Discovery Play with Littles

Discovery Play with Littles

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15 Powerful Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

I looked over to her table and she’s crying. Again. While everyone else is happily working away, she sat there, unable to move, just crying. 

Not asking for help.

Not trying to solve her problem.

Just crying.

I took a deep breath before heading over. We’ve already been at this for several months…isn’t it about time the problem-solving has kicked in yet?

One glance and I could tell what her problem was. She didn’t have her pencil.

Know how I knew?

It laid on the floor beside her. In plain sight.

As a kindergarten teacher, I don’t jump right in and solve problems for kids. It’s good for them to try to solve the problem themselves. This is something she struggled with. 

I reminded myself of the need for patience and empathy as I walked up to her. “What’s wrong, Amanda?” 

“I…can’t…find…my…pencil….” she sputtered out between sobs. 

“Ok, that’s a problem we can solve. What have you tried?” 

“I don’t know.” 

After a long time trying to first, calm her down, and second, come up with some strategies she could try, she finally found her pencil. At that point, everyone else had finished the project. 

Toddlers playing with wooden blocks

What is Problem Solving?

Problem-solving is the process of finding a solution to your problem . This can be quite tricky for some young children, especially those with little experience in finding more than one way to solve a problem.

Why is Problem Solving Important? 

Problem-solving skills are used throughout childhood into adulthood. As adults, we solve problems on a daily basis. Some problems we solve without thinking much- I wanted to make tacos for dinner but forgot to buy the ground beef. What are we going to have for dinner now?

Other problems are significantly more complicated. 

Problems for kiddos can be problems with friendships, the inability to find something that’s needed, or even what to do when things don’t go your way. 

Kids who lack problem-solving skills struggle to maintain friendships or even begin to attempt to solve their own problems. 

Children who lack problem-solving skills are at a higher risk for depression as well.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are:

  • Breaking Down a Problem into Smaller Parts
  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Perseverance

That’s a big list to teach toddlers and preschoolers. Where do you begin?

The Problem-Solving Steps

Sometimes kids are so overwhelmed with frustration that it affects their ability to solve problems.

Kids feel safe in routines, and routines help them learn and grow. After a few times of repeating this routine, you’ll find your kiddo starts to do this on their own. 

It’s important not to skip straight to solving the problem , because your kiddo needs to be in a calm state of mind to solve the problem, and also they need to know their feelings are valid. 

  • The first thing to do when your kiddo is struggling with problem-solving is to validate their emotions.

In doing this, they will feel more understood and learn that their emotions are okay. There are no bad feelings, and we must learn how to manage our emotions. 

This might sound something like “Oh, I can see you are really frustrated that the block won’t fit on there right. Let’s take some deep breaths to help us calm down before we think about what to do next.”

  • Next, work through your calm-down process . This may be taking some deep breaths together, hugging a stuffie, or giving your kiddo some quiet time to calm down their heart and mind.
  • Identify the problem . This sounds like something you may have already done (before the meltdown) but it’s important to be very clear on the problem you’re solving. Have the child tell you their problem out loud.
  • Move on to solution-finding . When your kiddo is ready, talk about what the problem is and three possible solutions. When possible, let your kiddo do all of the talking. This allows him to practice his problem-solving skills. It’s important to remind him that the first thing he tries may not work, and that’s ok. There’s always another way to solve the problem. If he’s prepared for this, solutions that don’t work won’t be such a frustrating experience. 
  • After you’ve done that, test your solutions one by one. See what works. If you haven’t found a solution yet, go back and think of different ways you might be able to solve your problem and try again.

problem solving examples for toddlers

Are you tired of hearing “It’s TOO HARD!” followed by a meltdown?

Using this one simple phrase you’ll get in this powerful lesson, you’ll not only be able to help your kiddo not give up but you’ll:

>Activate their superpower of perseverance so that they can turn around a meltdown and keep trying

>Inspire them to use perseverance …even when it’s hard

>Teach them to recognize the warning signs of giving up , and how to turn it around by taking control of their choices.

Grab your powerful FREE video lesson to teach your kiddo one of the most powerful keys to perseverance.

Powerful Activities that Teach Problem-Solving Skills to Toddlers & Preschoolers

These activities below may look simple, but don’t let that deter you from trying them. A lot happens in little developing brains and these powerful activities help toddlers and preschoolers make connections and develop {many} essential skills-more than just problem-solving.

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Puzzles are fun and a great way to encourage cognitive development in children. They are great for spacial reasoning and strengthening problem-solving skills. They also develop memory skills, critical thinking, and the ability to plan and execute the plan. Toddlers will enjoy the simple puzzles, and preschoolers will do great with floor puzzles with larger puzzle pieces.

problem solving examples for toddlers

Doing Simple Chores

Doing simple chores is a great way to teach children problem-solving skills, and it strengthens responsibility and perseverance as well. 

During the toddler years , you may start with just picking up their toys, or helping you put their dirty clothes in the hamper. 

Preschoolers can take their dirty dishes to the sink (or load them in the dishwasher), collect the trash, dust, wipe baseboards, and do their own personal care items like making their bed, taking care of their dirty clothes, and putting clean clothes away.

Stacking Rings

When watching a toddler play with stacking rings it doesn’t look like much is happening, but playing with these toys is full of ways to encourage development. It helps with visual and spacial perception and planning ahead, but it also with balance control, crossing the midline, creative play, and gross motor skills. Not to mention it’s a great opportunity to practice problem-solving. 

problem solving examples for toddlers

Playing Hide-and-Seek

Hide and seek has many surprising benefits for kids. Playing hide and seek is like a treasure hunt that helps develop gross motor skills and encourages physical development, as well as problem-solving skills. It also helps young children develop visual tracking, working memory, and social-emotional skills.

Preschooler playing construction worker

Imaginative Play

Imaginative play (also called role-play) builds important skills. Through pretending to be in different situations, kids develop social skills, emotional skills, better communication, and problem-solving skills. Imaginative play is a great idea for young toddlers all the way to older children.

Free Play 

Many young children don’t have {enough} time for free play. Free play is important for healthy brain development , not only developing imagination, cooperation, physical skills, and independence but also providing a great opportunity to strengthen problem-solving skills. 

Playing with Wooden Blocks

Building blocks are a fun way for children to develop creative thinking, imagination, problem-solving, fine motor skills, and if working with others, cooperation, communication, and friendship.

problem solving examples for toddlers

Playing Memory

Memory games improve attention, focus, visual recognition, and concentration. It helps children recognize details and of course, strengthens problem-solving skills. 

problem solving examples for toddlers

Ask Questions

When I see my son struggling with something, my first instinct is to give him choices or at least lead him in the right direction. The better thing to do is to ask very open-ended questions that lead his process, not his thoughts.

Questions like “What’s one way to solve your problem?” are much more effective in teaching problem-solving skills than “Well, where did you last see your stuffy?” 

Read Books and Social Stories

Reading books is one of my favorite ways to teach any skill. It’s extremely effective at teaching, and it’s also an amazing bonding time with kids.

When we read stories, our brain reacts as if we’re living in the story. This is why reading books about skills such as problem-solving is so effective. 

Kids of all ages learn from the people they love . (Yes, even those older kids who you don’t think are paying attention.) Often as adults, we’re too busy going through our daily routine to think about talking about the way we solved the problem at work that day.

Talking about how you use skills such as problem-solving, perseverance, and integrity is a great way to set an example, and an expectation that this is how we do things, and it will provide encouragement for your kiddo to do the same.

Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are a great group activity that can strengthen your child’s logical thinking and problem-solving skills.

When Your Kiddo is Ready, Add These Activities

Preschoolers would benefit from all of the fun activities on the list above and when they’re ready, feel free to add in the following activities.   

Mazes are great for problem-solving and perseverance, but your kiddo will need to have decent fine motor skills to do these activities. Mazes are one of our favorite activities. We love to take our activity book of mazes in the car with us for road trips. 

problem solving examples for toddlers

Board Games  

Board games are a good way to strengthen problem-solving, teamwork, planning skills, patience, sportsmanship, and communication skills. They also strengthen family relationships by providing some intentional time of connection .

Any board game can also be turned into an academic game with just a deck of cards for whatever skill you’re working on. If you’re working on the alphabet, put one letter on each card. Before each player’s turn, they draw a letter card and say the letter’s name. (You may accidentally forget the name of a letter every now and then to see if your kiddo is really paying attention!) 

Allow Opportunities for Hands-On Investigations

Kids are tactile. They love to touch and explore things with their hands. This is a good activity for toddlers also, as long as they are out of the putting everything in their mouth stage. Hands-on exploration is great for language development, sensory exploration, and problem-solving.

Allowing kids to investigate with their hands allows them to see how the world works up close. It also gives them time and space to try to make things work…and problem-solve when it doesn’t go as they think it should.

The Most Difficult Way (and Most Important Way) To Strengthen Problem-Solving Skills

Watching our kids struggle is hard ! We don’t want to see them having a hard time…and most of the time we don’t want to deal with the impending meltdown. Standing back and giving our kids time and space to work through even simple problems is hard to do. It’s also the most important way to strengthen problem-solving skills. 

As parents, we’re like frogs in boiling water. When our kids are infants, they need us to recognize their needs and solve them immediately. As they get older, they can point to what they want, but we still have a lot of interpreting and problem-solving to do on our own. If we aren’t careful, we stay in this stage and don’t teach our kiddos the steps to problem-solving for themselves. 

The next most difficult thing? Allowing natural consequences to happen. (As long as your child is safe of course.) If your child saves their money for a long time to buy a new toy, but walks down the toy aisle and picks up something you know they’ll be disappointed with, let it happen. It will teach a valuable lesson that will last for years to come.

Another Essential Part of Problem-Solving

Perseverance is a big part of problem-solving. We are rarely able to solve problems the first time, and it’s essential that kids can find more than one solution to a problem. Studies have found that perseverance is actually the biggest predictor of success, even more than aptitude or raw talent. 

An entire module is dedicated to perseverance in our course for kids, Super Kid Adventures . Your kiddo will get 25 teacher-led lessons on character traits (perseverance, empathy, friendship, responsibility, and wellness) and activities that take their learning further. 

Super Kid Adventures

Want a free preview? Grab a FREE Perseverance video lesson that teaches your kiddo one of the most important secrets that help them use perseverance.

Want More? 

If you like this, you’ll love: 

The Ultimate List of Books that Teach Perseverance

7 Simple Ways to Encourage Independence in Young Children

How to Help Your Child Develop Self-Help Skills

Your Turn 

What are your favorite ways to teach problem-solving skills?

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About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a mama of two boys, a former teacher, and the founder of Discovery Play with Littles. Her mission is to make raising kids with character simple and fun. Join us for our best learning through play ideas, character growth activities, and family connection ideas so you can watch your child thrive.

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As a SLP trying to guide parents as I work with their child. I would like to know what toys to recommend to my parents as I assist in guiding their child’s development in cognition and expressive language.

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Perseverance is the biggest predictor of success, even more than raw talent or aptitude.

Grab a FREE lesson to teach your kiddo one of the keys to perseverance...which is how we talk to our brains.

They'll learn what to say when they encounter something difficult, and why it's so important.

PLAY is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. -Mr. Rogers

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Home • Toddler • Play And Activities

13 Problem-Solving Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers

Intriguing ideas to boost their analytical and rational thinking skills.

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 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

Rohit Garoo is a writer-turned-editor with over 9 years of experience in content writing, editing, and content marketing. He did his bachelors in Science at St. Xavier's College, Hyderabad, and master... more

Vibha is a coder turned content writer. She holds a Masters degree in Computer Applications from Osmania University, Hyderabad and a certificate in 'Introduction To Child Psychology'. Her passion for ... more

MomJunction believes in providing reliable, research-backed information to you. As per our strong editorial policy requirements, we base our health articles on references (citations) taken from authority sites, international journals, and research studies. However, if you find any incongruencies, feel free to write to us .

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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.

13 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.

13. Stacking rings

Stacking rings is an effective problem-solving activity for children as it enhances their cognitive skills, spatial awareness, and fine motor abilities. The task requires careful consideration of size, shape, and balance, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Children must strategize the order and orientation of the rings to successfully build a stable tower. This activity encourages creativity as they experiment with different stacking techniques. Give children a set of rings in varying sizes and materials for this activity. Ask the children to construct the tower and be watchful to prevent it from collapsing, as it offers them valuable insights into cause-and-effect relationships. Challenge them to create the tallest tower possible to promote teamwork and perseverance as they refine their approach through trial and error.

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

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.

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team

  • You Can Do It: Teaching Toddlers Problem-Solving Skills.
  • Developing Problem-Solving Skills At Early Age.
  • Problem solving.
  • Development: Ages & Stages–How Children Learn to Problem-Solve.
  • Fact-checker

Elisabeth Daly MSEd

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This Homeschool House

17 Valuable Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

Posted on February 24, 2023

problem solving examples for toddlers

Problem solving activities for toddlers don’t need to be overly complicated.

I would sit there watching my toddler as he was playing with his toys during his playtime . He would be trying to fit a block into one of those circular toys with the shapes cut out.

He was trying to put a square into a circle cutout.  After a couple of attempts, he clearly couldn’t get it to work and he absolutely lost his cool.

There is yelling and screaming and the toy was eventually thrown some distance across the room. This was not a one-off event.

My second child didn’t seem to have such a lot of trouble with these kinds of situations but my third child is very much the same as her older brother.

Problem-solving skills come easier to some people than they do two others.

However problem-solving skills are an important asset to have no matter who you are or what stage of life you’re in.

Life can be complicated and challenging and we often come across situations that we’re not comfortable in and we’re not sure how to handle.

But is it really that important to start working on problem-solving skills when our kids are still just toddlers?

problem solving examples for toddlers

Why are Problem-Solving Activities for Toddlers Important?

Layers. Let’s think about problem-solving skills in layers.

You may feel as though it’s not very important for your toddler to be working on problem-solving skills but that is the furthest thing from the truth.

The toddler years build-up to the childhood years build-up to teenage years and the teenage years built up to adulthood.

Each stage contains its own unique set of problem-solving that needs to happen and problem-solving skills are a crucial part of toddler cognitive development.

The problem-solving skills that a toddler must learn are not going to be the same as what a teenager is going to need to learn.

However, the skills that a toddler learns are going to directly impact the skills that a teenager is going to be able to learn and how easily they’re able to learn them.

What your toddler learns now is going to make their problem-solving so much easier when they are a teenager.

To put it frankly you want to allow your toddler to be learning problem-solving skills now in order to make their future that much easier. 

Important Skills that Problem-Solving Offers

dad helping son with problem solving activities for toddlers

Let’s just take a moment to really consider everything that your child will gain from having some problem-solving skills. Problem-solving is great but it isn’t the only thing that your child is going to gain.

They will gain the ability to be more creative, have more flexibility, patience, and lateral thinking. 

Your toddler will gain skills such as resilience, level-headedness, and persistence. These may be basic skills, to begin with, but over time they will grow and get stronger and hugely benefit them in the long run.

Your child’s ability to increase their critical thinking skills and work out their own problems is made much easier if they’re given the opportunity to practice these skills as young children.

A List of Problem-Solving Games and Activities for Toddlers

toddler stacking blocks

As parents, we can sometimes overthink how our children are going to learn specific skills. An important thing to remember is that a child’s work is play. Play is a child’s work. Children need very little to learn important skills.

However, you can definitely help set up certain scenarios where your toddler can practice the art of problem-solving.

Because children learn through play I am listing a lot of games and activities for toddlers that are meant for building up problem-solving skills. 

I have also included at least one general life activity that takes place in the home. Children do learn through play but there are also just daily activities that are going to help hone their problem-solving skills. Sometimes we just need them to be pointed out.

We often just need some new ways suggested to us when we’re at a dead end for what the best way and most fun way is to teach these kinds of cognitive skills.

problem solving examples for toddlers

This seems like a really obvious answer but it is sometimes the simplest things that make the most difference.

There are there is an abundance of puzzles out there that are perfect for toddlers to home their problem-solving skills with.

My one piece of advice would be to make sure that it is age appropriate. If you pick one that is too advanced you’re only going to end up with a very frustrated toddler. 

#2 Asking Open-Ended Questions (Imaginary Games)

mom paying with toddler son

This is something that can be a really fun activity to do with your toddler and there are different ways to do it. You could set up a storytime where they are going to be telling the story themselves. To help them with this you simply ask them open-ended questions. In my experience kids absolutely love this.

You can also make this in an imaginary game. We all know how much our children love for us to play with them and to play imaginary games specifically.

Let them run the narrative by asking them questions. Young toddlers very often come up with the most hilarious storylines.

#3 Scavenger Hunts

toddler looking through grass

This is an activity that all of my children love even my kids who are well out of the toddler stage. For that reason, it can be a really great family activity to do together.

 Create your own scavenger hunts or find one on Pinterest or Google. Make it into a treasure hunt if you really want to up the excitement level. Your older children will love this too.

 Your toddler will have so much fun hunting for things around your house or your yard. It’s a great way of developing their problem-solving skills as they have to think about where certain things would be.

You could even have them create a scavenger hunt for their siblings are friends to do. This is one of those fun activities that can be rehashed many times over.

#4 Creative Play

toddler playing with pretend make up

Creative play isn’t necessarily a toddler activity that you have to set up because they naturally fall into it all on their own. However, it is important to acknowledge how wonderful creative play is for helping to develop problem-solving skills.

Have you ever had a child come to you and complain that their sibling or friend is not playing by the rules of the game that they themselves created?

This is a perfect example of how they are developing their problem-solving skills.

Children naturally create scenarios and situations that are promoted by their life experiences and the things that they see around them.

Creative play gives them the opportunity to role model the examples that they have been exposed to and to work out different scenarios. This is a vital skill for them to develop at a young age.

Most kids can come up with all sorts of games without any toys at all however if you do want to provide toys for the specific kind of play look under toys listed as role play or creative play.

Consider a toy kitchen dress-up clothes play money. All of these things can have open-ended uses for play and learning vital skills. 

When they practice this kind of creative free play with other children, they’re also practicing their language development and working on solving difficult situations. It’s a really good way to overhear what they really are learning.

#5 Creating Patterns

toddler making patterns

I homeschool my children and one of the things that they all really in have enjoyed doing is learning about patterns. However, this is not something that you have to wait to teach your child until they are school-aged.

Toddlers are more than capable of recognizing patterns around them.

You can get free printables or printables that are very affordable that are specifically made to use with toddlers.

You can get them to continue the pattern or create their own pattern using flashcards.

This is an excellent way of developing problem-solving skills using simple games and even small objects. Use chocolate chips and cheerios to create a pattern. It’ll be great for their fine motor skills and they’ll love the treat when you’re finished the game!

Toddler girl dusting

Now, this is obviously not a game or specific activity for toddlers however chores are a normal part of life. In our home, everyone does their bit to help the home run smoothly.

You can totally give your toddler some basic chores that they are responsible for. Simple things like taking a rag and dusting the baseboards. My toddlers have always loved to be helpful in this way. It’s a great way to teach them problem-solving skills. They will learn about the tools they need to use the job to complete the job and how to get the job done well.

As they get older their skills will also get better. 

#7 Stacking Blocks

problem solving examples for toddlers

Stacking blocks are a pretty staple part of many toddlers’ toy chests. It’s an open-ended imaginative toy that your toddler can learn great problem-solving skills from.

The simple act of having to balance blocks on top of one another without them falling over is a skill in and of itself. These were a favorite toy in our home when I had really little kids.

Using building materials such as wooden blocks helps them to problem solve and learn important concepts such as balance, spatial reasoning, and many other great skills.

Little minds can be seen working through the thought process of all the possible solutions for what they want to build.

This was a toy that I often had set aside for independent play (a great tool to have during the early years!).

#8 Magnatiles

problem solving examples for toddlers

Magatiles are another great toy option for open-ended imaginative play. Again your toddler will have to make sure that they understand how to get the tiles to fit together and create the shapes that they’re trying to achieve.

