Babies are born with built-in problem-solving tools called reflexes. Less then an hour after birth, a baby will use her rooting and sucking reflexes to feed. As she grows, many of her automatic responses will be replaced by more voluntary actions.
At 2 months, babies become more alert and eager to explore the world around them. By the time she's 4 months old, the baby has developed the muscle control and eye-hand coordination necessary to bring toys and other objects to her mouth. The joyful exploration and experimentation that leads to problem-solving has begun.
Looking for Results
By the age of 8 months, babies enjoy playing with toys that produce interesting responses to their actions. Children especially like to experiment with grasping, shaking, and banging toys that make unusual sounds and movements. These fun experiences help to lay the groundwork for children's later understanding of cause-and-effect relationships.
Children move to a more purposeful level of problem-solving by their first birthday. No longer limited to what's immediately in front of them, they can now push aside a toy in order to reach another, more interesting one.
Many 1-year-olds also begin to solve problems through observation and imitation. Fourteen month-old Daisy, for example, is puzzled by her new stacking toy. She watches closely as her mother removes the top ring from the toy. Daisy then takes off the next ring. When her mother replaces the first ring, Daisy again follows her lead and replaces the ring she was holding. Her mom smiles and claps, and Daisy laughs with pleasure at her new discovery.
Trying It All Out
Once they reach toddlerhood, children use the "What would happen if ..." approach to problem-solving. They experiment with a little bit of everything around them in their persistent search for a solution.
Eighteen-month-old Emma, for instance, is busy trying to make the mechanical dog move. She shakes it, turns it upside down, pushes the key, and pats the puppy's head. Finally, she turns the key — and the puppy moves!
By the time they're 2, children are learning to use an important new problem-solving tool — memory. At this age, your toddler can observe, think about the problem, and later on remember what she saw and imitate it.
When 2-year-old Susie wants to open the drawer in a piece of dollhouse furniture, for example, she no longer shakes and bangs it as she would have a few months ago. Instead, she remembers watching her father open the drawer and uses the same technique.
What You Can Do
Young children have so many problems to solve and so little time! You can help by providing opportunities for open-ended exploration and offering guidance before children become too frustrated.
- Offer babies a variety of intriguing items they can grasp and suck. Exploring new materials sets the stage for later problem-solving skills.
- Give babies toys that produce responses to their actions. Toys that make funny noises when they're grasped, shaken, and banged are great for teaching cause and effect.
- Place interesting toys just out of a 1-year-old's reach. This will make her work to get the toy. However, if she loses interest, bounce the toy and push it a little closer.
- Help children find solutions to real-life problems. When a ball rolls behind the shelf, for example, ask your toddler how he thinks he can get it. Try out his suggestions, and then share your ideas.