Problem solving is the ability to use creative and critical thinking to turn obstacles into bridges to greater learning. Watch even the youngest child encounter a new toy, object, or quandary and you will see great problem solving in action.
She will examine, explore, test, and draw conclusions through active play. When you take problem solving outdoors, you invite children to be thinkers in a new environment.
With these simple outdoor activities, you can show children the fun of problem solving as it applies to all areas of the curriculum. And you will be instilling a positive sense of accomplishment for all your young learners!
A great way to get started with problem solving outdoors is to be open to children's problems and questions and ask them to consider how to solve or answer them themselves. Sometimes children rely on adults to "fix things." But when asked to figure things out (with your support) they do amazingly well! For example, if a group of children come to show you that a plastic bat is broken or a favorite book torn, ask them to suggest how it could be fixed. What could we use to fix it? How should we do it? Perhaps the problem is more interpersonal. Sometimes it can get pretty confusing on the playground, and children may come to complain that "no one's listening to the rules!" Ask children to identify the problem and what they want, then to think of reminders to help everyone remember the rules of the playground.
Language skills are highlighted in any problem-solving situation because children need to be able to discuss, brainstorm, and communicate ideas as a part of the process of using higher-order thinking. We all know that creative and critical thinking happens when children explore objects and ideas. You are inviting children to think about and discuss their ideas. You might ask open-ended question starters such as: What did you notice ... ? How many ways can you ... ? What would happen if ... ? These questions invite children to think about what they are doing, and, best of all, these questions have no right answers. This type of free thinking is key to the art of problem solving.
Using the Activities
The problem-solving activities in this section cover a wide array of topics and use many different kinds of materials. Here are a few ideas to apply to all forms of problem solving outside.
Ask children to solve sharing problems. Sometimes the big open outdoor spaces can heighten sharing problems. When two children are fighting over a toy, hold it for them and give them a moment to calm down. Then, invite each child to tell her version of the story while the other listens. Encourage children to suggest solutions so that they are both satisfied. Perhaps there is a similar toy inside that can be brought out or a timer can be used to define each child's turn.
Provide materials for group problem solving outdoors. Present a large object and invite children to find ways to move it across the playground.
Supply materials for children to create their own playground structures and enclosures. Open-ended materials, including boxes, planks, supports, carpet tubes, plastic crates, and tires are good choices.
Rotate different science tools into your outdoor play area. Just by adding one new tool such as a magnifier, kaleidoscope, pan balance, or magnet, you can alter children's play as well as their thinking. What can you do with this tool? How many different ways can you use it outdoors?
Play partner problem solving games. Ask: How can you and a partner crawl across the grass balancing a bath mat across your backs? Can you bounce a ball together without using your hands?
Conversations and Questions
- Your questions can spark conversation and thinking. Here are a few to get you started:
- It's a great day for a picnic. What will we need to get ready?
- What would we need to bring a group time outside?
- How can you make your trike or wagon move backward?
- How can you create a tunnel in the sand without it falling in?
- How many different things can you find in the playground that you can use to make a bridge?