#9 Hide n Seek

toddler playing hide n seek

Playing hide n’ seek honestly holds some of the fondest memories I have of my kids. There is just something about hearing their little giggles as they are trying their best to hide from me that just melts my heart. Ultimately I end up in fits of vehicles myself.

In all seriousness, your toddler can learn some great problem-solving skills by playing this game with you their siblings or friends.

#10 Grouping Activities

problem solving examples for toddlers

Another simple activity that teaches great problem-solving skills is having your toddler practice grouping specific items based on either their shape color or other identifying thing.

#11 Playing Playdough

problem solving examples for toddlers

Play-Doh is one of the cheapest and most accessible open-ended play items that you can give to your child. You can either just leave them to play with it or you can give them playdough mats where they can create specific shapes with their player.

This is a great activity for developing hand dexterity and also problem-solving skills amongst other things. 

#12 Reading Together

mom reading to toddler

You might not consider reading together an activity that would develop problem-solving skills. However, as your child goes through the story with you and the character that you are reading about is struggling with specific issues your toddler is also going to be thinking about how those issues might be resolved.

A way to make this activity even better is to have a discussion with your toddler as you’re reading a story or after you’ve finished it. 

#13 Gardening

little boy gardening

Gardening is a really wonderful activity for your toddler to be involved in.

Not only are they going to learn about plants how they grow and what they can produce for us but they can also learn some valuable problem-solving skills as they help alongside you in the garden. 

#14 Shape Insert Toys

problem solving examples for toddlers

Remember that toy that my son was really struggling with at the beginning of this article? Well despite his frustration it is actually a really fantastic toy for teaching toddlers problem-solving skills. 

#15 Games (Think, Fun, Roll)

problem solving examples for toddlers

There are different games that you can play with your toddler that can also help with problem-solving skills. One that we really love in our home is Think, Fun, Roll .

But there are also board games such as Candyland that toddlers really love and will teach them great skills. 

#16 Playing Memory

problem solving examples for toddlers

Some toddlers may find it a little frustrating playing the game memory . However, if you’re smart and modify it and make it a little easier then this can be a really really wonderful game for toddlers to build up their problem-solving skills.

They’ll learn the process of elimination. They also work on extending their concentration and obviously they’ll be working on their memory skills too.

#17 Daily Activities

little boy brushing teeth

Finally, I just want to address one of the most obvious things and that is daily activities. Your child will be doing things like getting dressed brushing their teeth picking up their clothes taking their plate to the kitchen and many other simple tasks like this every single day.

Do not fail to see the wonderful skillset that they will gain from doing these basic tasks.

Toddlers can learn great problem-solving skills simply by getting dressed in the morning.

We really don’t need to overcomplicate things.

Problem-solving is such a vital skill to have especially in adulthood but the things that we provide for our children now will make a big difference in the future.

It can take patience on our behalf and a lot of grace at times to give them the space to really practice their problem-solving skills.

It’s not fun having to listen to your toddler frustrated and whining as I try to learn something new and not step in to fix it for them.

However, you have to see how good is for them to learn these skills. There will be times when you will need to step in and help but a lot of the time it will be great for them to figure it out on their own.

I hope these toddler activity ideas give you a great jumping-off point for a way to teach a child really great problem-solving skills. 

problem solving examples for toddlers

Hi! I’m Christine – a homeschooling mom of three. I see homeschooling simply as another facet of parenting. Just as you teach your child to tie their shoes, you can also teach them how to read and do arithmetic. As a second-generation homeschooler, I know the endless benefits that homeschooling offers. I went on to complete a Bachelor of Nursing and have now chosen to stay at home with my children (while also running an online business).

I have a heart for mothers that feel as though they are just existing from day to day and are longing for more. You can find out more about me and my family over on my ‘ About Me ‘ page.

As well as the abundance of posts you’ll find on my blog, you can also find me over at iHomeschool Network and Today Parenting .

Trending Post: 7 Simple Emotional Regulation Activities for Kids


8 Engaging Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

Learning to problem solve is an important life skill that is learned through years of practice and patience. These 8 problem solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers are proven ways to help give your child a head start with this skill.

We can not always be there to help our little ones solve their problems. We CAN, however, provide them with the right tools and resources to help them learn to solve problems independently.

What is Problem Solving?

Problem solving is essentially the process of finding a solution to a problem. To successfully problem solve, children first have to analyze the problem in detail, think about it critically, figure out what needs to be done, brainstorm different strategies to remediate the issue, and then evaluate if the solution was successful.

For children, this can be a very complex and difficult process simply because of their lack of experience.

Since we draw on our knowledge and experience when faced with obstacles, it is important we expose our children to activities that will help give them both the knowledge and experience they need to help face these challenges.

construction play as a problem solving activity for toddlers

Why Problem-Solving is Important for Young Children

Learning to problem solve is incredibly important during early childhood. Not only does it play a major role in a child’s cognitive development , but it is also a critical component of their academic success and ability to maintain healthy relationships.

When children can effectively solve a problem, it drastically improves their self-esteem and self-confidence. This is especially important when it comes to academics.

Children who can not effectively problem solve tend to get frustrated easily and they may begin showing signs of avoidant behaviors. This can cause children to feel incompetent in school and with relationships which can ultimately lead them to falling behind academically.

Luckily, children learn at an incredible rate, especially during those first couple of years. As you expose your child to different problem-solving activities they will gain the confidence needed to face any challenge they may encounter.

Problem Solving Skills in Early Childhood

Problem-solving skills require the cognitive capabilities to think through a problem and take appropriate action. Some problems may need a simple fix while others may require the use of many of these skills.

Examples of Problem Solving Skills:

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Analytical thinking (being able to break a complex problem down into more manageable parts)
  • Communication
  • Creativity and innovative
  • Critical thinking
  • Decision making
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Negotiation

How to Teach Problem Solving Skills (+ Strategies)

The best way to teach this skill is to expose your child to various activities that will require a bit of critical thinking and problem-solving.

The problem solving activities for toddlers listed below is a great place to start!

While this skill can be learned during free play , children will develop even stronger problem-solving skills if you encourage this type of thinking and reasoning during certain activities.

Strategies For Parents, Caregivers, or Teachers:

1. Model problem solving by talking out loud in front of your child

Since children lack the experience, they may find it difficult to problem solve. Try modeling this skill when you run into daily problems.

For example: ”I ran out of sugar to make my coffee sweet. Since I do not have any more sugar, what can I put in my coffee to make it sweet? I will put some honey because honey is naturally very sweet!”.

2. Ask open-ended questions

When children approach you with a problem, try asking open-ended questions to help them solve the issue on their own.

Here are some example questions:

  • Why did your blocks fall over? What can we do next time to make it stronger?
  • What other games you can play with your ball?
  • What are some other things can you use to make the fort bigger?

Sometimes children just need a little push to help them find creative solutions.

3. Avoid fixing every problem for your child

One of the best things you can do for your child is to avoid fixing every problem for them.

Whether it is a toy-related issue, a difficult math equation, or a social conflict with a friend or sibling. Try to encourage your child to solve some of these issues with as much independence as possible.

problem solving examples for toddlers

8 Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Here are 8 simple problem solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers. While these activities may seem to be very simple and basic, do not let that fool you. Learning through play is the best way to ”teach” our children the skill of problem solving.

Puzzles are a great activity to encourage skills like trial and error, persistence, and patience. Each new puzzle presents a new set of challenges that the children have to work through.

When children are around 2 years of age you can start with plastic or wooden shape sorters. As they get older and their skills develop, you can give them more complex puzzles to complete like 9 or 12-piece puzzle sets.

2. Sorting Activities

This activity is so simple because you can sort anything including toys, clothes, and even fruits and veggies.

Children learn to compare, contrast, and classify based on what they are observing. This helps with logical thinking, analytical thinking, and it gives children a sense of order. This type of systematic thinking is very helpful for problem solving because it teaches children to perform tasks in a structured manner, much like the steps to solve a problem.

3. Board Games

Board games are a great problem solving activity for toddlers and preschoolers! I love that it can be interactive with young children and adults!

When children are younger, it is best to start with simple games like Zimboos . This is a stacking game that requires children to analyze, critically think, and collaborate with others to make sure the pyramid stays balanced.

As children get older you can advance to more complex games like Quirkle . This game includes a puzzle-like component that allows children to develop their spatial recognition, planning, and problem solving skills. 

construction play as a problem solving activity for toddlers

4. Construction Play

Construction play using mega blocks, wooden blocks, or even train track sets is an amazing way to help support your child’s brain and cognitive development.

Everything from planning what they want to build to figuring out what to do when certain pieces don’t fit together helps children learn the foundational skills for problem solving.

These are the types of toys I would encourage all parents to have readily available for their children.

5. Story Time Questions

There are so many amazing benefits of reading to your child and it is one of the best listening activities for kids !

As you read to your child, try making it an engaging experience. You can start by asking them open-ended questions to really help them think through certain problems and scenarios.

Here are some examples of the types of problem-solving questions that can be asked during a read-aloud:

  • What healthy foods should the caterpillar have eaten to not get a stomach ache?
  • The Duck and Penguin don’t like each other, what can do they to work it out and become friends?
  • If you lost your shoe, how would you try and find it?
  • If your kite got stuck in the tree, how would you try and get it down?

6. Fort Building

I remember always building forts as a child and constantly running into problems. The blankets were always too small, or I couldn’t get them to stay in place!

This is why it is such a great activity for problem-solving! Children have to plan, make decisions, analyze, evaluate, and solve problems. The best part is that most kids will persevere through despite all these challenges because the end result is so much fun!

problem solving examples for toddlers

7. Simple House Chores

If there is one thing I have learned since becoming a mom is that kids love to help! I really enjoy involving my toddler when I am doing work around the house.

To encourage practice with problem-solving, ask your child questions so they can think of solutions to your problems. If your child is still young, this is a great opportunity to model problem solving by simply talking out loud.

Here are some examples:

  • These clothes are really dirty, what should we do?
  • How can we make our clean-up time faster?
  • There are so many toys on the floor, how can we sort and organize them?

8. Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are an incredible learning activity for kids. Since kids learn best through play , it is important to make learning an enjoyable experience for them.

I love scavenger hunts because of how many different skills are involved. Children have to use their observational skills, critical thinking skills, and imagination to solve the problem and complete the tasks.

These are also very customizable. You can use words, pictures, or even descriptions depending on your child’s skill level.

I hope can incorporate some of these problem solving activities for toddlers into your daily routine to help your child become a master problem solver!

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Easy Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

Problem solving activities for toddlers are not only a great way to boost their critical thinking skills but also provide playtime fun for curious little minds.

These daily activities help toddlers develop important cognitive and motor skills while enhancing their creativity and imagination. By engaging in problem solving activities, toddlers learn to think logically, make decisions, and develop a growth mindset.

In this article, I have curated a list of easy problem solving activities for toddlers that help your kids learn through the power of play. These activities require minimal preparation and offer maximum fun for your child – all while promoting language skills and social skills.

This post may contain affiliate links. Full  privacy policy and disclosure here.

Easy Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

Key Takeaways:

  • Problem solving activities promote critical thinking and cognitive development in toddlers.
  • Engaging in problem solving activities helps toddlers develop important motor skills.
  • These activities enhance creativity and imagination in toddlers.
  • Toddlers learn logical thinking and decision-making through problem solving activities.
  • Curated a list of 50 easy problem solving activities for toddlers to enjoy.

The No-Stress Prep Principle to Toddler Activities

When it comes to toddler activities, the key is to keep it simple and stress-free. The last thing parents need is complicated setups and multiple materials to juggle. That’s where the no-stress prep principle comes in. By providing activities that require minimal preparation and materials, parents can ensure low-effort, high-reward fun for their toddlers.

Table of Contents

These no-stress activities not only provide entertainment but also contribute to cognitive development, fine and gross motor skills, as well as creativity and imagination. Toddlers engage in problem-solving tasks such as sorting and matching, which promote cognitive development and critical thinking.

At the same time, these activities focus on refining fine and gross motor skills. Toddlers can practice pinching small objects or jumping and hopping, enhancing their physical coordination and strength.

Moreover, these low-stress activities foster creativity and imagination in toddlers. Through open-ended play, they have the opportunity to express themselves and explore their ideas. Whether it’s building a tower with blocks or creating a pretend play scenario with dolls, these activities encourage imaginative thinking.

By following the no-stress prep principle, parents can provide their toddlers with enriching and enjoyable activities that support their cognitive, physical, and creative development. Let’s take a look at some examples of these easy and rewarding toddler activities.

Benefits of the No-Stress Prep Principle

With these no-stress activities, parents can create a fun and enriching environment for their toddlers while minimizing the effort needed to set up and prepare. Finding the balance between simplicity and engaging experiences is key to ensuring that both parents and toddlers can enjoy quality time together.

Sticky Wall Art

Looking for a simple and mess-free activity to engage your toddler’s senses and enhance their fine motor skills and creativity? Look no further than sticky wall art! With just painter’s tape and a few pieces to stick and re-stick, your little one can enjoy endless fun while developing important skills.

Sticky wall art offers a sensory experience that captivates toddlers as they explore the sticky texture of the tape. This tactile exploration stimulates their senses and encourages curiosity. As they peel and stick the pieces onto the walls or floors, toddlers also develop their fine motor skills by practicing grip and hand-eye coordination.

But that’s not all—sticky wall art is a fantastic opportunity for your toddler to unleash their creativity and imagination. They can arrange the pieces in any way they like, creating their own unique artwork. This open-ended activity allows them to express themselves and develop a sense of pride and accomplishment in their creations.

Create a designated area in your home for sticky wall art, whether it’s a wall or a large piece of cardboard on the floor. Stick the painter’s tape in various shapes and patterns, leaving plenty of space for your toddler to stick the pieces. Provide your child with a variety of materials they can use, such as foam shapes, fabric scraps, or even cut-up pieces of construction paper.

Encourage your toddler to explore the stickiness of the tape, experiment with different arrangements, and peel and re-stick the pieces as many times as they like. This interactive and sensory-rich activity will keep them engaged and entertained for hours while fostering their cognitive and motor development.

In conclusion, sticky wall art is a fantastic activity for toddlers that offers a sensory experience, enhances fine motor skills, and sparks creativity. With just painter’s tape and a little imagination, you can provide your child with a fun and educational sensory play opportunity that will keep them coming back for more.

Colander Pipe Cleaners

If you’re looking for a simple and creative activity to keep your toddler entertained, colander pipe cleaners are the perfect solution. All you need is a colander and some pipe cleaners. Show your little one how to thread the pipe cleaners through the holes in the colander, creating a colorful and tactile masterpiece. This activity not only helps develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination but also encourages creativity and imaginative play.

By manipulating the pipe cleaners and exploring different ways to thread them through the colander, toddlers can experiment with shapes, patterns, and colors. It’s a hands-on sensory experience that stimulates their senses and engages their curious minds.

Watch as their concentration levels increase while they focus on the task at hand. The satisfaction of completing their unique creation will bring a sense of accomplishment and boost their confidence.

Colander pipe cleaners are an excellent activity for both solo play and interactive play with siblings or friends. You can even turn it into a friendly competition, challenging your little ones to create the most elaborate designs.

So grab a colander and some pipe cleaners and let your toddler’s creativity run wild!

Nature’s Paintbrush

Are you looking for a creative and sensory painting activity for your toddler? Look no further than Nature’s Paintbrush! This activity allows your little one to explore the wonders of nature while enhancing their sensory perception and unleashing their creativity.

To get started with Nature’s Paintbrush, all you need to do is step outside and collect some leaves or twigs. These natural materials will serve as your toddler’s paintbrushes, providing a unique and textured painting experience.

With Nature’s Paintbrush, your toddler can create beautiful artwork using the vibrant colors and shapes of leaves or the interesting patterns and textures of twigs. This activity not only engages their senses but also encourages their artistic expression and imagination. As they experiment with different strokes and techniques, they will discover new ways to use nature’s paintbrush to bring their ideas to life.

Nature’s Paintbrush is a wonderful way to connect your toddler with the natural world and foster a love for nature. It provides a hands-on experience that allows them to appreciate the beauty of the outdoors while developing their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

So, why wait? Let your toddler’s creativity bloom with Nature’s Paintbrush and watch as they create masterpieces inspired by the beauty of nature.

Mega Block Jumping

Mega block jumping is a fun and interactive gross motor activity that promotes active play and coordination in toddlers. This simple yet engaging activity allows little ones to burn off energy while developing their physical skills.

All you need for mega block jumping is a few large building blocks and a soft surface. Set up a line or a small platform using the blocks and encourage your toddler to jump from one block to another. This activity challenges their coordination and balance while providing them with a sense of accomplishment as they successfully land on each block.

Mega block jumping not only helps toddlers build their gross motor skills but also promotes the development of strength and agility. It gives them an opportunity to explore their physical abilities and improve their balance and spatial awareness.

Benefits of Mega Block Jumping:

  • Enhances coordination and balance
  • Promotes active play and physical development
  • Builds strength and agility

Mega block jumping is a fantastic way to incorporate active play into your toddler’s routine. It provides them with an enjoyable and stimulating experience while supporting their physical development. So grab some large building blocks and watch your little one have a blast while jumping to new heights!

Snowball Pick Up

Snowball pick up is a festive and engaging indoor activity for toddlers. All you need are some soft balls or crumpled pieces of paper to represent snowballs. Spread them out in a designated area and encourage your toddler to pick them up and put them in a container.

This activity is not only a great way to develop fine motor skills but also provides sensory play as toddlers feel the texture of the “snowballs.” It’s a fun and interactive way to bring a touch of winter magic into your home.

As your toddler engages in snowball pick up, they will develop their hand-eye coordination and grasp control, honing their fine motor skills. The sensory experience of touching and holding the “snowballs” stimulates their tactile senses, providing a multi-sensory play opportunity. It’s a wonderful indoor activity that keeps toddlers entertained while also promoting their physical and cognitive development.

The Big List Of Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

  • Sorting Games: Provide objects or toys for young children to sort by color, shape, or size, encouraging critical thinking and classification skills – there all kinds of possible solutions for shape sorting games.
  • Sensory Bins: Create sensory bins filled with various materials like rice, beans, or water along with scoops and containers, prompting toddlers to explore and problem-solve through sensory play. You can use open ended questions to prompt the play scene, or encourage free play to help encourage independent play.
  • Obstacle Courses: Set up simple obstacle courses using pillows, cushions, and other household items, challenging toddlers to navigate and problem-solve to complete the course.
  • Water Play: Offer water play activities with cups, funnels, and toys, allowing toddlers to experiment with pouring, filling, and problem-solving through water exploration.
  • Nature Walks: Take toddlers on nature walks, encouraging them to observe and problem-solve as they encounter different elements like rocks, leaves, and insects.
  • Shape Matching: Provide shape sorting toys or puzzles for toddlers to match shapes to corresponding holes, promoting spatial awareness and problem-solving skills.
  • Cooking Together: Involve toddlers in simple cooking activities like mixing ingredients or assembling sandwiches, fostering problem-solving and following instructions.
  • Animal Matching: Introduce matching games with pictures or figurines of animals for toddlers to pair together, enhancing memory and problem-solving abilities.
  • DIY Crafts: Engage toddlers in age-appropriate DIY crafts using materials like paper, glue, and recycled items, encouraging creative problem-solving and self-expression.
  • Story Sequencing: Use picture cards or storybooks to prompt toddlers to sequence events in a story or solve a basic problem, enhancing comprehension and problem-solving through storytelling.
  • Pattern Recognition: Create patterns using blocks, beads, or stickers for toddlers to replicate, promoting critical thinking and pattern recognition skills.
  • Sensory Exploration: Offer sensory exploration activities with materials like playdough, slime, or kinetic sand, encouraging toddlers to encourage problem solving skills  through tactile experiences.
  • Block Stacking Challenges: Encourage toddlers to build tall towers or structures with blocks, fostering spatial reasoning and problem-solving as they balance and stack and come up with creative solutions with creative thinking. Building toys are a must have for every toddlers toy box!
  • Color Mixing: Provide paint or colored water for toddlers to experiment with mixing colors, promoting problem-solving and exploration of cause and effect.
  • Shadow Play: Use flashlights or natural light to create shadows, prompting toddlers to explore and problem-solve by manipulating objects to create different shadow shapes.
  • Music and Movement: Engage toddlers in music and movement activities like dancing or playing instruments, fostering problem-solving and creativity through rhythm and movement.
  • Outdoor Scavenger Hunts: Organize scavenger hunt in the backyard or park, challenging young toddlers to find and collect items based on visual cues or descriptions – focusing on developing cognitive skills.
  • DIY Sensory Boards: Create sensory boards with textures like sandpaper, fabric, or bubble wrap for toddlers to explore and problem-solve through tactile stimulation.
  • Building Bridges: Provide materials like blocks, cardboard, and tape for toddlers to construct bridges or ramps for toy cars or animals, encouraging problem-solving and engineering skills.
  • Imaginative Play Prompts: Offer props or costumes for toddlers to engage in imaginary play scenarios, prompting problem-solving and creativity through role-playing.
  • Number Games: Introduce simple number games or counting activities using toys or everyday objects, promoting numeracy skills and problem-solving through counting and sorting.
  • Shape Hunt: Go on a shape hunt around the house or outdoors, challenging toddlers to find and identify different shapes in their environment. This is a really simple activity that doesn’t require toys for young learners.
  • DIY Marble Runs: Create simple marble runs using cardboard tubes, ramps, and tape for toddlers to design and problem-solve as they experiment with gravity and momentum. This is so great for brain development and fine motor skills as well.
  • Building with Recyclables: Provide recyclable materials like cardboard boxes, tubes, and bottles for toddlers to build and problem-solve as they construct imaginative structures.
  • DIY Puzzles: Make homemade puzzles using pictures or drawings mounted on cardboard for toddlers to assemble, promoting problem-solving and visual-spatial skills.

