or whatever you wanted. The object of this problem solving activity is to build the tallest freestanding tower in ten minutes. Give any extra instructions you wish, e.g. they can break the balloons if they wish, they can only use the materials that you have said, you give an extra challenge by saying it must hold a certain object for 3 seconds. The tower must be built on a table or the floor. If you wish, you may add the following instructions:

No talking.

Each team member may use only one hand.

One team member may not touch the materials and only give directions.

You can use one or more of these limitations in 60-second intervals. If you have enough to split into teams, the first team to complete their tower wins.

This game can be set up by drawing a grid with an odd number of cells. The higher the number of cells the harder it is. The following website has a link to this activity on line (which will make it clearer than this explanation!) HTTPS://nrich.maths.org/1246

In the above grid you have two sets of objects (coloured squares) with one free cell. You have to swap the squares so they are on the opposite side. You can only move one at a time, you can only move into a free cell, you can jump over one other rectangle at a time.

You could set this out on the floor and use any two sets of different objects. Increase the grid and objects to make it harder.

What is the fewest number of moves it can be done in?

3. “Laser” Web

Use a large ball of string to create a giant web from one end of a room to the other. The goal is for individuals or teams to move through the web without touching the string. If they do so, they have been “zapped by a laser” and must try again. For greater suspense and for older players, use blindfolds or turn off the lights, allowing players to touch the string, but not pull it down or out of its original shape. You could even try it with one person blindfolded and another person giving instructions!

4.  Group Drawing

For this activity to work best it needs a group of 3, so adults may need to be involved! Each person on the team has a one of the following roles:

Drawer. The drawer attempts to recreate a pre-drawn design they cannot see (a picture from a magazine or newspaper would work well as they may know a familiar picture from the house). They take directions from the talker. They stand with their back to the talker and viewer and may not talk.

Talker. The talker describes the design to the drawer, without seeing the design. They may question the viewer. They may not use hand gestures.

Viewer. The viewer sees the design. However, they are not allowed to talk and must communicate nonverbally to the talker.  Additionally, they must not draw the design in the air or actually show the design with their gestures.

The activity ends when the viewers say they are satisfied with the drawings. The activity can be repeated so everyone has a chance to do the different roles. At the end you could celebrate all the drawings

For the activity to work with two people – you can allow the talker to see the picture and impose a time limit for when they need to be finished.

5.  Cross the River

This can work in small teams or one small group (if you search ‘cross the river’ you will find other examples). When enlisting adult and older children to help, make sure the younger children get a chance to lead the learning. Create a “river” (using chalk, masking tape for two parallel lines, or a rug or blanket although the physical material will cause its own problems to be overcome).

There are various ways of doing this activity – essentially you have to get all the team across the river – that could be width ways or length ways. Sometimes stepping stones are used. You could have one raft for each team. They could each have a pebble (a small piece of paper). They all have to work together to manoeuvre the raft or stepping stones across the river so that at the end they can all jump off it at the same time. To make it easier you could put an ‘island’’ or two in the river that players can use to stand on but can’t move, players could be given a rock to put in the river that can’t be moved once it’s placed. To make it harder reduce the number of pebbles, make the river wider, pebbles can only be placed by certain players, or they can only be used a certain number of times (if the river is very poisonous and toxic for example). The raft is very unstable and will sink if you jump on it. If you give each player his or her own small raft, add the rule that you must have 3 points of your body on the raft at all times i.e. 2 hands and a foot.

6.  Stranded

Create an “island” in the middle of a large area using tape, chalk or whatever is to hand. Two or more people from each team go to the “island” and the other team members try to find something to get the “stranded” children off the island. They may use shoelaces, items of clothing (socks tied together), or any other items they can find. You may need to hide some appropriate gear for them to use if you are inside. Outside games of Stranded usually provide more options – tree limbs, ivy vines, etc.

This game reminds me of another problem of the Konigsberg Bridge. You could set up a situation similar to the one in the link below. For the keen problem solvers out there, research the Konigsberg Bridge to find out how it opened up a new branch of mathematics.


7.  Memory Game

This can be done with household items or with things you collect if you go out for some exercise through Fairfield nature reserve or near the Lune.

