Learning Through Play – Problem Solving

Problem solving

In our everyday lives and at our jobs we’re constantly doing it. Resolving issues. In the adult world we typically solve problems in the following steps:

  • Identify and define the issue.
  • Analyze the issue.
  • Identify what the desired result is to be.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions.
  • Test the possible solutions.
  • Evaluate our results.
  • Choose the best solution.

Giving a child a head start to developing problem solving and analytic skills will go a long way. As parents and caregivers you have a great opportunity to guide the thinking process along and ultimately help develop critical thinking skills. Legos, for example, are an excellent toy that can be used as a tool for teaching analytical problem solving skills. Following along with the simple step by step instructions to reach the final conclusion offer many great lessons in analyzing and testing to reach a solution.

Basic math for children who understand counting and numbers is another great way to give the tools for analyzing and evaluating. For example, the use of common objects such as food and toys to teach the concept of numbers and counting is a wonderful aid.

Teaching the consequences of not thinking things through. In Amazing Bean – Hardware Hero I used many comical examples of what can happen when you rush to solve before you analyze a situation.

Amazing Bean e-Cartoon Comic

Now teaching these valuable steps to kids would be great. And it can be done through play. The main objective with one year olds and beyond is to get them thinking. At this age they are developing object and person permanence. One year and beyond more complex communication is beginning to develop and teaching is a more involved. However, according to Dr. Dewar at parentingscience.com (2009-2012), teaching kids by example in an explicit manner is the best way. In the early years kids often parrot what they see and hear. Showing them first and then have them perform the task. And then allowing them free play to add their own variation is a good practice too. But overall talk about the issue to solve is key in the learning.

Learning Deductive Reasoning Through Play

Children of all ages can learn deductive reasoning. Whether they are close to a year or five this basic skill can be taught through a simple guessing game of chance. The primary goal is to excite your child’s thinking. Even a one year old can be induced into a simple thought process which will benefit them. Simply take three identical boxes, bowls or similar objects which can hide a treat or favorite toy and then place the toy or treat under one box. Then mix them up and have your child try and guess which one contains the toy or treat. For younger babies that can’t yet verbally communicate you can still teach the game. Simply show them what to do a few turns and then let them try. For older kids your can add some complexity to the game by letting them try and guess once and then mix them up again until the guess right.

Another activity that can be used to teach deductive reasoning is counting games. A simple game of counting claps with a song will have the young mind thinking along a logical path. For example, call out a number and then count that many claps together. As your child gains confidence then allow them to attempt the clapping and counting on their own.

100 Numbers
First 100 Numbers by Roger Priddy

And a great book just for this kind of activity is Roger Priddy’s “First 100 Numbers”. In his series of board books this book offers numbers and wonderfully fun pictures of common objects. To illustrate each number, that many of an object is shown. This is great for counting along with your child. And any child of all ages can benefit from this counting activity.

Overcoming Obstacles Through Play

In the book “Wonder Play”, the authors offer an idea that can also be used for developing problem solving skills by creating an obstacle course made up of blankets, pillows and any safe object you can think of. This activity can be modified for any child of almost any age that is capable of moving. Even those that can only crawl can get in on the fun. As an added variation you can have the kids attempt it one way and then once they are through have the kids leave the room and you then rearrange it and have the kids go back through the opposite way.

 Learning to Fail Through Play

Teaching your kids that it’s ok to fail so long as you learn from it can be a great lesson learn. It’s a great opportunity to teach your kids how to cope with failure and ways to learn from the failure. In Amazing Bean, Bean makes many valiant attempts to fix things but ultimately ends up failing much to Snail’s distress. I think the lesson I was aiming for in this strip was perseverance is good but knowing when to stop and reevaluate a situation is a better approach to finding a solution. Had Bean quit while Bean was ahead there wouldn’t have been as many humorous disasters!

The Final Conclusion

The early years of growth and development are very critical. It is this time that the foundation for who we become and our success later in life is by and large determined by our learning. Giving your child the best opportunities in life begins with good reasoning skills. Once a child is able to grasp the concepts of identifying issues and the steps in resolving solutions they will be well on their way to tackle life’s other obstacles.


  • Cohen, Lawrence J. Playful Parenting. New York: Ballantine, 2001.
  • Reitzes, Fratta., Teitelman, Beth: Wonder Play. Philadelphia: Running, 1995.
  • Dewar, Ph.D. Gwen. Parenting Science. “Teaching Critical Thinking : An Evidence Based Guide.”(2009-2012) Online posting. Feb 2018, http://www.parentingscience.com/teaching-critical-thinking.html