How can problem solving activities benefit toddlers?

Problem solving activities for toddlers are a great way to boost their critical thinking skills while also having fun. These activities help toddlers develop important cognitive and motor skills, as well as enhance their creativity and imagination. By engaging in problem solving activities, toddlers can learn to think logically, make decisions, and develop a growth mindset.

What is the no-stress prep principle for toddler activities?

When it comes to toddler activities, the key is to keep it simple and stress-free. The no-stress prep principle focuses on providing activities that are easy to set up with minimal materials, while still offering maximum fun and learning opportunities for toddlers. These activities promote cognitive development by involving sorting, matching, and simple puzzles. They also help toddlers refine their fine and gross motor skills through activities like pinching and jumping. Additionally, these activities encourage creativity and imagination, allowing toddlers to express themselves through play.

How can I create sticky wall art with my toddler?

Sticky wall art is a simple and mess-free activity that toddlers will love. All you need is painter’s tape and some pieces for your toddler to stick and re-stick on the walls or floors. This activity provides a sensory experience as toddlers explore the stickiness of the tape and work on their fine motor skills by peeling and sticking the pieces. Additionally, it allows toddlers to use their creativity and imagination as they create their own art on the sticky wall.

What is the nature’s paintbrush activity for toddlers?

Nature’s paintbrush is a fun and sensory painting activity for toddlers. Simply step outside, collect some leaves or twigs, and use them as paintbrushes. This activity not only allows toddlers to explore different textures and sensations, but it also promotes creativity as they create unique artwork using natural materials. It’s a great way for toddlers to connect with nature while also engaging in a fun and creative activity.

How can I engage my toddler in mega block jumping?

Mega block jumping is a simple yet engaging activity that helps toddlers burn off energy and develop their gross motor skills. All you need are some large building blocks and a soft surface. Encourage your toddler to jump from one block to another, challenging their coordination and balance. This activity promotes active play and helps toddlers build strength and agility. It’s a great way to keep your little one entertained while also promoting physical development.

What is snowball pick up for toddlers?

Snowball pick up is a festive and engaging indoor activity for toddlers. All you need are some soft balls or crumpled pieces of paper to represent snowballs. Spread them out in a designated area and encourage your toddler to pick them up and put them in a container. This activity is not only a great way to develop fine motor skills but also provides sensory play as toddlers feel the texture of the “snowballs.” It’s a fun and interactive way to bring a touch of winter magic into your home.


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I'm a mom of 3 and has a passion for helping children reach their human potential. She enjoys helping parents raise confident and healthy kids by explaining how to handle situations using positive and peaceful parenting. I believe that creating strong bonds through small daily interactions is super powerful in changing behavior to the positive direction. It really only takes a few moments a day! Welcome to my blog, and I hope you find a lot of value here.

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problem solving examples for toddlers

Some skills gained from the problem-solving activities include lateral thinking, analytical thinking, creativity, persistence, logical reasoning, communication skills, and decision-making skills. 

The Importance of Problem-Solving Activities for Toddlers

In almost every stage of growth, children are likely to encounter some difficulties. How they handle these challenges depends on the skills they have built over time.

That’s why every parent should invest in quality problem-solving activities for their child. The skills mentioned above are critical for toddlers, and it can be challenging to develop them.

Problem-solving activities give toddlers independence to learn and play & can promote their skills in handling different hassles.These activities help toddlers find a solution to a problem.

Early ages are the best time for children to learn how to solve different problems in a fun way. 

In many cases, many young mothers are students who dream of spending as much time as possible with their children, but they are held up with advancing their knowledge in their areas of specialization.

To have more time for toddlers as young mothers, you can use the online essay writer service EduBirdie to have your research papers written by top writers. EduBirdie has great writers, and you will receive quality work at the right time. This automatically translates to excellent scores.

If you have more time with your child, you are likely to notice the challenges they are going through and choose the best problem-solving activities for them.

The more problem-solving activities they perform, the more likely the child will develop excellent skills that will enable them to navigate most of the challenges in their lifetime. Here are some simple problem-solving activities for toddlers:

1. Building a maze

Building a maze is fun outside and one of the best activities for 2-year-old toddlers. Since toddlers can’t yet do a maze in an activity book, this is a great way to use their problem solving and navigation skills.

Problem-solving activities give toddlers independence to learn and play & can promote their skills in handling different hassles.These activities help toddlers find a solution to a problem.

Draw a big maze on the pavement with sidewalk chalk . Then, make passages, including a few that end in a dead-end. Teach your toddler how to walk through and find their way out.

Allow them to try it on their own. The more trials, the better the child gets at figuring out the best way out. If the child gets used to the simple maze, you can draw a more complex one, adding more dead-end passages to make finding their way out more complicated.

This way, you will enhance their cognitive skills, which are vital for success in their life.

Puzzles are some of the best sensory activities for toddlers. They help a lot in enhancing the thinking capabilities of toddlers.

A puzzle is a big set of muddled-up things that must be sorted out and put back together.

Problem-solving activities give toddlers independence to learn and play & can promote their skills in handling different hassles.These activities help toddlers find a solution to a problem.

The best type of puzzle for children is wooden puzzles , as they last longer, and the frame provides a structure to guide the child while playing. Inset puzzles are perfect for toddlers, especially ones with familiar objects (transportation, animals, colors, and shapes).

So, make an effort to sit with your child and help them play different puzzles. It’s even better than leaving your toddler to play with fancy toys with flashing lights and music.

Solving puzzles is real learning and allows the students to build their skills at their own pace. It’s ok to let them get a little frustrated! The more you leave them to independently figure it out, the quicker they will gain the skill.

3. Following patterns

Following patterns is just a simple activity that can be played with colored blocks, counters, or shapes. In this case, the child should simply make a pattern with the blocks and vary it by changing the patterns’ colors, shapes, or sizes.

problem solving examples for toddlers

At first, you can demonstrate how to make simple patterns to your child and then make the patterns more complex as they get used to the simple ones. Following patterns train the toddler to analyze given information, make sense of it, recognize the pattern it should follow, and then recreate it.

For the complex patterns, carry out the first few steps and then ask your child to continue.

4. Board games

problem solving examples for toddlers

Playing board games is an excellent way to develop your problem-solving skills, and your child can quickly start with simple games. This could be CandyLand ( a huge hit with little ones) or Chutes and Ladders .

Board games teach toddlers the skill of following rules and moving logically.

With time, you can introduce games that require deeper thinking and planning, like Monopoly Junior. This game will require you to explain a lot, and sometimes you will have to play with the child.

You can also let your child play Go Fish to teach them how to think ahead and solve the problems they will encounter in the future.

Related Post: Perfect Board Games for 2 Year Olds

5. Storytime questions

Stories are a great way of teaching children moral values and the problem-solving skills they require for their lifetime. During storytelling, develop a habit of asking questions to help the child develop higher-order thinking skills like comprehension.

problem solving examples for toddlers

It’s simple: pause for a few minutes and pose questions about the story. Start with simple questions, like “What did the boy say?” or “Where did the family go?.”

Then move onto more abstract thinking, problem solving questions, like “what will the boy do now that his pet died?” or “what can the girl do to find her lost toy?”

You can also pose an unexpected question to make the child more attentive. Storytime questions teach toddlers to pay attention to details and concentrate on one activity at a time.

It also reinforces the message you were trying to pass to the toddler. As a result, the toddler will easily remember the story’s moral lessons and apply them when faced with challenges in their lifetime.

6. Building with construction toys

Construction toys could be engineering blocks, Legos, or a proper set of wooden blocks that can be used to construct simple structures.

problem solving examples for toddlers

Everything the toddler will build is challenging as it requires critical thinking in brainstorming what to build and how to put the different pieces together.

The design built should be functional and work as expected. So, let the child construct freely and occasionally set for them a challenge to be completed within the set time with specific conditions.

This could be building two towers with a bridge joining them or building a creature with three arms standing on its own. Let the kids exercise their brains until they find a way to make the structure work.

7. Classifying and grouping activities

problem solving examples for toddlers

Classifying and grouping activities are among the best sensory activities for toddlers. You can easily do this with a tin of buttons or by unpacking the dishwasher. The idea behind classifying and grouping activities is to teach the skill of categorizing information.

There are several button activities for your kids that you can adopt, and they include a messy play tray, making a nameplate, sorting buttons, ordering buttons, or making a button necklace.

Each activity will teach the child an important skill they need to solve problems in the future.

When was the last time you engaged in any of the activities discussed above with your child? Start young with these problem-solving activities that help them navigate most of the challenges in their lifetime.

Take time and choose one of the activities discussed above for your toddler. 

Author’s Bio

Helen Birk is a magnificent writer who creates beautiful stories that leave her readers asking for more. She’s been a wonderful storyteller and her years of experience help her do even better every time she takes up a new book to write. She’s currently planning a book that talks about the role of AI in the development of school education.

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Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

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7 Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

If you have a toddler, challenges like tough homework problems or social dilemmas are still a long way off. But their brains are already working to build the cognitive skills they’ll need to solve life’s “big” problems later on. For now, problem-solving activities – even ones that seem simple to us – can help them boost their cognition, resilience, and creativity. Best of all? These “problems” are actually fun! Here are seven simple problem-solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers you can start trying right away!

Memory Games

Those little memory card games with matching pictures are great for building concentration, memory, and problem-solving skills in your toddler! Many sets might come with a few too many pairs for a toddler to handle without help, so start with just three to four pairs and see if they can match them up! As they begin to master that, you can add in more and more pairs until they’re working with the entire deck. If you don’t have a deck, you can easily DIY your own with online printables or your own drawings.

Shape Sorters

Shape sorters are a classic problem-solving toy for young toddlers. In addition to matching the shapes to the correct holes, they’ll also need to figure out why the shapes don’t always fit into the hole, requiring them to rotate the shape or make subtle adjustments to their grip.

Sorting/ Grouping by Category

Sorting activities are excellent for toddlers’ problem solving and cognitive development, so there’s no need to stop with shape sorters! Set up simple activities that allow them to sort by a variety of categories. This can be as simple as letting them unload the dishwasher silverware tray into the silverware organizer. Or ask them to gather up all the yellow items they see in a room.

Rotating puzzles is a great way to keep the problem-solving challenge fresh for your toddler. Even a familiar puzzle can present a fun, “new” challenge for your toddler if they haven’t seen it in weeks.

Hide the Teddy Bear

One cognitive milestone for two-year-olds is the ability to find an object that’s been hidden under two or more layers. Once they’ve mastered that, they’ll be ready for more advanced hiding games. Try hiding a teddy bear or other toy when they aren’t looking and then give them clues to find it. You can start off with basic directions and then progress to tougher clues or games of warmer/ colder.

Help Mommy/ Daddy

Toddlers love to help, and helping Mommy or Daddy with a problem can be a lot less frustrating than solving their own. For example, if your little one has been determined to put on their own socks lately but always ends up super frustrated, try mimicking the same problem yourself and asking for their help. You can coach them through the process (“Now we need to stretch out the opening of the sock!”), and because their emotions aren’t already running high, they’ll be more likely to actually absorb your tips. You can model how to stay calm through frustrating situations and help them build confidence in their ability to tackle the same problem later.

Constructive Play Toys

The ability to build a block tower of four or more blocks is actually considered a cognitive milestone for two-year-olds. For three-year-olds, a tower of six or more blocks is the expected milestone. That’s because building anything, even a simple block tower, is a true problem-solving challenge for toddlers. Blocks, train sets, and other building toys let your child work out how to balance, fit pieces together, and deal with frustration as they learn to master the challenge.

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13 Problem-Solving Activities For Toddlers And Preschoolers

problem solving activities

Problem-Solving Activities

Problem-solving skills are vital for a child’s cognitive development. They help kids think critically, make decisions, and become more independent. As a parent or caregiver, you can nurture these skills in toddlers and preschoolers through a variety of engaging activities. Let’s explore 13 problem-solving activities that will not only entertain but also educate your little ones.

1. Building with Blocks

Age Group: Toddlers and Preschoolers

Description: Encourage your child to build structures with blocks. Start with simple designs and gradually increase complexity. This activity enhances spatial reasoning and problem-solving abilities.

Playing with building blocks is a timeless and versatile activity that promotes problem-solving skills in young children. As they stack blocks to create structures, kids learn about balance, stability, and the concept of cause and effect. They discover that if they place a block in a certain way, the structure becomes more stable. This understanding is fundamental to problem-solving.

2. Shape Sorters

Age Group: Toddlers

Description: Shape sorters teach toddlers about shapes, sizes, and how objects fit together. It’s a fun way to introduce problem-solving concepts.

Shape sorters are classic toys that introduce toddlers to basic problem-solving. The child must figure out which shape corresponds to each slot in the sorter. This activity enhances their ability to categorize and match objects based on their attributes. It’s a simple yet effective way to lay the foundation for more complex problem-solving skills.

Age Group: Preschoolers

Description: Jigsaw puzzles challenge preschoolers to solve problems by finding the right fit for each piece. They improve spatial awareness and patience.

Puzzles are excellent tools for enhancing problem-solving skills in preschoolers. When kids work on jigsaw puzzles, they learn to analyze the shape, color, and pattern of each piece. They must figure out where each piece fits in the overall picture. This process involves trial and error, spatial reasoning, and the development of patience—an essential component of problem-solving.

4. Sorting Games

Description: Sorting games with colored objects or shapes help kids categorize and organize, promoting logical thinking.

Sorting games engage children’s problem-solving abilities by encouraging them to categorize and organize objects based on specific criteria. For instance, you can provide a mix of colored objects and ask your child to sort them by color. This activity promotes logical thinking as they identify patterns and make decisions about where each item belongs.

5. Scavenger Hunts

Description: Create scavenger hunts at home or in your backyard. Give clues to find hidden treasures, stimulating critical thinking and problem-solving.

Scavenger hunts are not only thrilling but also fantastic for developing problem-solving skills. You can organize indoor or outdoor hunts with clues that require critical thinking and problem-solving to decipher. Children must follow clues, make connections, and strategize to locate hidden treasures, fostering their problem-solving abilities.

6. Building Simple Machines

Description: Use everyday materials like cardboard, string, and pulleys to create simple machines. Children can experiment and learn about cause and effect.

Engaging in hands-on activities like building simple machines is a fantastic way to introduce problem-solving concepts. Children can use everyday materials to create pulleys, levers, or ramps. As they experiment with these simple machines, they observe cause-and-effect relationships, encouraging them to think critically and find solutions to challenges they encounter during the construction process.

7. Storytelling

Description: Encourage imaginative problem-solving by asking your child to come up with solutions to challenges in their stories.

Storytelling not only stimulates creativity but also encourages problem-solving in young children. When kids invent stories, they often encounter dilemmas that require resolution. By asking your child how the characters in their stories overcome challenges, you prompt them to think creatively and find solutions—an invaluable problem-solving skill.

8. Cooking Together

Description: Involve your child in age-appropriate cooking activities. They’ll have to follow instructions and make choices, enhancing decision-making skills.

Cooking together is a delightful way to introduce problem-solving to children. It involves following recipes, making choices about ingredients, and adapting to unexpected situations (like a spill). These activities encourage decision-making and critical thinking as children participate in the cooking process.

9. Obstacle Courses

Description: Set up indoor or outdoor obstacle courses with challenges that require problem-solving and decision-making.

Creating obstacle courses at home or in the yard provides opportunities for preschoolers to engage in problem-solving and decision-making. Children must figure out how to navigate the course, overcome obstacles, and make choices along the way. This physical activity complements cognitive development by promoting quick thinking and strategizing.

10. Pattern Recognition

Description: Use everyday objects or cards to create simple patterns. Ask your child to continue the pattern or identify what comes next.

Pattern recognition is a fundamental problem-solving skill that can be introduced through simple activities. You can use everyday objects like buttons or cards with patterns to engage your child. Encourage them to identify and extend patterns, which enhances their ability to recognize sequences and make predictions—a critical component of problem-solving.

11. Planting and Gardening

Description: Gardening teaches children about cause and effect as they care for plants and watch them grow.

Gardening is a hands-on activity that teaches children about cause and effect—a crucial aspect of problem-solving. When kids care for plants and witness their growth, they learn how their actions impact the world around them. Gardening fosters a sense of responsibility and encourages children to think about the consequences of their actions.

12. Role-Playing

Description: Role-playing scenarios where your child has to solve problems, like playing doctor or chef, fosters creativity and critical thinking.

Role-playing scenarios, such as playing doctor or chef, provide opportunities for children to engage in imaginative problem-solving. These activities encourage creativity as children devise solutions to various role-playing challenges. Whether they’re diagnosing a stuffed animal or creating a pretend meal, kids develop problem-solving skills through these scenarios.

13. Science Experiments

Description: Conduct age-appropriate science experiments that encourage hypothesis testing and problem-solving.

Age-appropriate science experiments are perfect for fostering problem-solving skills in preschoolers. These experiments often involve forming hypotheses, conducting tests, and analyzing results—key elements of problem-solving. Encourage your child’s curiosity by engaging in safe and enjoyable science experiments together.

These problem-solving preschool activities for toddlers and preschoolers not only promote cognitive development but also provide hours of fun and quality time together. Remember to adapt activities to your child’s age and developmental stage, allowing them to explore, learn, and grow at their own pace.

In conclusion, nurturing problem-solving skills in young children is essential for their overall development. These activities offer a balance between education and enjoyment, helping your child build critical thinking skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the problems in joining my kid in a Preschool?

Joining your child in a preschool can have several challenges, including separation anxiety, adjustment to a new routine, socialization issues, and concerns about the quality of education and care provided. It’s essential to communicate with the preschool staff, address your child’s needs, and gradually ease the transition to make the process smoother.

2. How to teach problem-solving skills to children and preteens?

To teach problem-solving skills to children and preteens, encourage them to:

Identify the problem.

Brainstorm possible solutions.

Evaluate the pros and cons of each solution.

Make a decision and implement it.

Reflect on the results and learn from the experience.

3. How to keep children busy during their pre-school time?

To keep children engaged during their preschool time, consider activities like art and craft, storytelling, outdoor play, educational games, music, and group activities. Preschools often offer a variety of structured and creative activities to stimulate children’s minds and bodies.