What you need: Collection bags The activity:

  • Ask the children to make a collection of things that they find in their natural area i.e. leaf, moss, feather, stone, acorn, pine cone. (If necessary prepare the area beforehand with appropriate objects). Avoid wild flowers as the children should not be encouraged to pick these as the bees need them, especially in early spring
  • Lay a collection out on the ground
  • Ask a child to memorise the objects and turn away
  • Remove one object and ask the child chosen to guess which object has been removed
  • Discuss strategies for memorising them, are they taking a picture of what’s there? Are they linking the objects together in their mind to help remember a chain of objects? Some children wowed us in assembly at being able to remember several digits of Pi not long ago, so with some practise at this game, there will be some new challengers next time

8.  Building bridges

In a group of no more than 5, have three lengths of string (each about 1 metre). Show the children a drinks bottle (which is full of water). They can hold it if they want to, or measure it, but cannot take it away from the teacher / leader. The groups are then challenged to build a freestanding bridge using sticks (or other materials from around the home) and the pieces of string. If using home materials, it would be a good idea to say what these can be, rather than have children ransacking the house for more materials. Newspaper folded very tightly and twisted can be very strong. The bridge has to be tall enough for the bottle to be passed underneath standing upright. It also has to be wide enough for the bottle to be passed underneath lying on its side, and strong enough for the bottle to balance on top for 10 seconds. Hint: decide how much help you want to give the children – you could suggest using three sticks tied at each end, to make tripods (which are strong structures and will support the top of the bridge), OR they could build a tower at each end of the bridge using the same technique used in the previous activity for tower building.

Give the groups 10-15 minutes to build the bridges and then test for height, width and strength.

The next step could be to use their skills of building small bridges to build something bigger and stronger. This time, the bridge needs to be high enough for a child to crawl underneath it, and strong enough for a child to sit on top of it. Give the groups more string – it needs to be thick string this time – we suggest decent garden twine.

Health and safety point – We don’t want any injuries so be aware that children may fall off the bridges. They are unlikely to be very high – we suggest that when the first child sits on the bridge, they are helped by other members of their team who can hold their hands. Once one child has tried the bridge, it is likely that they will all want to sit on it at the same time, this would probably end up with a heap on the floor so we would advise against it. Also, the bridge would probably become more unstable after one person has sat on it so it would be a good idea to end the activity before an older member of the family comes to test it as well!

Give the groups 15-20 minutes to build the bridges and then, as before, go round to test each bridge for height and strength.

9.  Categories or ‘Stop the bus!’

The game: Using some way of generating a random letter (there are apps for this, or you could use letters in a scrabble bag, or you cut up letters from the alphabet), players have to write down one item/object/thing for each category. When you have filled in each section you shout ‘stop the bus!’ and then you check your answers to make sure they are all accepted by the group. You get a point for each one if no one else has the same answer as you. If you ‘stop the bus’ and everyone agrees your answers are acceptable you get an extra point.

Setting it up: Each person needs a piece of paper and something to write with. Decide on the headings you want to use, make sure that they are something that everyone can do. You’ll need a section for each heading and a section for the points at the end of each round. Some headings you might want to use are: Animals, Foods, countries, cities, clothing, furniture, things you can find on the beach, things you might do in the park. You could link it to the topic the children have been studying, such as item from prehistoric time or places in Europe.

10. Rory’s story cubes

This is a great way to help children make up stories. Problem solving often involves making links and connections and this is a great way of doing it. It is taken from this toy https://www.storycubes.com/en/

But you can make your own with some pebbles and permanent marker or just some card and will be a fun activity in itself. You need different symbols that are simple and clear – it doesn’t matter if people interpret them in different ways. In the game you can buy, there are 9 cubes so there are 54 different images – but you don’t need that many. They could be linked to topics the children remember e.g.

If you search for ‘story cubes printable’ there are lots of ideas.

One game you can play is to see who can make the longest chain of events without hesitating (too long). A player picks out or rolls the dice to find the first symbol, then starts their story with that. They then pick out another symbol and continue their story. You could play it by making up a story together each taking turns, or everyone could see the next symbol and the first person to link it into the story gets a point. The first person to get a number of points wins, or you could do it in rounds if you use a timer for each round.

This website has ideas of how you might take this further and write your own story from it.


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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

supporting children's 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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