4. What are some preschool programs for kids?

Preschool programs for kids often include activities like early literacy and numeracy, creative arts, physical play, socialization, and learning through play. Many preschools also follow specific educational approaches like Montessori, Waldorf, or play-based programs to cater to different learning styles.

5. How preschool activities impact a child’s learning pace?

Preschool activities play a significant role in a child’s learning pace. They help children develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills, which are essential for academic success. Engaging in age-appropriate activities can foster a love for learning, improve attention span, and enhance problem-solving abilities.

6. What are problem-solving activities that kids can do at home?

There are various problem-solving activities kids can do at home, such as puzzles, board games, scavenger hunts, building challenges with blocks or LEGO, cooking and following recipes, and science experiments. These activities promote critical thinking and decision-making while having fun.

Also Check: Preschools in India

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Helping Your Baby Reach Greater Wonders

25 Cognitive Activities for Toddlers to Boost Development


  • Your child’s brain grows the most during toddlerhood than during any other time of their lives.
  • There are many factors that affect cognitive development—genes, relationships with caregivers, screen time, nutrition, sleep, learning disabilities, physical activity and environment.
  • There are certain cognitive milestones your toddler should reach by the time they are three years old.
  • There are many fun cognitive activities to help your child reach their milestones.

Do you feel like crying when your toddler asks you to sing the same song you’ve been singing for the past hour? Do you want to hide the book you’ve read three times a day for the past month? 

I have good news for you! Every time you sing or read to your child, you’re boosting their cognitive development! This may be of little comfort to you when you’re on your tenth rendition of “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” but once you learn how important toddler cognitive skills are, you’ll muster up the strength to sing until your voice is hoarse.

If you need a break from singing, there are tons of cognitive activities for toddlers that you can do to boost their development! 

All About Your Toddler’s Cognitive Development

Cognitive development refers to how children think, develop fluid reasoning , explore, gain knowledge and problem solving skills, and learn more about the world around them. 

As toddlers develop cognitive skills, their memory, attention, adaptability, understanding of cause and effect, language skills, intelligence, and critical thinking improve. 

Toddler cognitive development is hugely important in laying the groundwork for these skills. It was highlighted in a 2021 article published by the University of Minnesota that by three years of age, a child’s brain is already 80% developed! 

While your child is still in their toddler years, you have the perfect window to develop their cognitive skills. Since most brain growth and connections happen in the first three years of a child’s life, it is more difficult for children to develop their cognitive skills later in life. Even early literacy skills can be gained through cognitive activities for toddlers. 

Boy playing with wooden toys.

Factors That Can Affect Cognitive Development During Toddlerhood

You’ve probably heard the term “nature vs. nurture.” Nature refers to the genes our children inherit from us, and nurture refers to our children’s experiences, interactions with others, and general upbringing. 

When it comes to cognitive development in toddlers, both nature and nurture affect their cognitive abilities. 

Our genes are out of our control, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. There are many other factors within our control that promote cognitive development during toddlerhood, including:

  • Warm, affectionate, positive interactions with dependable caregivers
  • Limited screen time with exposure to cognitive toys 
  • Early intervention for children with learning disabilities
  • Good nutrition with balanced meals and vitamin supplements if necessary to aid in brain development
  • Quality sleep to help the brain remember information
  • Physical activity, especially outdoors, improves cognitive skills
  • Limited exposure to chronic, toxic stress (neglect, abuse, certain types of punishment and unreliable caregivers)
  • A physically safe environment with head protection to prevent brain injuries during falls
  • Limited or no exposure to toxins such as lead
  • Vaccinations to protect against infections, including those that prevent brain swelling 

What Are the Cognitive Developmental Milestones for Toddlers?

Every child develops at their own rate, but these are some of the cognitive developmental milestones you can expect in early childhood:

From 1 to 2 Years

  • Tries to imitate adults
  • Points out familiar objects in picture books
  • Understands the difference between “me” and “you”
  • Knows what everyday items are used for
  • Points to items to get attention
  • Pretend plays with dolls or stuffed animals (i.e. pretending to feed them)
  • Points to one body part
  • Scribbles independently
  • Follows 1-step directions
  • Puts things in containers and takes them out 
  • Has memories of past events
  • Recognizes familiar people by name
  • Finds easily hidden objects

From 2 to 3 Years

  • Imitates more advanced adult actions like washing dishes or doing laundry
  • Names objects, colors, animals, and letters in picture books and everyday life
  • Sorts objects by category
  • Stacks rings on a peg in size order
  • Understands their own reflection in a mirror
  • Finds things even when hidden under two or three covers
  • Completes sentences or rhymes in familiar stories
  • Plays make-believe games (pretend play)
  • Builds towers of at least four blocks
  • Follows two-step directions (e.g. “Pick up your toy and put it in the bin.”)
  • Finishes puzzles with 3-4 pieces
  • Draws a circle after watching an adult draw it

3 Years Old

  • Helps get themselves dressed
  • Knows their name, age, and gender
  • Follows step-by-step directions
  • Uses buttons, levers and moving parts on toys
  • Does imaginative play (e.g. pretends they are a dog or makes up stories for their dolls)
  • Builds towers of more than six blocks
  • Screws and unscrews lids or turns door handles

Child doing puzzle.

What Can You Do to Boost Your Toddler’s Cognitive Development? 

Play is key! Toddlers learn the most from playing, and your job is to support that play. This means exploring with your child, playing with them when appropriate and giving them space for independent play when needed. 

As your child is playing, describe new objects they encounter and ask questions about what they’re doing. When it comes to play, your toddler is the leader, and you’re there to make sure they’re getting the most out of it.

During play, refrain yourself from helping your toddler too much. Instead, give them tips for what they might try when they get frustrated.

There are many different types of play you can organize for your toddler—free play, pretend play, outdoor play, play with cognitive activities and toys (cause-and-effect toys, matching games , sorting games, categorizing games, puzzles), and social play with other children. Each type of play is beneficial to toddler cognitive development and should be encouraged. 

Also, spend some time focusing on vocabulary and language skills. Use a variety of words when interacting with your toddler. Sing songs and nursery rhymes together and read to them often. Most importantly, show patience and warmth when responding to your toddler.

If you’re concerned with your toddler’s cognitive development, talk to a doctor or therapist to see if early intervention is needed.

25 Fun Cognitive Activities for Toddlers

Providing quality cognitive activities for toddlers may have you feeling overwhelmed. We’ve got you covered with fun cognitive development activities that will boost your toddler’s development and keep you both smiling along the way!

  • Provide wooden blocks for stacking and building.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt looking for specific things (things that start with a certain letter or are a certain color).
  • Provide a bucket of soapy water and sponges outside to wash toys with.
  • Go on a treasure hunt outside (collect acorns, rocks, leaves, etc.) and have them make art with their treasures. 
  • Play games to practice following directions like “Follow the Leader” or “Simon Says.”
  • Throw rocks into a body of water and predict how big the splashes will be.
  • Let them pretend play with kitchen utensils.
  • Write letters on post-its and have your toddler stick them to objects whose names begin with each letter.  
  • Make animals out of playdough with your child.
  • Let them match their socks or sort their toys by color.
  • Go outside and try to figure out which direction the wind is coming from.
  • Gather items and have your toddler sort them based on color, category, shape, etc. 
  • Provide matching games and puzzles .
  • Draw a simple picture and then cut it into a few pieces. Have your toddler put the pieces back together. 
  • Practice counting throughout the day—how many stairs they go up or down, how many times they go down the slide at the park, how many cheerios they eat, etc.
  • Cook with your child to teach them how to follow directions, measure, and learn numbers. 
  • Cut post-its into shapes and have your child stick them to objects they find that match each shape. 
  • Go outside during each season and make notes of what you hear, see, feel, and smell. 
  • Create an art box with scrap paper, crayons, markers, and other materials and let them have free time to create. 
  • Sing songs and come up with actions to do during each song that your toddler can imitate.
  • Take your toddler to a local children’s museum, a local farm, library, or even the grocery store to provide for exploration. Ask questions while you both explore.
  • Have other children come over for playdates to help with social skills. 
  • Look in the mirror with your child and have them make faces to show different emotions. Playing with mirrors helps children develop their self-image and learn nonverbal cues.  
  • Bury treasures (small toys, rocks, acorns, etc.) in sand or wood chips outside and have your child find them.
  • Add fun containers to the bath for pouring, measuring, and experimenting with which items float and which items sink .

Cognitive Activities for Toddlers to Boost Development

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Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers

Problem solving activities for toddlers

Benefits of Problem Activities for Toddlers

No matter how hard we work to protect our children, there are always going to be challenges that they will have to work through and overcome. As adults, we problem solve every single day, using the tools we learned throughout our life to help us navigate our daily lives. Children also encounter many problems that need solving. 

For example, your child may find themselves fighting with another classmate over the same tiara in dress up or they might run out of a specific paint color during arts and crafts. Problems are always around us! With this in mind, it’s important to help your child work on problem solving! 

So, even if we can’t solve our kids’ problems, we can help them learn the skills necessary to solve and conquer the problems coming their way, setting them up for future success. 

What are problem solving activities?

To help work on your child’s problem solving skills, it's important to know what a problem solving activity is! Essentially, a problem solving activity presents your child with a challenge they must solve using the knowledge provided within the activity or event. Your child uses their resources and current knowledge, along with potentially your help, to accomplish their goal. 

Within a problem solving activity there is always one, if not more, solutions. Your child works on skills such as adaptability, creativity, resourcefulness, critical thinking, active listening, decision making, and even vulnerability. 

Problem solving activities can be more than some of the immediate things that come to mind. You may immediately think of math problems or hypothetical situations that they could solve. These are great options! But there are plenty more out there. 

Here are some examples that involve problem solving and activities ideas that go with them! 

Simple problem solving activities for toddlers

  • Building with toys around them : blocks are an easy first step into problem solving. Your child can build by themselves or with others, using the blocks as a tool to accomplish their goal and creation.

Even if you don’t have blocks, there are plenty of toys that can be stacked or objects that you have around your home! Playing cards, legos, shoes, toilet paper rolls, and plastic plates/utensils are some great and easy options!  

With any toy, make sure your child is not at risk of choking or swallowing the toy parts. Check out our parent's guide to toy safety  to help you feel safe and secure with the toys you have at home! 

  • Board games : board games are a great option for your child to work on problem solving and for you to feel nostalgic! Bring out your favorite board game as a kid and play it with your child. 

The people behind board games put a lot of thought and effort into the rules and purpose of their game! Your child is being challenged appropriately for their age while having fun! 

  • Storytelling : storytelling is a great option to work on creativity! Play the sentence game where you each only say a sentence, building off of what the other person says while creating a fun and often hilarious story. 

problem solving activities for infants and toddlers

When creating a story, try to incorporate a conflict for your child to come up with a solution for. Perhaps without even realizing it, your child is working on problem solving while having fun! 

Cognitive problem solving activities for toddler 

  • Scavenger Hunts : have your child find objects or places in your home or nearby that they must think about in order to find! A basic description can be given that will act as a guide for your toddler in coming up with an answer! They must use their memory and thinking in order to successfully find an object or place that fits the prompt! 
  • Word problems: usually used to help develop math skills, word problems force your child to conceptualize the problem in their head. They don’t necessarily have an image provided to help them solve the problem; rather, they might draw the factors of the problem or learn to organize the information in a way that makes the problem easily solvable! 
  • Memory Games : If you already have a matching memory game, great! If you don’t, create your own! In a memory matching game, your child must match two cards of the same image. Have your child create these cards, cut them out, and set them down so that they cannot see the image on the other side. We recommend using crayons as markers may bleed through the other side, ruining the mystery! 

In order to win, your child must remember where the matching card lays! 

Be Creative!

Problem solving occurs whether the environment is controlled or uncontrolled, meaning even if you don’t intend for a problem, it can happen anywhere and at any time. Use these moments as teaching moments! You don’t need a formal plan to help your child work on problem solving as a skill. Instead, use the world around you! 

How can I help my toddler with problem solving?

Now, you may be wondering, “How exactly do I work on and/or teach problem solving?”. You now understand what a problem solving activity is, but you now need to actually try one out. Here are some ideas for you to use as inspiration! 

Work alongside your child!

Having your support will help your child feel comfortable to ask questions and think through the problem in front of them. At times, it's important to allow your child to figure out a problem or toy on their own! Here at ToyVentive we highly recommend Montessori toys that emphasize independent play, but we also know the value of being a source of support for your child. 

Prompt your child through questions

At times, the only thing standing between your child and a solution is the right question being asked. Communication is so important in problem solving at any age! Emphasize asking and answering questions to help your child understand the importance of talking out a problem. 

Make sure they understand what the problem is 

Similar to asking the right questions, make sure your child understands what the problem exactly is in front of them. If they don’t understand this, they’re likelihood of solving the activity is very low. Have them verbally identify the problem so you know they are on the right track for success! 

Offer alternative solutions! 

Oftentimes, there are multiple solutions to a single problem. After your child has taken the time to come up with a solution, consider throwing out other options! This will help them see the problem in new ways and that there isn’t always one way to approach a problem. This creates conversation between you and your child! 

Make the activity fun and lighthearted! 

Problem solving can be scary. Your child is working on their vulnerability and confidence by offering up a solution to a newly presented problem. If they get it wrong, encourage them to try again and emphasize that it's okay to be wrong. If they feel comfortable, they are more likely to offer up answers and try out new solutions. 

Allow them to fail! 

As harsh as it sounds, failing is inevitable. However, it's an important lesson that can be applied to many aspects of life. Oftentimes failing leads to a new and better solution. Talk to them about why that solution didn’t work so they can learn from the moment. If you see them working in a way that won’t lead them to success, don’t intervene. Rather, watch, assess, and use this failure as motivation to keep trying. 

problem solving games for 1 year olds

How do you teach preschool problem solving?

In teaching anything, it's important to engage your child in the lesson. Customize your activity to your child’s interests. Food is a great tool. If your child loves bananas, consider talking about bananas in your activity. For example, think about a simple math problem. You could ask your child if they had three bananas and they ate one, how many would be left? This will help your child be interested and want to learn. 

Also, make the activity relevant to what your child is learning about. Your little one may be working on feelings and understanding many different emotions. Create an activity with hypothetical situations and ask your child what they would do and how they would feel. They can incorporate their knowledge on emotions while working on figuring out how to solve certain situations. 

If your child is in school, ask them about what they are learning. Not only do you show interest in their life, but you are also gaining valuable knowledge that you can use at home! 

Consider purchasing premade toys that emphasize problem solving! We know you don’t always have the time to come up with activities and lesson plans. Check out our products for some great options! With each of our toys , your child is faced with a unique set of challenges. 

With our wooden activity cube , your toddler has a variety of problems to solve. Each side offers a new challenge.  

Montessori toys for babies

With our puzzles , your child begins to understand and conceptualize size and shape. Check out this article for new ways to play with puzzles!

Even if you don’t use our products or want to clutter your house with a new toy, your environment is full of options for your child to problem solve. If you use your creativity, your child will also work on their own! 

Emphasize patience 

In problem solving, the answer is not always an easy solution, especially for children still learning so much about the world around them. For your toddler, it can be easy for feelings of frustration and anger to take over. Let them feel whatever they feel. It’s so important to validate and affirm feelings; however, use this as an opportunity to teach patience as well! 

Tell them that even you as an adult struggle with frustration. It’s a lifelong struggle! However, just like anything, practice makes perfect. As long as you put in the effort, you’ll get a result. 

At any age, problem solving is no easy task. But, the younger you start to work on problem solving, the easier it will be to solve challenges as you grow. When your child is an adult, they will need to problem solve in their workplace and in their personal life. The younger you start teaching them, the stronger and more effective their skills will be! 

We hope you found this blog helpful and as a great starting point in helping your 2-3 year old solve their current or future problems! Comment down below any challenges or successes you have found! 

Activity cube large toddler

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Problem-solving and Relationship Skills with Infants and Toddlers

Woman: Places, everyone. Are the lights ready? Three, two, one.

Mike Browne: Ooh-whee! Estoy aqui, estoy listo. I am here. I am ready and let's rock and roll!

Becky Sughrim: I'm ready, too!

All: [Singing] "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time.” "Teacher Time.”

Mike: Hello, everyone. You know that never gets old. I'm like sitting here jogging along. Welcome, everyone, to our third infant and toddler episode of "Teacher Time" this program year. I'm Mike Browne. My pronouns are he/him. And I'm joined by...

Becky: Becky Sughrim, and my pronouns are she/her.

Mike: And we are from the National Center on Early Childhood Development Teaching and Learning. And as always, we are super excited to be here with you all today. Thank you for joining us. We have been focusing all of our episodes this past season of "Teacher Time" on positive behavior support. So far, we talked about many different things. We talked about the importance of relationships. We talked about how to support emotional literacy. Today is going to be another fun one on problem-solving and friendship skills and building friendship skills with infants and toddlers.

I would love to call to your attention to the Viewer's Guide, where you can find it in the Resource Widget. This season our Viewer's Guide is a Viewer Guide from birth to five. It includes age-specific information for infants, for toddlers, for preschool children. It's packed full of so many different things — resources, helpful quick tips, reminders that you can take right into your learning space. And there's also a note-taking space in which you can use to jot down some notes for today. You can download the guide and use it throughout our time together for taking notes, reflecting, planning, and please, as always share the Viewer Guide with your colleagues.

Becky: During our time together, we're going to be focusing on a number of things. We're going to first talk about some positive behavior support teaching practices. Then we're going to take some time to promote your wellness and our wellness and connect our affective practices to brain development in our new segment this season called "Neuroscience Nook.”

Then we're going to take a look at the "Teacher Time" basics. In "Small Change, Big Impact" and in our "Focus on Equity" segments, we're going to talk about individualized strategies that build a sense of belonging and promote social and emotional skill with all children, including children who have a variety of learning characteristics.

Of course, we will wrap up our time together as we always do with the "BookCASE," where Mike got to meet with our "Teacher Time" librarian, and we connect our topic to books that you can share with children and families.

Mike: As we begin, let's check in using our famous, world famous, "Teacher Time" Tree. Enter to the Q&A, which is that purple widget, what number are you feeling today? What number creature that you're showing up and you want to relate to us. And, of course, you can jot down why you're feeling like that.

I will get us started. I am feeling a little like, I don't know, I like the lighter colors, I like the 11, 12 because yesterday I got a chance to visit a classroom and one of the first children I had when they were infants, they saw me, they ran up to me and they were like, "Mike?” And I was like, "I haven't seen you in two-and-a-half years!” And like, just jumped up and gave me a big hug and now I'm feeling all cuddly and cozy. What about you, Becky?

Becky: That's such a great story. Thanks for sharing, Mike. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy thinking about it. I feel like a number 10. I'm excited for today. I'm ready to be with everyone and just open arms ready to learn and be alongside with you and all of our participants.

Mike: We got some tens, we got some fives in the chat, we've got some ones. Keep them coming. Let us know how you're feeling and we're going to rock and roll to our next slide.

Becky: Thank you. I got a little excited. We are very excited, as you can tell, that we're going to be focusing on positive behavior supports this season. We have focused on this on our last two infant/toddler webinars as well. And you probably already know this, that social-emotional development is one of the domains in Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, or the ELOF. And the practical strategies we're going to be talking about today are going to be focusing on the relationships with other children subdomain of the social-emotional development domain as you can see highlighted here.

We have been working our way through the pyramid. And we've been thinking about the pyramid model, and this is a Positive Behavior Support, or PBS framework that is proactively addressing the social-emotional development and challenging behaviors that young children might experience.

And the framework offers a continuum of evidence-based teaching practices that are organized into four levels of support. The first level is nurturing and responsive relationships. The second level is high-quality supportive environments. Then we have the purple, the third level, social and emotional teaching strategies, and the top of the pyramid, intensive intervention.

And today, we're going to be focusing on that third level of the pyramid, or a second-tier support where we're talking about social and emotional teaching strategies. If you want learn more about the pyramid model, we hope that you will check out the recourses in your viewer's guide from the National Center of Pyramid Model Innovations, or NCPMI in the Resource List section.

Mike: We would love to hear — because I'm already like I need a sip of water — we'd love hear using that purple Q&A widget some of the strategies and practices that you have in place in your center, and your learning environment that really supports problem-solving and relationship skills with infants and toddlers. Once again, type that into the chat using your purple Q&A widget.

Once again, I'm going to start it. I think one practice that I did specifically with infants is whenever we're by the door and it's during pickup time, we will have that child, just look up and we're like, "Oh, is someone's parent here? Or someone's caregiver here?” And they'll go "Dada! Dada!" And I say, "Oh, should we go over to such-and-such, Nico, and say, 'Oh Dada's here?'" "Let's come with me.” You're building that relationship with the child and building relationship between the children.

And something that I like to do with toddlers when they're a little bit older, I love doing like a little scavenger hunt. I'll say, "Oh my goodness! I lost my coffee!” "My adult drink.” Well, maybe not adult drink, some coffee. "Let's go find it!” "Hmm, you're getting warmer. You're getting colder" They've been learning about spatial awareness, difference in temperature, things of that nature.

Becky: And also the collaboration of working together as a team if you're in a group care setting, all trying to find coffee that we need in the morning. Let's see what we have in the Q&A talking about having a welcome song with each child's name.

Mike: We're having some redirect. Redirection is always key.

Becky: Having open-ended questions with toddlers. Totally. And one of the things that I like, which I'm sure is going to also come up in the chat is to engage in that narration when a toy struggle is happening or there's a problem where we're talking about what the toddlers are doing, and what we see. And just letting them know what's happening in real-time.

Mike: That sounds like something we should talk about on Parallel Play.

Becky: Yeah. If you haven't checked out our podcast, we hope that you will. Mike and I also host a Parallel Play podcast. Let's think about positive behavior supports. As we know, the pyramid model is one way we can engage in positive behavior supports. And let's think a little bit deeper about what positive behavior supports are and what they mean. This is really a positive approach to prevent and address challenging behavior or behaviors that adults find challenging.

And the number one thing to remember is that PBS is proactive. That we're proactively thinking about ways in which we can prevent challenging behaviors from occurring. It's positive and proactive. And at the heart of PBS is this recognition that challenging behavior is communication. That challenging behavior is used to communicate a message like, "I want to play with that person or that other toddler.” Or "I want to turn right now.” Or "I want to play in the sensory bin too.” Or something like, "I want that green ball.”

There's all behavior is a form of communication and children are sending us a message. Educators can be their best detectives and together with the family uncover what the child is trying to communicate through their behavior and then teach the child a more effective way to communicate and problem solve with support.

Mike: We’re going to turn it back right to you. I hope your fingers are ready. We're going to be doing this all day. Let's turn the attention back to you. We do our best caregiving and teaching when we feel well ourselves. Really engaging in self-care practices can help educators, admin, everyone build greater social and emotional capacity to work through problem-solving together.

And our ability to support children with problem-solving and relationship skills starts with our ability to really center ourselves by noticing and observing all the little things that are happening within our bodies, with as little judgment as possible and really softening to what is. We can help young children work through challenges with peers, for a more grounded, balance, soft, and objective place by naming what we see happening come. Before we support the children in our care with problem-solving and relationship skills, it's super important that we find ways to regulate our own feelings throughout the day.

Just by taking a minute right now, we're going to do a quick little body scan to know what's happening in our bodies, to really softening to that moment, like I said earlier, slowing down and centering ourselves at any point of the day, but specifically right now since I'm going to ask you all to do it with me. This practice supports our well-being first, enabling us to hold a really non-judgmental space and respond intentionally and responsibly to children cues, behaviors, and communication, as we support them in building healthy relationships with each other. Get your wiggles out.

You might want to start in the seated position, or if you're laying down, maybe you're on a standing desk, I don't know, whatever feels comfortable to you and just start to slowly bring your attention to your body. You can close your eyes. I would love to close my eyes, but the blinding lights are in front of me. I won't do that. Only close your eyes if you're feeling comfortable.

And just start to notice your body wherever you are. As you inhale, and as you exhale have that really sense of relaxation. And you can notice your feet, or your body on the floor. You can notice — for me, I notice the seat underneath me or that if I lean back, the back of the chair against me. That was a lot of words I wanted to say.

Bring your attention now to your stomach area. If it feels tight, right, let us soft it. Imagine you're on a beach somewhere. I know one of our participants says they're going on vacation. Notice your hands, and your arms, and your shoulders. Let them be soft. Let your jaw and your face muscle soften up. And notice your whole body just being present. Then take that one last deep breath.

Now, if you're so inclined to, feel free to share how you are feeling during or feel now after the body scan. What shifts do you notice? Me, oh, I was like, I got a lot of things in my shoulders. I was like, I need to go to a massage place.

Becky: I was thinking the same thing. So much tension I hold in my shoulders and my neck. We're on the same page, Mike.

Mike: There you go.

Becky: As these are coming in let's start to think about problem-solving in relationship skills. Social competencies like self-regulation, empathy, perspective-taking, and problem-solving skills are all really key to foundational healthy social-emotional development. This includes positive interactions and friendships, or relationships between peers. Educators can help children learn these skills that are necessary to develop healthy peer relationships and find ways to work though social conflicts with children and providing support with the child.

The first thing that we can do with infants and toddlers is about modeling problem-solving skills. And if we model problem-solving skills early on, this will build a foundation of problem-solving and relationship skills that children can build on and will be able to access with adult support as they develop and start to use these skills more independently. As children become more independent and more mobile, they tend to run into situations in the natural environment that can lead to frustration or challenging behavior like a toy is out of my reach, or I also want to play in the sensory table and someone is already there.

If we teach children problem-solving skills and they become good problem solvers on their own, and with our support, their self-esteem increases in their ability to solve problems. They're more likely to cope with a certain level of frustration and engage in less challenging behavior. There might be some children in your care who don't readily learn these skills through foundational teaching strategies like modeling or co-regulation, and this might include children with disabilities or suspected delays.

It's important to be aware of the process of all children and use more individualized practices to teach these skills to children who need more support. And we will talk more about that in the basics. Let’s look at some key ideas. When we're thinking about working with toddlers there's three key ideas we want to think about when supporting problem-solving and relationship skills. The first one is promoting healthy relationships. Educators can model relationship skills with things like sharing or helping or cooperating like you were talking about.

Mike: Yeah.

Becky: Earlier, Mike, with everyone helping you to find your coffee, and providing comfort, and making suggestions in play, and then celebrating each other. That's a big piece of promoting healthy relationships. And teachers can also create developmentally appropriate opportunities for practicing these skills throughout the day, like setting up a space for two or three toddlers to play together at one time. There might be limited space, and limited materials. This way toddlers can practice turn taking and sharing, like we see in this picture on the left.

And we might also start to notice in the toddler years that children could be showing preferences for a particular playmate. This is also a great time to pause and think about what value do we put, or you put, on peer relationships, and how do you expect peers to act with each other? And our awareness of these questions, and our responses to these questions is really supportive of our equitable teaching practices.

Mike: Can I take the middle one?

Becky: Yeah. Yeah!

Mike: Perfect because I love teaching about problem-solving. Conflict happens all the time in case you never have been in an early childhood classroom, but I don't think this — I think this audience knows. Conflicts happen all the time in early childhood environments where children are really just learning to manage their emotions or behavior through co-regulation. Remember, these are the first times that they might be having these types of emotions. They're like, "Whoa! What is going on?”

Toddlers are beginning to reason, and really beginning to understand simple consequences. Educators can describe the problem. We can offer solutions. Then that's how we can support toddlers in trying a couple different new strategies out. Like, how I imagine as I'm looking at this middle photo, I imagine this educator something — I'm trying to channel my inner educator. "I see you reaching out and you're touching Zoa's leg. I wonder if you're wanting some more space. You can say, 'I need some more space please.'"

Becky: Yeah, totally. Thank you so much, Mike. The next key idea we want to talk about is teach problem-solving in the moment. Problem-solving is hard work as we know, and educators can help toddlers use the problem-solving steps in the moment by first being proactive and anticipating social conflicts before they happen.

This might be being close, as we see in this picture on the right, that the educator is close to the child, supporting her through this interaction. We can also provide support by describing steps for solving the problem and modeling them and supporting the child in going through them. We can also generate solutions together and then we can celebrate success.

And, of course, we want to you remember to individualize the strategies you used to provide support on these skills based on the learning characteristics and needs of the children you support. Some children may need the amount of language used to be modified. Some children may need visual cues or gestures paired with verbal language. Some children may need specific feedback on consequences to help them learn the effect of their behavior on the environment. Again, please stay tuned for the basics and we're going to share some more information about providing specific feedback.

Mike: Let's now take a second to pause and watch a clip on teaching problem-solving in the moment and how that might look like with toppers.

[Video begins]

Teacher: Are you guys taking turns? Would you like to have a turn? OK. Cayden's turn. Now, whose turn is it to put one on top?

Cayden: It's Marcos!

Teacher: It's Marcos' turn. Marcos, did you hear that? He said it's your turn.

Marcos: I make a red one.

Teacher: Your turn. Wow! Your turn! Look at how many blocks — you guys, what could you tell Ryan? Say, "Ryan, that was my tower.”

Marcos: Stop!

Ryan: That was my tower.

Teacher: Stop. That was a good word. Look it, we could get our — oh, I took my cards off. Look it, we could use our cards. We could use our cards, Ryan. Ryan, we could use our cards. Look it, what could we do? You could wait and take a turn to knock it down. Look, you have your own tower to knock down. And you guys did such a good job of ignoring him when he knocked your tower down. Nice job.

[Video ends]

Mike: There was so many wonderful moments here that I just loved. Use our Q&A, purple Q&A widget to type in what did you notice, what did you see, what did you want to express? And we'll kick us off. The first thing that I'm just thinking about is that the educator was the proximity of the educator. What's close by to really support and to anticipate — not jump in right away, but just to anticipate a little bit around problem-solving in the moment.

Becky: Yeah. Like, what we're talking about. Being close. I notice that the educator was narrating the turn-taking and supported turn-taking too.

Mike: And even when the block fell, the educator gave the child words to say and then asked for the toddler for their input.

Becky: Yes, giving the child the words to say because sometimes in the moment they don't know what to say. That's really helpful. I also love this idea of having the solution cards close by. That they were within arm's reach. She didn't have to leave the block area to go and get them.

Mike: As we think about educators and being responsive and thinking about everyone in the learning environment, really, I saw the educator also talking to all the children who were involved. It wasn't just to the child who knocked off the block. Talk to all the children involved about what they can do in order to solve this problem moving forward or next time because it will happen again.

Becky: Yes. And the educator provided positive feedback, which I saw come through the chat giving specific feedback and praise and of utilizing the solutions. We also saw that the educator was very attentive. She was calm, and encouraging, and involving everyone. More comments about being calm and a soft tone of voice which makes a huge difference.

Mike: Exactly. As we move through this presentation, and this, our time together, remember to take time — or let's do it right now. Let's take another moment to pause and reflect on these questions that will support equitable teaching practices. I think the three that you mentioned earlier were how do you expect peers to act with one another with each other? Another one that you said was — you remembered it, you said it.

Becky: Yeah, it was think about how do we feel about conflict or disagreement, or debates?

Mike: That reminds me. The last one that you said was do you listen openly to all children when there is a problem. Just keep these in the back of your mind and because we're probably going to revisit this in a little bit.

Becky: Thank you, Mike, for those reflective questions. Let's think about key ideas for problem-solving and relationship skills with infants since it’s slightly different than toddlers. When we think about promoting healthy relationships with infants, that's what the work is all about. It's all about relationships. This means modeling healthy relationships with the infants in your care so they can feel what it feels like to be in a healthy relationship. It also means modeling healthy relationships with other adults in the learning environment, so infants can see what healthy relationships look like.

Educators can create opportunities for infants to play side-by-side and interact with each other like we see in this picture on the left. The two educators are sitting close together with three infants in their laps. The infants are close enough to notice and reach out for each other, and maybe after they're done reading the book, the infants are placed on the carpet together where they can explore the books on their own and with each other.

Mike: When I just think about the other photo, this where it says, "Practice problem-solving." The one on our right, this is about being aware of infants' cues. Remembering that some infants may not give clear or predictable cues. All infants have different temperaments and varying temperaments, and that creates varying abilities to give cues.

Also, think about infants with disabilities or suspected delays. They may not be using behaviors we're typically accustomed to, such as eye gaze or vocalization, especially if they are the only — and especially if we're working with children who are typically neurotypical. It's important for adults to be very intentional about their observations and what behaviors they recognize as cues. Watch for situations that may trigger stress, or conflict, and provide comfort to those infants while describing what the problem is or was and possible solutions.

Narrate what you are doing in the moment to problem solve as you go along. Like in this picture on the right, you might say something like — I always like pretending to say something, you might say something like, "Oh, I see your holding on to this book. And this looks like it might be a problem. You both look very upset. Hmm. How about we try looking at the book together at the table?”

Becky: Right now, let's watch what promoting healthy relationships with infants might look like. As you're watching this clip, please put in the Q&A what you might say to the two infants that would help promote peer relationships.

Teacher 2: Thank you. Do you want to stand up? Do you need a diaper, Ivy? You need a diaper? She actually [Inaudible] because she was doing something at the table.

Teacher 3: Okay. You going back?

Teacher 2: [Inaudible] Wow! Look at you.

Becky: I love this video so much.

Mike: I'm, like, grinning ear-to-ear.

Becky: What did you notice, Mike, about the video?

Mike: I noticed that these two infants are playing next to each other and they're naturally sharing. They're naturally being in community with one another, which involved naturally taking turns, holding, and lifting up the basket.

Becky: It's such a beautiful moment and I love, like you said, the natural turn taking that's happening. As comments are coming into the chat, one of the things I might say to the two children in this video clip are, "Oh, I see you are both using the basket. Look at how you can take turns.”

Mike: Or I would say something like, "Oh, you two are playing next to each other.” Acknowledging this beautiful interaction, with a lot of excitement and warmth in my tone, a voice.

Becky: And yes, the tone of voice is so important because what we say is just as important as how we say it and how we say it is just as important as what we say.

Mike: And I would even say in just say the joy that's happening, because we often don't look at our Black children, our Black boys, as joyful beings. You can tie that all in together.

Becky: There's so much joy happening in this clip, but I think it gives us a both a lot of joy. Let's see in the chat we're having some comments coming in about, "Oh wow, good job sharing," or let's see here, I'm looking, there's so many things that coming up.

Mike: "It's nice to see you two playing together with the basket.”

Becky: "I see you are sitting together, and you are being kind to each other.”

Mike: "Wow, good job sharing.” And that positive tone, once again.

Becky: Yes, lots of comments about — and stating the child's names and how they are sharing the joy. It's wonderful. Keep bringing those in and our wonderful Q&A team will send them out. Mike, I want to hear more about neuroscience now.

Mike: Of course, you do. Research tells us that the early years are foundational. Most important part, especially when brain development, in adults we play a vital role in supporting a healthy brain development, connection and architecture.

In this segment, Neuroscience Nook, we are so excited to connect this research to everyday teaching practices. An important side note before we continue, and as questions using that purple Q&A widget comes in, remember we absolutely want to hear from you. We just don't want to sit here and talk, we want to hear from y'all. If you got questions, comments, concerns, thoughts, ideas, share them with us, or post them in the "Teacher Time" Community in My Peers.

Executive function. The pre-mental cortex begins to develop early on in life. This area of the brain is responsible for what are known as the executive functioning skills. And it's essential for the development of strong and healthy relationships. As you can see on this graphic, it includes so many different things.

Attention, being able to focus on a task. Working memory, being able to remember rules and procedures. Self-regulation and the ability to control impulses which I didn't have last night when I was eating ice cream. Organization, switching between tasks, flexible thinking, problem-solving, planning behavior, decision-making, motivation.

All of these skills are important to problem-solving and heathy relationships. We can help young children, support young children, to start developing this critical relationship building and problem-solving skills through responsive caregiving and affective teaching practices that are responsive to the individual child's needs. Just like we mentioned in our most recent episode of "Teacher Time," in case you missed it you can go back on…

Becky: DTL Push Play, and you can access our first two infant toddler webinars about building relationships and emotional literacy.

Mike: There you go. I always like to throw it to you because I always forget where exactly it is. But yes, just like she said. We encourage you to look back at the last two years guides, Building Relationship with Children Birth to Five, and Emotional Literacy with Children Birth to Five to see more about the importance of nurturing relationships and the impact on the developing minds. Looks like I also have the next slide. Now let's hear from Dr. Juliet Taylor as she described the development of executive functioning skills.

Juliet Taylor: I'm going to show you a graphic of how executive function develops over time. Here's sort of a graphic representation. And one thing to point out is that we are not born with executive function skills in place. We're born with the potential to develop them, or not, depending on our experiences, our neurophysiology, and the interactions between those things.

This graph shows that on the horizontal axis you can see this is ages birth to 80. And notice that there's not an even distribution between the ages. And that is because there are particular peeks in executive function development. You can see skill proficiency on the vertical axis. And I'm going to highlight a couple of areas where you see tremendous growth and executive function skills. And that is really in the preschool ages between three to five. And then in early adolescents to early adulthood, there's another spike in development.

The foundations of executive function are laid down in the earliest months and years of life. And that really happens through basic, sort of serve and return it's sometimes called, or those basic interactions between child and adult that happen over, and over, and over again. And that spike really does happen in the preschool years after children have verbal language.

Becky: This is such a helpful graphic and such a helpful explanation of executive functioning skills. I'm a visual learner, it meets my learning needs.

Mike: Exactly. We are not born with executive function, but we are born with the potential to develop them. That is why our work, whether it's your direct support, or your indirect support, or you're just hanging out in the back. It's so important that our work is with infants and toddlers to create that lifelong success. We can't say it enough to you. What you are doing is important work. I know we tired sometimes but stick with it. We love you. And thank you for being here with us.

Becky: Yes. I second that. I also, from this video, I think about these peeks in executive functioning that there's a peek between three to five years old right after children have verbal language. And toddlers are just entering into that spike in executive functioning skills which is —I love thinking about that and what does that mean, and what does that mean for toddler behavior, and toddler development.

Mike: And the last two things that are really coming up for me in this one is the foundation of executive function is laid out in the very few first months and years of life. Learning is having in the room and right out as soon as you leave. I was like, I don't know how I'm going to work that. The last thing I was thinking of is the importance of serve and return. If you're like, "What is serve and return?” You know where you can find that? In our last webinar that we did.

Becky: In our "Building Relationships with Infants and Toddlers," we talk a lot about serve and return. Now it's time for the basics. We've talked a lot about the importance of problem-solving and relationship skills. Let's shift to looking at practical strategies for how to support these skills with infants and toddlers.

We're going to do that by getting back to the basics. The basics are a collection of strategies that could be used in any setting with infants and toddlers. And the "Teacher Time" basics are behavioral expectations in advance, attend to and encourage positive behavior, scaffold with cues and prompts, increase engagement, create or add challenge, and provide specific feedback.

In this season of "Teacher Time," we have been focusing on two letters of the basics every episode. We hope that you will join us for all of the webinars this season. And remember, if you've missed the last two webinars on building relationships and emotional literacy with infants and toddlers, you can access those on DTL Push Play. We invite you to tune in to our future webinars. There's a registration link in the resource list if you want to sign up for that now so that you can get all of the basics of positive behavior of sorts.

Today, we're going to be looking at examples of C, create, or add challenge and S, specific feedback to support problem-solving and relationship skills. Let's take one look at how we can create or add challenge. When we're thinking about supporting problem-solving and relationship skills, we can add challenge by carefully selecting toys and materials for the learning environment that support taking turns, waiting, and learning how to share.

This might look like putting out a ball track, or a car track, or a toy that naturally supports turn taking where the children have to wait before sending a ball or a car down the track, or where one ball or one car will fit on the track at a time. Or maybe you put out stacking rings and encourage children to stack together since only one ring could be stacked at a time like we see in this picture on the left.

You could also create waiting games with the materials and routines that you have in the learning environment, like waiting to go down the slide or waiting to go through the tunnel like we see in this picture on the right. You might also sing a song while you wait to wash your hands, or like one of our participants said in the beginning, you have a greeting song in the morning where the children have to wait to do their special dance, or their special move until they hear their name.

Mike: I think that is a great segue, it's almost like you've seen this before, into us watching a video of what a waiting game might look like in the learning environment with a toddler. As you watch the video, we invite you to share once again in the Q&A how you see the educator supporting waiting, and what would you do to support toddlers with waiting in your program center?

Teacher 4: OK, one, two, three, go!

Connor: Whee!

Teacher 4: Good job, Connor.

Teacher 5: You want to count? OK. One, two, three, four, five, go!

Teacher 5: Yay! One, two — Oh, she couldn't wait, could she? She just couldn't wait. That's fine. She went on two. That's good. You want to count? Ah! Hailey didn't want to wait either. That's fine.

Mike: You can see right away, like you heard the counting, the toddler is down before they can actually go down the slide.

Becky: And I loved that the educator honored when the toddlers did wait and when they just couldn't wait. And she said, "Oh, she couldn't wait. That's fine.”

Mike: And it looks like someone in our chat just beat us to it before we said that. There's so much waiting to happen in this video in taking turns, waiting at the top of the slide, toddlers waiting for their turn.

Becky: There’s so much and it felt like this was a very natural turn taking game for this group of toddlers. It felt like it was familiar to them. And it felt like it was something that they were enjoying.

Mike: And just thinking about like my own culture being Afro-Caribbean, in my culture we love to give children control over the waiting time. They want to wait until they are down the slide, the first child is down the slide to climb up, they have that control. Or we'll say, "Hey, how many seconds do you think we should wait?” We're giving them that power, that control.

Becky: I love that. The real traces and the agency. We have a few comments coming in from the chat. Just the encouragement and patience from the educator. That there was a countdown as a verbal strategy and we also saw that the educator was giving examples of waiting, like naming who waited and who couldn't wait.

Let’s  think about specific feedback and providing specific feedback is another way that educators can support problem-solving an relationship skills. Providing specific feedback is about naming and acknowledging when you see a child engage in building relationships.

It might sound like, "Oh, you're helping me put on Natalie's coat.” Or "I saw you get a tissue for Kai. That was so kind.” And the key to specific feedback is being specific. Thinking about what you see and what you saw that toddlers or infants do. Educators can also provide specific feedback to a child when they see them taking turns or sharing, or trying to solve a problem, or playing next to each other, or even playing with a child. That might sound like, "Oh look, Nora is watching you. I think she wants to play too.”

And providing specific feedback is a helpful tool to teach children what to do. You might provide feedback on how to be a friend, or how to solve a problem like, "Hmm, I see that you two are frustrated and have a problem. Let get our solution kit for some ideas.” Or you might say, "Oh, you knocked into Lucas because you were running, and you didn't see him. Let's see if he's okay.”

It's about offering specific ideas of what the toddler can do next and then supporting the infants and toddlers with those next steps and those skills. Remember that, again we said this earlier, how feedback is given, including what you say and how to you say it is important and should be individualized to meet the learning characteristics and temperament of each child.

Mike: Do you remember those three questions I asked earlier? Or you asked them and then I reiterated them? Here's where it comes up again. Three questions. How do you expect peers to act with one another? How do you feel about conflict? And do you listen openly to all children? This is where we are going to apply them.

In our segment Small Change Big Impact where we share how small and adjustments to the way we set up our learning environments, modify a curriculum, or engage with children can make a huge difference in a child's learning. We know that children vary in their learning characteristics and how they engage with people, and materials, and learning environment.

These small changes, and these curriculum modifications are made so that the individual child -- they're made thinking about the individual needs of a child in order to promote their engagement, their participation, and we know that children are more engaged when they have opportunities to learn.

Some children might need more highly individualized teaching practices to help them learn problem-solving such as imbedded teaching or intensive individualized teaching, making curriculum modifications based off a child's individual learning needs can be a great place to start to support this engagement.

Today we're going to be focusing on environmental supports like making physical adjustments to the learning environment to promote participation, engagement, learning problem-solving, relationship skills, the two things of today's talk. When you think about the strategies of physical adjustments, I would love for us to consider changing the space, the location, and arrangement of materials, of activities, to really support the needs of individual children. Like, setting up the smallest space, for example, for a few toddlers to sit together and read a book, or a small sensory table where a few children can play together at the same time. Do you got any ideas?

Becky: I think about managing materials and supplies. Materials could be used in many ways to support individual children with problem-solving and relationship skills. We can think about adding in materials, taking out materials, varying materials, and strategically using the materials to support a desired behavior. You might take out some materials to encourage sharing and turn-taking between toddlers, or you might bring in materials that support waiting. Like, we talked about in the basics.

Or maybe, you set up larger items like tumbling mats, or a large balance beam like we see in this picture in the middle where one child is walking at a time and one child takes a turn at a time. You could also bring in materials that are more engaging and fun with two children, like a rocking boat, or a toddler-safe seesaw.

Mike: For our last one, you can always add visual cues. You could add simple ones. You could add complex ones. I don't know. Do you. Individual cues can really promote relationship between peers and problem-solving skills like sharing a hug or giving a high-five.

Once again, check out the viewer's guide for more suggestions and resources on ECLKC. We encourage you to observe each child to see how they engage in specific areas with a group, and with each other. This can help us think about what are some of the best ways to support the child in building peer relationships and problem-solving skills by individualizing the support that you provide and how to you modify the environment.

Once again, viewer's guide has all these information and tips and tricks of the trade. Let's take a break. Well, we're going to take a break. Y'all aren't going to take a break. To watch a video of how an educator intentionally changes the setup of the environment to support her interactions. And of course, whatever comes to your mind, type it into your purple Q&A widget.

Teacher 6: There we go. Are you ready to make soup? Come here. Oops. This one is not broken. We can put water in it. We can hold water. Ready? Oh, Joy wants to do it. Joy, do you want to put some water in here?

Boy: I would.

Teacher 6: You want to help, too? Can you wait one minute? Just wait for Joy's turn? Oh, I don't think she liked that. Can you give it back to Joy, please? Oh!

Teacher 6: What happened?

Mike: This educator knows how much the toddlers at the table loves to play with water. To support this toddler were peer interactions and relationships. The education staff set up the water vents near the dramatic play areas. Did you notice that? Where two toddlers were making soup.

Becky: And as we got to see the children interacted with each other and the soup making moved from the dramatic play area to the table. The educator really supported turn taking at the end of this clip when she narrated what was happening, she used sign language, and asked specifically asked one toddler to give the scoop back to another toddler. We saw a lot of individualizing practices in this video where thinking about a child's interest, thinking about some games that other children were playing, and how we can bring those two together.

Mike: If you are in my classroom, we're making caldo, we're making pozole. But that's neither here or there. Throughout this webinar we have been discussing ways to foster social-emotional skills for all children. Becky, what are we going to talk about more in this segment?

Becky: Thanks, Mike. We're going to think about those reflective questions that we've been mentioning throughout the webinar. In our focus on equity segment, we're going to be using our equity lens to take a closer look at implicit bias and how that impacts how we interact with children and support them in building problem-solving skills, and relationship skills. The value we place on peer relationships and the way we go about building and maintaining them are influenced by our family, our culture, our community, and our experiences.

Sometimes our subtle biases can interfere with our ability to approach conflict between children with an open mind and help them solve problems in a way that is respectful and fair to all children involved. Uncovering these biases take time and reflection. Again, some of these helpful questions to reflect on are — what value do you place on peer relationships? How do you expect peers to act with each other? How do you feel about conflict, disagreements, or debates?

Mike: Do you listen openly to all children when there is a problem?

Becky: And is there a child that you are more likely to make negative assumptions about when a problem involves that specific child? We just encourage you to ask a friend, or a colleague, or a coach to video record you during a time of day when there tends to be more conflict between children. Then go back and watch the video and notice how you respond and interact with each child involved in the conflict. And again, ask yourself, "Does every child receive the support and instruction they need?”

Mike: I am just a little bit excited for this because I'm featured on it. "Teacher Time Library," Emily Small, with someone you clearly recognize that you see in this video, me, Mike Browne, I got to sit with our "Teacher Time" librarian, Emily, and I'm so excited about this month's book. Let's watch me, Emily, make the CASE.

Mike: Welcome to "Teacher Time Library.” My name is Mike Browne. My pronouns are he/him and I'm joined by the wonderful...

Emily Small: Emily Small. And my pronouns are she/her.

Mike: I am so excited to be here today with you all because we have a great selection of books that Emily has curated to be able to share with us today. And it is all centered around our theme of relationships with other children, which is within the social-emotional development domain of our ELOF goals.

Today, we are going to make the case. The CASE, what is that? You might be unfamiliar. You might not. But either way I'm going to refresh your memory. CASE is an acronym that we love to use in order to make connections between the books and what we're trying to hope to achieve within our ELOF domain.

C is pretty simple, C for cookie, also means connecting to ELOF, which is our Early Learning Outcome Frameworks. A, which is about advancing vocabularies. Books are an amazing opportunity. It is both a window, a mirror, and a sliding door into worlds that can really build children's emotional language, vocabulary, and concept development.

S, now this one is a bit of a long one, but it's about supporting engagement. And engagement looks different for each and every single child. Books stirs creativity. It stirs or imagination and by listening to the voices of children, we can really find ways to support them in being active participants not just in their learning, but of their learning environment.

And last but not least we have E. E is about extending the learning well beyond the books. Think about the questions in your curriculum, your provocations, and the activities that you do each and every single day. How can you plan that, so it connects to STEM? How can you use STEM to connect to dramatic play. How can you connect dramatic play to mental health? And so on and so forth because we're all about loving and nurturing the entire child. But that's enough about me, we going to throw it over to these books. And this first one is my favorite, not just because we are matching.

Emily: Yes, we do match today. A quick note before we get into them. I actually borrowed these from my local library. But also, I encourage everyone to check out their local library rather than just having to purchase the items.

Emily: Our first one is "Blocks" by Irene Dickson. We have two friends, Ruby and Benji who are in parallel play with one another in the block area. Benji would really, really like one of Ruby's red blocks and he takes it. And we see what happens next. How they problem solve, how their peer relationship grows, and then we actually have a third friend enter the picture at the end named Guy. There's a chance to make a prediction about what will happen next.

Mike: STEM.

Emily: Yes. We have that nice high gloss cover, we've got "Mine, Mine, Mine, Yours" by Kimberly Gee.

Mike: We hear, "Mine, mine, mine" a lot with toddlers.

Emily: Yes.

Mike: Not so much "Yours," but that's okay.

Emily: We have some great examples in this one of some repetitive phrases on every page. For instance, we have "Jump, jump, jump, bump.”

Mike: That happens.

Emily: All the time. And then we have "Sorry, sorry, sorry.” "That's okay.” But in the pictures, we're seeing a chance for the children to check in on one another.

Mike: And I think that's so important. Especially when we're talking about social-emotional development is that it's not just enough to say, "Sorry," but how are we also coaching in educating our children in order to say, "Hey, check in, what do you think might help them feel better?” We can take it to another level.

Emily: Definitely. That's "Mine, Mine, Mine, Yours.” Then we have this tiny little board book called "The Last Marshmallow.” It's part of the Storytelling Mass series. There's a bunch in this series. I highly recommend them. You can, again, see I borrowed it from my library. And it is a very cold day, just like it is today, and some friends would like two cups of hot chocolate but there's three marshmallows.

Mike: I'm already hearing the STEM, the math right there.

Emily: They each get one but there's one left and they have to problem solve to figure out how they're going to make this fair.

Mike: Oh, like you said, it's a very cold day, give it to me.

Emily: That's the "The Last Marshmallow" by Grace Lin. And then the one we're going to make the case for is "You Hold Me Up" by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel. This one, I love the illustrations in this book so much. For our connection, our C, this book uses the phrase, "You hold me up when," and then it gives us very specific examples of how people feel connected and respected to one another. For our advanced vocabulary, we see words such as kind, learn, respect, comfort. Those are great words to be using as part of your daily routine with children.

For our S for supporting engagement, the words on the page reference the illustrations but they don't say specifically what's happening. As children are showing interest in them, talk about what is going on in the illustration. We're seeing this family it looks like baking together. You can comment on that.

Mike: You can even talk about how the intergenerational family is well in this one.

Emily: Yes. There's multiple images throughout this book that show intergenerational families. And then for E, extending the learning, one of the other examples they give is "You hold me up when you sing with me," and so, we know that singing is a great thing to do with infants, especially for those early verbal skills. I would encourage you to incorporate some singing and then of course some musical instruments as well.

Mike: You can even point out and say, "Oh, what type of instrument do you think this is?” And it's perfect because there's this book that was written and illustrated by First Nation People. You can talk about Indigenous people and how they're still alive and they're thriving. There's multiple ways to tie in so many key concepts.

Emily: Absolutely. That's "You Hold Me Up" by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel.

Mike: Now, what we don't have is one of my other favorite books and that's "Kindness Makes Us Strong," which you can always pick up at...

Emily: Your local library. It comes in a really nice big board book format which is great for both reading individually with children or in a group setting.

Mike: Well, I don't know about you, Emily, but I am ready to go read some books...

Emily: Awesome.

Mike: color, to do it all. Maybe not first. Right now, we are going to say goodbye. But until next time, take care of yourselves and we can't wait. We are wrapping up today's episode and I can't wait to check out my local library to see all those great books that they have. Remember to check out the viewer's guide for complete book list. And if you work with toddlers, Emily also made the case for another book not shown here, "Kindness Makes Us Strong.” Again, all the info is in your viewer guide.

Becky: We just want to say thank you so much for joining us today. We are so excited that you are here and I also want to invite you to next months "Teacher Time" webinar, "Problem-Solving and Relationship Skills in Preschool.” And you can find the registration link in your Resource List Widget for the next three "Teacher Time" webinars. Sign up now. We hope to see you there.

We are also excited to let you know about our Dual Language Celebration Week coming up. Please make sure to register for that as well. And that widget is going to pop up on your screen right after we say goodbye. Thank you so much and we just can't wait to see you until next time.

Mike: Happy Black History Month, everyone. Happy Dual Language Learner Celebration Week. Until next time.

Children are born ready to solve problems! Infants and toddlers rely on supportive relationships to learn how to recognize problems and find solutions. Problem-solving involves patience, persistence, and creativity from both the child and the adults in their lives. As infants and toddlers explore their world and engage in play with peers, challenges and conflicts provide opportunities to learn and grow. Discuss practical strategies to foster problem-solving and relationship-building skills with infants and toddlers.

Note: The evaluation, certificate, and engagement tools mentioned in the video were for the participants of the live webinar and are no longer available. For information about webinars that will be broadcast live soon, visit the Upcoming Events section.

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Resource Type: Video

National Centers: Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning

Age Group: Infants and Toddlers

Audience: Teachers and Caregivers

Series: Teacher Time

Last Updated: December 18, 2023

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Developing Problem-Solving Skills for Kids | Strategies & Tips

problem solving examples for toddlers

We've made teaching problem-solving skills for kids a whole lot easier! Keep reading and comment below with any other tips you have for your classroom!

Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: The Real Deal

Picture this: You've carefully created an assignment for your class. The step-by-step instructions are crystal clear. During class time, you walk through all the directions, and the response is awesome. Your students are ready! It's finally time for them to start working individually and then... 8 hands shoot up with questions. You hear one student mumble in the distance, "Wait, I don't get this" followed by the dreaded, "What are we supposed to be doing again?"

When I was a new computer science teacher, I would have this exact situation happen. As a result, I would end up scrambling to help each individual student with their problems until half the class period was eaten up. I assumed that in order for my students to learn best, I needed to be there to help answer questions immediately so they could move forward and complete the assignment.

Here's what I wish I had known when I started teaching coding to elementary students - the process of grappling with an assignment's content can be more important than completing the assignment's product. That said, not every student knows how to grapple, or struggle, in order to get to the "aha!" moment and solve a problem independently. The good news is, the ability to creatively solve problems is not a fixed skill. It can be learned by students, nurtured by teachers, and practiced by everyone!

Your students are absolutely capable of navigating and solving problems on their own. Here are some strategies, tips, and resources that can help:

Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Student Strategies

These are strategies your students can use during independent work time to become creative problem solvers.

1. Go Step-By-Step Through The Problem-Solving Sequence 

Post problem-solving anchor charts and references on your classroom wall or pin them to your Google Classroom - anything to make them accessible to students. When they ask for help, invite them to reference the charts first.

Problem-solving skills for kids made easy using the problem solving sequence.

2. Revisit Past Problems

If a student gets stuck, they should ask themself, "Have I ever seen a problem like this before? If so, how did I solve it?" Chances are, your students have tackled something similar already and can recycle the same strategies they used before to solve the problem this time around.

3. Document What Doesn’t Work

Sometimes finding the answer to a problem requires the process of elimination. Have your students attempt to solve a problem at least two different ways before reaching out to you for help. Even better, encourage them write down their "Not-The-Answers" so you can see their thought process when you do step in to support. Cool thing is, you likely won't need to! By attempting to solve a problem in multiple different ways, students will often come across the answer on their own.

4. "3 Before Me"

Let's say your students have gone through the Problem Solving Process, revisited past problems, and documented what doesn't work. Now, they know it's time to ask someone for help. Great! But before you jump into save the day, practice "3 Before Me". This means students need to ask 3 other classmates their question before asking the teacher. By doing this, students practice helpful 21st century skills like collaboration and communication, and can usually find the info they're looking for on the way.

Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Teacher Tips

These are tips that you, the teacher, can use to support students in developing creative problem-solving skills for kids.

1. Ask Open Ended Questions

When a student asks for help, it can be tempting to give them the answer they're looking for so you can both move on. But what this actually does is prevent the student from developing the skills needed to solve the problem on their own. Instead of giving answers, try using open-ended questions and prompts. Here are some examples:

problem solving examples for toddlers

2. Encourage Grappling

Grappling  is everything a student might do when faced with a problem that does not have a clear solution. As explained in this article from Edutopia , this doesn't just mean perseverance! Grappling is more than that - it includes critical thinking, asking questions, observing evidence, asking more questions, forming hypotheses, and constructing a deep understanding of an issue.

problem solving examples for toddlers

There are lots of ways to provide opportunities for grappling. Anything that includes the Engineering Design Process is a good one! Examples include:

  • Engineering or Art Projects
  • Design-thinking challenges
  • Computer science projects
  • Science experiments

3. Emphasize Process Over Product

For elementary students, reflecting on the process of solving a problem helps them develop a growth mindset . Getting an answer "wrong" doesn't need to be a bad thing! What matters most are the steps they took to get there and how they might change their approach next time. As a teacher, you can support students in learning this reflection process.

problem solving examples for toddlers

4. Model The Strategies Yourself! 

As creative problem-solving skills for kids are being learned, there will likely be moments where they are frustrated or unsure. Here are some easy ways you can model what creative problem-solving looks and sounds like.

  • Ask clarifying questions if you don't understand something
  • Admit when don't know the correct answer
  • Talk through multiple possible outcomes for different situations 
  • Verbalize how you’re feeling when you find a problem

Practicing these strategies with your students will help create a learning environment where grappling, failing, and growing is celebrated!

Problem-Solving Skill for Kids

Did we miss any of your favorites? Comment and share them below!

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How Your Child Learns to Problem-Solve

Your preschooler is figuring out what things are, why things are, and how things work..

In the course of your child's day, dozens of questions like these arise: "What's inside this box?" "How can I get into it?" "How far can I throw this ball?" "What will happen if I spill all of the crayons out of the box?" "I wonder if my teddy bear floats?" "How can I get these pieces of paper to stick to that piece of paper?" "Why does my block tower keep falling over?"

By asking these questions, your child is identifying and figuring out ways to solve them, and trying out her ideas. Every time she experiments with and investigates things in her world, such as how far water will squirt from a sprayer and what's inside a seedpod, for example, she is building her ability to solve problems. This is also true when she selects materials for building or when she learns to resolve an argument with a friend or sibling over a toy.

If we look at this process more closely, we discover that problem solving involves both creative and critical thinking. Both are necessary to figure out the solutions to problems of all kinds.

Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is the heart of problem solving. It is the ability to see a different way to do something, generate new ideas, and use materials in new ways. Central to creative thinking is the willingness to take risks, to experiment, and even to make a mistake. Part of creative thinking is "fluent" thinking, which is the ability to generate or brainstorm ideas. So ask your child "wide-open" questions! For instance, ask him to:

  • imagine all the different ways to get to school (walking, flying, driving, swimming!).
  • name everything he can think of that's red.
  • name everything he can think of that's round.
  • imagine all the things he could make out of clay or paper bags or even an empty box.

These are good examples of thinking problems that have many right answers. Research has shown that the ability to think fluently has a high correlation to school success later on. Another part of creative thinking is "flexible" thinking, which is the ability to see many possibilities or to view objects or situations in different ways. The next time your child pretends a pot is a hat or a spoon is a microphone or speculates on all the reasons that a child in a picture might feel sad, he is practicing his flexible thinking.

Critical Thinking

Critical, or logical, thinking is the ability to break an idea into its parts and analyze them. The math skills of sorting and classifying, comparing similarities and differences, are all parts of critical thinking. Whenever your child looks at, say, two glasses of juice and tries to figure out which one holds more, he is practicing this kind of thinking. To encourage it, ask your child:

  • how many different ways he can sort his blocks.
  • how many different ways he can make a building out of the blocks.
  • how the building would be different if he used blocks of only one size.
  • how a bottle of juice and his lunch box are alike and how they are different.
  • how family members' shoes are alike and how they are different.

Asking questions about things that don't seem to make sense is another way children think critically. Questions such as "Why do I have a shadow on the playground but not inside?" or "Why can't I see the wind?" are examples of critical thinking. You don't need to have one right answer, but do encourage your child to express his ideas. There's one other thing to remember about problem solving: It's fun! So make room for spontaneity and prepare yourself to be surprised and delighted as you discover your child's unique way of thinking.

Heart-Mind Online

5-step problem solving for young children.

  • Solves Problems Peacefully

Even young children can be taught to solve their problems peacefully with these 5 steps: 

problem solving examples for toddlers

Step One: How do you feel? Calm down. – Often when we encounter a problem, we feel frustrated or angry. Before we can solve our problem, we need to know how we are feeling and calm down. There are different ways to calm down; we could take a break, take three deep breaths, use " milkshake breathing [ 1 ] ".

Step Two: What is the Problem? – We need to know what the problem is before we can solve it. Why do you feel angry or upset? Remember this problem belongs to you, not other people.

Step Three: Come up with Solutions – It is helpful to think of as many different solutions to the problem as possible. Not every solution will work. A solution might work one time but not another time. The more problems you solve, the easier it is to think of solutions.

Step Four: What would happen? – Think about what would happen if you chose each of the solutions you came up with. Is the solution safe? A safe solution means no one will be hurt or upset. Is the solution fair? How will everyone feel?

Step Five: Try the Solution – Choose a solution. Try your solution. Did it solve the problem? If the solution does not solve the problem, you can try one of the other solutions you came up with.

Lesson Plan: Solving Problems Peacefully

Background & learning outcomes:.

This activity  [ 2 ] is written for children ages 4-6 for a child care setting, preschool, kindergarten or in the home. It can be adapted, however for other ages. By teaching children basic problem solving steps and providing opportunities for them to practice this skill, children can become competent problem solvers.

  • Large paper and marker for writing solution ideas

Teaching and Learning Activities:

Introduce the topic of "problems." Ask children to share problems they have had recently. You can add your own examples of problems you have had or problems you have observed in the classroom.

Explain to the children that they can become expert problem solvers by using five problem solving steps.

Introduce and briefly explain each of the problem-solving steps.

Pick an example of a problem the children shared. Work through the problem with the children using the five problem solving steps.

Step 1: How do you feel? Calm down.  Ask the children to identify how they felt or how they might feel if this problem happened to them. Ask them for suggestions to calm down. Practice ways to calm down, like taking three deep breaths.

Step 2: What is the Problem?  Ask children to describe what the problem is. Help children to reframe the problem so it is defined as their problem, not someone else’s problem. For example: “I want to use the red crayon,” instead of, “they won’t share the red crayon.”

Step 3: Come up with Solutions.  Encourage children think of as many solutions as possible. In the beginning, you may need to help them with solutions. Write down the possible solutions. The focus at this step is just to generate as many solutions as possible, not to evaluate solutions.

Step 4: What would happen?  Ask children to think what would happen next if they chose a solution. Is the solution safe? A safe solution means no one will get hurt. Is the solution fair? How will everyone feel? Have the children go through the solutions they generated and think about what would happen next. Role playing the solutions can help children understand the possible consequences.

Step 5: Try the Solution.  Have the children pick a solution to the problem. Will the problem be resolved? The chosen solution can also be role played.


  • Accompanying each step with a visual cue is helpful, particularly for children with limited verbal skills.
  • Depending on the age and attention span of the children, practicing the problem-solving steps using an example problem can be split into different lessons. Start by introducing the five steps in the first lesson, then in each subsequent lesson, practice one step.
  • Role play different solutions to problems with children to help them understand the consequences of solutions.

Follow-Up Activities:

Once children have been taught these five steps to problem solving, they need opportunities to practice using them. These follow-up activities reinforce the problem-solving steps and provide practice opportunities:

Post visuals of the problem-solving steps in the room where they are visible for children to refer to on an ongoing basis.

Return to the problem solving steps regularly. Have the children provide other examples of problems they have encountered or create hypothetical problems that are relevant to their lives. Work through these problems as a class, using the problem solving steps.

When problems arise in the classroom, remind children to use their problem solving steps and guide them through the process. As they become more competent problem solvers, they will require less assistance to work through the steps.

Role model effective problem solving for your child.

Select children’s books where the characters encounter a problem. Ask the children how the character in the story could solve their problem. Encourage a variety of solutions. Have the children act out the problem and possible solutions. Book examples include:

A Good Day  (2007) by Kevin Henkes.  Bird, Fox, Dog, and Squirrel are not starting their day off very well. However, with a little patience, they find that they are able to overcome minor setbacks in order to have a very good day after all. Ages 0-6.

Bobby vs. Girls (accidentally)  (2009) by Lisa Yee.  Bobby and Holly have been best friends for years, until a disagreement threatens to break them up for good. However, when their argument accidentally sparks a full-out war between the boys and girls in their fourth-grade class, they must come up with a way to return things to normal. Ages 6-12.  

  • Conflict Resolution
  • Self-Regulation
  • Early Years
  • Middle Years

Learn more about "milkshake breathing" and ways to teach children this and other important calming skills.

Adapted from: Joseph, G.E. & Strain, P.S. (2010). Teaching Young Children Interpersonal Problem-Solving Skills. Young Exceptional Children, 13, 28-40.

Empowered Parents

10 Simple Activities to Teach Your Preschooler Problem Solving

By: Author Tanja McIlroy

Posted on Last updated: 7 April 2024

Categories Activities for Preschoolers & Kindergarteners

problem solving examples for toddlers

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 .

  • 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 examples for toddlers

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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 (shown below) 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.

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4.  Activity Books

These activity books are really fun and develop a child’s ability to identify problems and search for information.

problem solving examples for toddlers

  • Pomaska, Anna (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

problem solving examples for toddlers

  • Handford, Martin (Author)

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  • Books, Webber (Author)

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.

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problem solving examples for toddlers

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

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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.

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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 .

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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.

Are you a preschool teacher or working in Early Childhood Education? Would you like to receive regular emails with useful tips and play-based activity ideas to try with your children? Sign up for the newsletter!

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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: 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:

A Blog About Parenting: Coping Skills, Behavior Management and Special Needs

Title Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills and an illustration of a kid with a magnifying glass

25 Fun Problem Solving Activities for Kids

Problem-solving activities for kids : Explore 24 fun problem-solving games and activities, and learn effective tips and strategies to teach kids problem-solving skills. If you want to explore problem-solving strategies more in-depth, you can also grab our workbook “ Problem-Solving for Kids ” (printable resource).

Problem-solving is the cognitive process of finding solutions to challenges or complex situations.

A systematic approach to problem-solving tends to include defining the problem, gathering information and data, generating potential solutions, evaluating the pros and cons of each solution, making a decision, and implementing the chosen solution.

Effective problem-solving often requires critical thinking, a good dose of creativity, and the ability to consider multiple perspectives. It may also involve identifying patterns, breaking down a problem into manageable chunks, and applying our logic to develop solutions.

Problem-solving is present in everyday situations and across all fields: business, science, personal life, and education. There is not one single aspect in our lives where we don’t need to apply our problem-solving skills.

Table of Contents

  • Problem-solving steps
  • Development of problem-solving in childhood
  • Benefits of developing problem-solving skills
  • 10 Tips to teach kids problem-solving skills
  • 10 Examples of problem-solving strategies
  • 25 Problem-solving activities and games for kids

Problem-Solving Steps

Some key components of problem-solving include:

problem solving examples for toddlers

  • Identifying the problem Recognizing and defining the issue or challenge that needs to be addressed.
  • Analyzing the problem Investigating and understanding the underlying causes, factors, and relationships related to the problem.
  • Generating solutions Generating potential solutions or strategies to address the problem.
  • Evaluating all possible solutions (Pros and Cons Analysis) Assessing the feasibility, effectiveness, and potential consequences of each solution. Considering the positive and negative aspects of each solution.
  • Decision-making Selecting the best solution based on our analysis and judgment.
  • Implementing the best solution Actioning our chosen solution
  • Monitoring progress and results
  • Reflecting on the outcomes Reviewing and evaluating the outcomes of the implemented solution, learning from the experience, and making adjustments if necessary.

Development of Problem-Solving Skills in Childhood

Children begin to develop problem-solving skills from a very early age, and these skills continue to develop and refine throughout childhood and adolescence.

Babies soon learn about action and reaction. And, as early as eight months, they begin to acquire an understanding of cause and effect (they shake a rattle, it makes a sound; they push a toy, it falls)

Between 13 and 24 months, they start solving simple problems through trial and error and engage in symbolic play using their imagination.

As children progress into middle childhood (ages 7-11), they develop more advanced problem-solving skills. They become capable of understanding multiple perspectives and can consider multiple factors when solving problems. They start using logic and reasoning to solve increasingly complex problems.

During adolescence (ages 12 and up), problem-solving skills continue to develop. Teenagers can generate and test hypotheses and use deductive and inductive reasoning to arrive at solutions.

Each child will develop their problem-solving skills at their own pace. Some children may show advanced problem-solving abilities at an earlier age. Others may require more time and experience to develop these skills fully.

Benefits of Developing Problem-Solving Skills in Children

Problem-solving skills in children are crucial for children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. It equips them to approach challenges, think critically, make informed decisions, and find creative solutions. 

The benefits of good problem-solving skills in children include:

  • Positive impact on self-esteem and confidence Identifying, analyzing, and solving their problems contributes to our kids’ sense of competence .
  • Fosters Independence and Autonomy When our kids are able to problem-solve on their own, they take one more step toward independence
  • Academic Success Problem-solving skills contribute to academic achievement, as they help students analyze and solve complex problems across various subjects.
  • Cognitive Development Problem-solving fosters cognitive skills such as logical reasoning, analytical thinking, and abstract reasoning.
  • Critical Thinking Problem-solving enhances critical thinking abilities, enabling children to evaluate information, identify biases, and make informed judgments.
  • Creativity Problem-solving promotes creativity by encouraging children to think outside the box, generate innovative ideas, and explore multiple solutions.
  • Emotional Resilience Problem-solving skills enhance emotional resilience by enabling children to manage and cope with challenges effectively, reducing stress and promoting well-being.
  • Improved Social Interactions/Relationships Problem-solving abilities contribute to better social interactions, conflict resolution , and peer collaboration, promoting healthy relationships.
  • Future career success Problem-solving skills are highly valued in the workplace and can positively influence future career success.

10+ Helpful Tips to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills

Teaching problem-solving skills to kids is an important part of their cognitive development. It helps them develop critical thinking, creativity, and resilience.

But how can we help our kids and students to develop this essential skill?

We can help our kids and students develop and improve their problem-solving skills in many ways.  These are some helpful tips that you could consider:

  • Model problem-solving behavior When you see yourself in a problem-solving situation, verbalize your thought process: “I wonder how I should address this issue. I guess my alternatives could be… They all have positives and negatives….”
  • Let them participate in the problem-solving situation “Could you help me solve this puzzle?”
  • Provide real-life problem-solving situations Real-life scenarios make problem-solving more meaningful for kids. For example, discuss how to resolve a conflict with a sibling or how to make the morning routine smoother.
  • Teach them how to break down problems Show them how to break down complex problems into manageable sub-problems.
  • Practice brainstorming Create brainstorming situations where all the family (or the classroom) can contribute to solving a problem
  • Teach the value of perseverance Sometimes, we must stick to a situation and persevere before finding a solution. Encourage kids to persevere through challenges and setbacks, emphasizing that mistakes and failures are opportunities for learning.
  • Encourage critical thinking Encourage kids to analyze situations, consider different perspectives, and evaluate possible outcomes.
  • How could we make your school lunch healthier but still yummy?
  • How could we reuse/recycle all this paper?
  • What could we do to help you remember all the steps in your night routine?
  • Encourage reflection When they can find a solution for a problem, don’t jump to solve it for them. Encourage them to reflect on the problem and find and evaluate alternatives. And after a problem is solved, think about the whole process and the learnings. “How did this work?” “What did you learn” “Do you need to change anything?”
  • Foster creativity Provide them with opportunities for imaginative play, creative projects, and brainstorming sessions.
  • Teach the value of teamwork Teach kids the importance of working together to solve problems. Engage them in group activities or projects that require teamwork and collaboration. This helps kids learn the value of different perspectives and work together towards an objective while they practice their communication skills.
  • Teach decision-making skills Teach kids how to approach problems systematically by going through the steps we have mentioned in our first section.
  • Encourage both structured and free play. Structured play can help you create good problem-solving situations, while free play will foster creativity.

Developing problem-solving skills is an ongoing process that will also continue in adulthood. Provide your kids with guidance and support, and celebrate their efforts and achievements along the way.

Examples of worksheet for kids on problem-solving strategies

10 Examples of Problem-Solving Strategies

There are different strategies that can help us solve a wide range of problems. Here are some commonly recognized problem-solving strategies:

1 . Trial and Error : This is the first problem strategy that we ever learn. We start using trial and error strategies in infancy, and it continues serving its purpose in many situations. This strategy involves trying different solutions or approaches and learning from the errors or failures until a successful solution is found.

2. Algorithm: An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure or a set of rules that guarantees a solution to a specific problem. It is a systematic approach to problem-solving that follows a predetermined set of instructions.

3. Heuristics: Heuristics are mental shortcuts or rules of thumb that help simplify problem-solving by providing quick and efficient strategies. While heuristics can be effective in many situations, they may also lead to biases and errors.

4. Divide and Conquer: This strategy involves breaking down a complex problem into smaller, more manageable chunks or steps that make the overall problem easier to tackle.

5. Working Backwards: This strategy involves starting from the desired outcome and working backward to determine the steps or actions needed to reach that outcome. We often use this problem-solving strategy when we set goals.

6. Analogical Reasoning: Analogical reasoning involves drawing parallels between the current problem and a similar problem that has been solved in the past. By applying the solution from the previous problem to the current one, individuals can find a solution more efficiently.

7. Brainstorming: Brainstorming gets lots of brains working on the same problem. It is a great collaborative problem-solving strategy that can bring different perspectives and experiences to the table and may result in lots of creative ideas and solutions. 

8. Decision Matrix: A decision matrix is a systematic approach to evaluating and comparing different options or solutions. It involves creating a matrix that lists alternatives and the criteria for evaluation. It assigns weights or scores to each criterion to come up with the optimal alternative.

9. Root Cause Analysis: Sometimes, we need to understand what is causing a problem before we can attempt to solve it, as different causes may require different approaches (for example, when you are sick, your doctor may need to understand what is causing the problem before prescribing a medicine)

10. Simulation and Modeling: Simulation involves creating a simplified representation or model of a problem situation to gain insights and test different scenarios.

Our choice of strategy will depend on the problem, available resources, and our own personal preferences and circumstances. We may also need to combine strategies or apply different ones to different aspects of a complex problem.

Workbook for kids on Problem solving strategies

(Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. You can also read our Disclosure & Disclaimer policy  here )

Best Problem-Solving Activities for Kids

Play-based activities are centered around play and are designed to engage children in active learning and exploration. And fun problem-solving activities are a great way to develop children’s critical thinking, creativity, and decision-making skills.

In this section, we will review some problem-solving games and activities that will engage your kids’ critical-thinking skills and creativity.

1. Puzzle Games Puzzles are a fun activity for children of all ages. Young children will enjoy simple puzzles, while older children (and adults!) can have fun with more complex ones. Encourage them to use logical thinking and problem-solving strategies to complete the puzzles.

2. Crosswords A crossword is another fun type of puzzle and a good source of mental stimulation.

3. Sudoku Sudoku is a popular logic-based puzzle that involves filling a grid with numbers.

It can be extremely easy or very challenging, adaptable even for young learners.

Let’s go now for a couple of building challenges!

4. Build the Tallest Tower Give the child a set of materials (Legos, building blocks, wooden blocks, or other construction materials) and ask them to build the tallest tower they can. This simple game will encourage them to problem-solve as they build and figure out how to make the tower stable.

5. Build Towers with Different Materials Ask your child to build three different towers with different materials. Then assess how stable they are and how much weight they can hold. Analyze the pros and cons of using each type of material.

6. Treasure Hunt Set up a treasure hunt with clues leading to hidden objects or rewards. Children will have to follow the clues and solve puzzles to find the ultimate prize. This activity encourages problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork.

7. Scavenger Hunt Playing Scavenger Hunt can be a fun way for our kids to put their creative problem-solving skills to good use. Provide them with clues and puzzles that they must solve in order to find the next clue.

8. Mystery Bag Fill a bag with random objects and ask children to come up with creative uses for each item. Encourage them to think outside the box and find innovative solutions.

9. Memory Game While memory games primarily focus on memory retention and recall, they can indirectly contribute to problem-solving skills by developing cognitive abilities such as attention, information processing, and adjusting their strategies.

10. Role-Playing Scenarios Create role-playing scenarios where children have to solve a problem or make decisions. For example, pretend to be stranded on a desert island and ask them to decide what items they will take and how they will survive.

11. Role-Play Social Situations Work in developing social skills with social problem-solving situations.

12. Brainstorming Sessions Choose a topic or problem and hold brainstorming sessions where children can generate as many ideas as possible. Encourage them not to limit themselves (even if alternatives feel unfeasible!)

13. Team Building Activities and Games Engage children in team-building games like building a balloon tower. Each team member will need to collaborate, communicate, and problem-solve together to complete the project.

14. Escape Rooms An escape room is a super fun team problem-solving activity.

In an escape room, participants are locked inside a themed room and must work together to solve puzzles, find clues, and accomplish tasks within a given time limit in order to “escape” from the room.

15. Science Experiments Conduct simple science experiments that involve problem-solving. For example, in the classic “sink or float” experiment, children predict and test which objects will sink or float in water.

Problem-Solving Board Games

There are many board games that will test our kids problems solving activities. These are just a few examples:

16. Cluedo Players must solve a murder mystery by deducing the murderer, the weapon used, and the location of the crime. Players collect and examine clues to eliminate possibilities and make logical deductions.

17. Codenames Another classic game where players are split into two teams and must guess words based on clues from their teammates.

There are many codenames games available, including themes like Disney or Harry Potter.

18. Mastermind Game In this strategy game players take turns setting and solving secret codes

19. Scrabble Scrabble is a classic word game where players form words on a game board using letter tiles.

Kids must use their problem-solving skills to analyze the available letters, consider the best word combination and strategically place those words to score the highest points.

Learning Problem-Solving with Card Games

Card games provide opportunities for kids to develop problem-solving skills such as strategy, memory, pattern recognition, decision-making, and observation.

Just a couple of examples:

20. Uno Uno is a classic card game where kids match cards based on color or number. They need to assess their cards, strategize and make decisions about which cards to play to get rid of their cards while also considering the cards in their opponents’ hands.

21. Go Fish Go Fish is a classic card game where players try to collect sets of cards by asking other players if they have specific cards. Players need to remember which cards they have and make decisions about who to ask and what sets to pursue.

22. Coding Challenges Introduce children to coding activities using platforms like Scratch (or ScratchJr for younger kids),, or Tynker. Coding involves problem-solving and logical thinking, and children can create interactive stories, games, or animations.

23. Outdoor Problem Solving Take children outside and present them with challenges that require problem-solving, such as building a shelter using natural materials or finding their way through an obstacle course.

24. Problem-Solving Worksheets Help your child follow a systematic approach to problem-solving with these helpful worksheets

25. Goal-Setting Activities for Kids Learning to set goals and make plans to achieve them is also a problem-solving activity. I have several resources to teach kids about goal-setting that I will list below:

  • Goal-Setting Activities for Kids
  • SMART Goals for Kids
  • Goal Tracker Thermometer

Remember to provide guidance and support during these activities while encouraging children to think independently and come up with their own solutions.

Problem-Solving Worksheets

Problem Solving Strategies_Workbook for Kids

Looking for kid-friendly examples of problem-solving strategies ?

This workbook explores the following  problem-solving strategies  (with child-friendly examples and activities):

  • Trial and Error
  • Heuristics (Clever shortcuts)
  • Divide and Conquer
  • Working Backwards
  • Brainstorming
  • Decision Matrix
  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Systematic problem-solving

Kid in a bubble that represents personal space and title "Personal Space Activities for Kids"

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Develop Good Habits

17 Fun Problem Solving Activities for Kids

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As a child, I would spend hours putting together puzzles… whether it was 3-D puzzles or figuring out a crossword. I also loved it when teachers would give the class an open-ended question and we had to work in groups to figure out the answer in our own way.

Even something as simple as playing checkers with my brothers gave me the chance to use strategy as a way to win the game. I honestly believe that it’s so important for kids to solve problems at a young age, as it helps them think critically and outside the box.

Table of Contents

So, Why Is It Important To Teach Kids Problem Solving?

I think these kinds of activities are so important for kids to do because it helps them learn how to think analytically and solve problems on their own. It's a great way to get kids to use their imaginations and be creative.

Rote memorization simply does not have the same effect. This type of learning is great for learning facts like historical dates, but it’s not going to help kids figure out how events in history happened and the results.

We take these problem-solving skills into college, the workforce, and travel . My ability to problem solve since childhood has certainly got me through many sticky situations while in a new city or country.

Additionally, problem-solving helps children learn how to find creative solutions to challenges they may face both in and out of the classroom . These activities can also be fun and used in cohesion with school or playtime.

17 Fun Problem-Solving Activities for Kids

1. marble mazes.

This activity was selected because it requires them to think spatially. Spatial learning will benefit kids when they start driving, riding a bike, playing sports,etc.

To do this activity in its simplest form, you will need a piece of paper, a pencil, and some marbles. First, draw a maze on a piece of paper using a pencil.

Make sure to create a start and finish point. Then, place the marbles at the start of the maze. The goal is to get the marbles from the start to the finish by tilting the paper and using gravity to guide the marbles through the maze.

Another example of a marble maze can involve using toilet paper rolls taped together to create a three-dimensional maze. The larger the maze, the harder you can make it.

problem solving examples for toddlers

Check Price on Amazon!

If you are not into the DIY method, you can always buy a toy maze on Amazon. A good 48 piece puzzle is the Melissa & Doug Underwater Ocean Floor puzzle.

2. The Tower Challenge

Building a tower gives kids the chance to think about gravity, structure, and balance.

To do this activity, you will need some building materials like legos, blocks, or even toilet paper rolls. The challenge is to see how high they can stack the materials without the tower toppling over.

This can be done individually or in teams. An activity like this is good for younger kids and is the building block to learning about harder topics like engineering.

3. The Egg Drop Challenge

The egg drop challenge helps kids learn how to engineer a solution that prevents something from breaking. It requires them to think critically about which materials will best protect something fragile like an egg when dropped from a height.

To do this activity, you will need some eggs and various materials such as straws, cotton balls, bubble wrap, etc. The goal is to construct a device that will protect an egg from breaking upon impact.

This can be done individually or in teams . Teams can even have a competition for the best egg drop device.

As children begin handling, shopping for, and cooking their own food, activities like this will help them understand how to handle breakable items like bottles, eggs, delicate fruit,.etc. Ideally, this is best for age groups 8 and up.

4. The Penny Drop Challenge

This activity was selected because it requires kids to think about physics and how different materials affect sound.

To do this activity, you will need a penny ( or another coin), a cup, and various materials such as paper towels, cotton balls, etc.

The goal is to drop the penny into the cup without making any noise. Begin by placing different materials into the cup and then drop the penny into it. The children should also drop the penny from different heights into the same material to see if/how the impact from a higher drop affects sound.

Group kids into teams or let them try it on their own.

Kids should make note of what type of sounds are made when the penny hits different materials. This is a great activity for kids who are interested in science and physics.

5. The Balloon Race Challenge

This activity was selected because it helps kids learn about aerodynamics and Bernoulli’s principle . It also requires them to think creatively about how to design a balloon-powered vehicle.

To do this activity, you will need balloons, straws, masking tape, and markers. The goal is to design a balloon-powered vehicle that can travel a distance of at least 10 feet. Kids can begin this activity by sketching out their designs on paper.

After they have a basic design, they can begin building their vehicle from various materials. Then kids can explain why they think the balloon traveled or did not travel as far as it did.

6. The Marshmallow Challenge

Marshmallows are not only delicious, but they are also soft and malleable. So kids can have fun using it for some construction projects.

This activity was selected because it requires kids to think creatively about how to build a structure using limited materials. It also helps them learn about engineering and work as a team.

To do this activity, you will need marshmallows and spaghetti noodles. The goal is to build the tallest free-standing structure possible using only marshmallows and spaghetti noodles. If you don't have spaghetti noodles, use something similar like pretzel sticks.

You may even want to establish certain rules like each team can only use a certain number of marshmallows or noodles. A time limit can also make it more fun and challenging.

For more fun activities, check out our post on problem solving exercises for team building .

7. The Balloon Pop Challenge

If you remember your childhood, you probably remember popping balloons for fun at times. But this activity is different because it requires kids to use strategy and critical thinking.

This activity was selected because it helps kids learn about patterns and problem-solving. It is also a lot of fun for kids who like popping balloons. The goal is to create a device that will allow them to pop a balloon without using their hands.

To do this activity, you will need balloons and various materials such as straws, string, paper clips, etc.

8. Picture Pieces Puzzle Game

As mentioned earlier, puzzles are a great pastime – especially in childhood. Kids must think critically about how to put the pieces together to create a certain picture. It also helps them learn about shapes, colors, and other concepts.

problem solving activities | how do you teach a child problem solving skills | are problem-solving games good for kids

You can take a medium to large picture and cut it into pieces. If you have younger kids, you may want to make the pieces larger. However, if you have kids closer to the 8-11 age range, you should be able to provide a challenge and make the pieces smaller.

9. Copy the Block Model

For this challenge, you can build a model out of blocks for the kids to copy. Put kids into groups and make sure each group has the same number of blocks you used for your model.

Make your model block as simple or complex as needed for your child's age group.

Set a time limit and make sure each group starts at the same time.

10. Team Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is great for kids because they have to search for items and use investigative skills. It is also a lot of fun and can be done both indoors and outdoors .

To do this activity, you will need to create a list of items for the kids to find. The items can be anything from common household items to things you would find outside.

These types of activities can also revolve around a theme like a holiday, movie, or book. For example, if the kids are fans of “Harry Potter” you can make a list of items to find that are related to the movie.

11. Obstacle Course

This activity requires kids to think creatively about how to get from one point to another while maneuvering around obstacles. If you have outdoor space, this can be done with common objects such as hula hoops, cones, etc.

If you don't have access to an outdoor space, you can use common household items to create an indoor obstacle course. For example, you can use chairs, blankets, pillows, etc.

Begin by setting up the course and then timing each child as they complete it. You can also have them race against each other to make it more fun.

Obstacle courses are also great because kids get to be physically active while they are thinking critically.

12. Reading Storybooks

There are many great benefits for kids that read storybooks.  One of the excellent benefits is the ability to problem-solve.  When they read the stories in the books, they see scenarios that cause them to be attached to the various characters they read about. 

So, when they encounter a real-life problem, it is often productive to ask a child how their favorite character would solve that problem.  Your kids can also be encouraged to come up with various options and possible outcomes for some of the situations they may encounter. 

This not only helps kids solve various problems but become more independent as well. 

13. Ask Them Open-Ended Questions

A good way to improve a child's ability to think critically and creatively and improve their ability to solve problems is by asking open-ended questions.  It also helps them to develop healthy personalities .

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.  In addition, the solution requires more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer.  Furthermore, it allows kids to put some extra thought into their responses. 

Here are some examples of open-ended questions you may want to ask. 

  • What did this experience teach you?
  • Was this easy?  What was easy about it?
  • What this difficult?  What is complicated about it?
  • What may happen next in this situation?
  • How did you come to this solution?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently next time?
  • What can we do to make things more fun next time?

14. Build Various Structures with Toys

Whether wooden blocks, LEGO blocks, or engineering blocks… giving your kid blocks to build whatever their minds can dream up is fun.  In addition, it requires them to think about how they will make a structure, put the pieces together, and creatively ensure the building's function and design. 

fun activities for kids | kids creative activities at home | fun activities for kids near me

You may also want to challenge them to build something more complicated and watch them use their brain power to make it happen. 

15. Acting Out Skits

Impromptu activities like acting out skits help kids identify problems, develop solutions, and execute them.  This process works with multiple kids being divided into teams. 

First, you will want to write down different situations, such as resolving a disagreement between siblings or dealing with bullying on the playground on a piece of paper.  Second, you will fold the paper and place it in a hat or bowl.  

Third, each team will pick a scenario out of the hat.  Finally, you can give the kids a few minutes to discuss their solution and act out. 

16. Solving Moral Dilemmas   

In this simple game, you will help your kids solve simple dilemmas they may find themselves in.  You could write down a situation your child may find themselves in and help them learn the moral way to solve the problem.   

For instance, “The cashier gave them an additional $5 change back on my purchase.  What should they do?”  Another scenario could be, “I saw my friend cheating on a test.  Should I tell on them or let it go?”  A third one could be, “I caught my friends stealing some gum from the store.  What should I do?” 

After writing down the dilemmas and placing them in a bowl, get each child to select one and read it aloud.  Finally, you will help them devise morally correct solutions to the moral dilemma. 

17. Animal Pairing Game  

This is a fun and creative game to help your kids with focus, critical thinking, and team building skills .  In addition, this activity requires an even number of players to participate (4, 6, 8, etc.) 

Before starting the game, you will want to write the names of different animals twice, each on a separate slip of paper.  Then pass out the slips of paper to each individual or team member, instructing them not to share with anyone the name of the animal they received. 

Then the children will perform activities the animals might do without talking or making sounds.  Some of these activities might include:

  • The way the animal cleans or grooms itself
  • The way the animal sleeps
  • The way the animal fights
  • The way the animal eats or drinks
  • The way the animal walks or runs

The goal is for each child to successfully pair up with the other child who has selected the same animal.

How Problem Solving in Childhood Helps in Adulthood

Children are not born with problem-solving skills. It is something that needs to be learned and developed over time .

From babies who learn how to communicate their needs to toddlers who figure out how to get what they want, to children who are starting to understand the consequences of their actions – problem-solving is a process that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood.

Some of the benefits of teaching problem-solving skills to children include:

  • Improved critical thinking skills
  • Better decision-making skills
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Improved communication and collaboration skills
  • Increased confidence

There are many ways to teach problem-solving skills to children. The activities mentioned above are just a few examples. It is important to find activities that are appropriate for the age and abilities of the child.

With practice, children will develop these skills and be better prepared to face challenges in both childhood and adulthood.

Final Thoughts About Fun Problem Solving Activities For Kids

These are just a few ideas to get you started on teaching your child crucial problem solving skills. Perhaps they’ve inspired to come with some of your own, or seek out others? The important thing is to make sure the activity is age-appropriate and challenging enough to engage the kids.

Problem-solving skills are important for kids to learn because they can be applied to various situations in life. These skills also promote critical thinking, which is an important life skill.

There are many other problem-solving activities for kids out there. In time, you’ll find the ones that work best for your child.  And be sure not to forget about your own needs and self-improvement, both of which will make you a better parent and mentor. Here are some useful activities for adults to get your started.

Finally, if you want to level up your parenting skills, then check out this resource that will show you how to get your kids to listen WITHOUT yelling, nagging, or losing control .

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Problem Solving Activities for Preschoolers

Colleen beck otr/l.

  • by Colleen Beck OTR/L
  • October 22, 2021

It can be frustrating when children act without thinking of the consequences. In this blog post, you’ll learn about the development of problem solving in specific parts of our brain, discover important aspects of executive functioning that impact problem solving abilities, how to teach problem solving to preschoolers, and problem solving activities for preschoolers and young children so they can use words instead of the preschooler’s behaviors  or tantrums.

Best of all, many of our favorite fine motor activities for preschoolers support problem solving skills in early childhood.

Problem solving skills in preschool

Problem Solving Activities for Preschoolers

Before we get into the problem solving activities for preschoolers, and specific strategies to use in early childhood, it’s important to understand the development of the problem-solving process in kids. Supporting small children by giving them the skills to be problem solvers takes time and practice. We’ll get to those specific strategies below.

But first, does this scenario sound familiar at all…

I just don’t understand why Johnny keeps throwing the ball in the house. Doesn’t he realized that he could break the window? Johnny is three and he loves to play with his tennis ball in the house. Even though I have told him over and over again that we don’t throw them in the house, I still catch him sneaking them indoors at least once a week. 

Before we can address problem solving by helping kids look at the big picture and coming up with creative solutions for problem solving issues, we need to understand what is happening developmentally. Self-reflection is a challenging cognitive skill, and for young learners! 

Let’s take a better look at the development of problem solving skills…

Development of problem solving skills in preschoolers

Development of Problem Solving Skills

It’s through play, observation of others, and practice that young learners are developing problem solving skills in early childhood .

Problem solving, rational thinking and reasoning are all skills that are controlled by a part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex. Our brains grow exponentially over the first five years of life, but not the part of our brain that helps us with critical thinking and problem solving skills. This part of our brain, called the prefrontal cortex, isn’t fully developed until we turn 25 years old! 

As babies, we are exposed every day to new experiences, but at this age we don’t comprehend how these experiences affect us and those around us. If only children could think through their problems. This resource on executive functioning skills offers more information.

Have you noticed that it can be a bit scary when teenagers get their drivers licenses? They don’t always think of “what might happen.” This is due to their prefrontal cortex not being fully developed. 

But what about our three and four year olds? We know they can count, ask questions and get the cookie off the counter in a very sneaky way when we aren’t looking. In the Early Years study of 2011 called Making decisions, Taking action , they describe the prefrontal cortex entering a rapid period of development, making critical interconnections with our limbic system. (link: )

This study states “The prefrontal cortex pathways that underlie these capacities are unique to human brains and take a long time to mature. Early connections begin in infancy. Between age 3 and 5 years, the prefrontal cortex circuits enter a rapid period of development and make critical interconnections with the limbic system. During adolescence and early adulthood, the neural pathways are refined and become more efficient.”

What is so great about this part of the brain anyway? 

As the prefrontal cortex (that is located behind out eyes) develops over the years, we are able to engage with situations differently, assessing our surroundings in a new way. As we develop these new executive functioning skills, we are able to keep ourselves safe, build friendships and become successful in our careers.

Related, these friendship activities for preschoolers offers ideas and strategies to support social emotional development.

This peer reviewed report competed by Merve Cikili Utyun, called Development Period of Prefrontal Cortex, discusses how amazing this part of our brain is, and how each of the three sections control different aspects of our functioning. It states that: 

“ PFC includes the following Broadman Areas (BA): 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 44, 45, 46, 47. “The dorsolateral frontal cortex (BA) 9/46 has been functioned in many cognitive process, including processing spatial information, monitoring and manipulation of working memory, the implementation of strategies to facilitate memory, response selection, the organization of material before encoding, and the verification and evaluation of representations that have been retrieved from long-term memory. 

The mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex (BA 47) has implicated cognitive functions, including the selection, comparison, and judgment of stimuli held in short-term and long-term memory, processing non-spatial information, task switching, reversal learning, stimulus selection, the specification of retrieval cues, and the ‘elaboration encoding’ of information into episodic memory.

BA 10, the most anterior aspect of the PFC, is a region of association cortex known to be involved in higher cognitive functions, such as planning future actions and decision-making. BAs 44 and 45, include part of the inferior frontal and these regions’ functions are language production, linguistic motor control, sequencing, planning, syntax, and phonological processing.

Finally, the orbitofrontal cortex mostly (BA 47, 10, 11, 13) in the orbitofrontal cortex has been implicated in processes that involve the motivational or emotional value of incoming information, including the representation of primary (unlearned) reinforcers such as taste, smell, and touch, the representation of learnt relationships between arbitrary neutral stimuli and rewards or punishments, and the integration of this information to guide response selection, suppression, and decision making.” 

Wow! No wonder it takes so long for this part of our brain to fully develop. Problem solving skills in preschoolers take time to develop!

When Johnny is throwing the ball inside the house, he is thinking about what is happening now, in the present. Not what has happened in the past (when he broke the window at grandmas house a year ago) or that breaking a window might happen in the future. 

What are some problem solving techniques?

Solving problems is a skill that all preschoolers need support with. This critical skill doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and practice to become second nature.

It’s hard for us, as adults, to remember that children ages 3-5 (preschool-aged) don’t yet have the brain capacity to problem solve on their own, or remember what they learned from a situation a week ago. 

Just like when Andrew was painting at the easel and his paintbrush got stuck in the container. Instead of asking for help or trying to “unstick” the brush, he screamed.  Or when Sally and Samantha ran outside to grab the red bouncy ball, Samantha screamed when Sally grabs it first. She didn’t see the other red bouncy ball in the bucket next to the bikes. 

Try some of these problem solving activities for  kids :

Observation- Children need problem solving strategies that they can observe, and then practice in their everyday lives. Let kids see you talk through problems as you “figure out” a solution. This gives children a chance to see a problem-solving approach in real life situations. They get to see problem solving scenarios in action.

Repetition- Repetition supports brain growth in every area of development including problem solving, executive functioning, motor development, language skills and social development.

Multisensory Activities- Children learn best with multi-sensory cues, learning new skills through seeing, touching, hearing and experiencing the skills they are learning. In 2013, the US National Library of Medicine published an article titled  Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat.  stating “The prefrontal cortex acquires information from all of the senses and orchestrates thoughts and actions in order to achieve specific goals.” (link:

Creative Activities- Solving problems is a skill that all preschoolers need support with. It’s hard for us, as adults, to remember they don’t yet have the brain capacity to problem solve on their own. The best way to teach children how to problem solve, it to create activities that support these new skills in a positive way, that their developing brain understands. This letter to future self is one activity to work on goal achievement even at a young age. Preschoolers can draw a picture of what they would like to do or be as an older child or as a teenager or adult.

Problem Solving Activities for Preschool

Here are 3 Simple Ways to Teach Preschoolers to Solve Problems

1.Teaching executive functioning and problem solving skills in everyday situations will support the growth of a child’s prefrontal cortex. For example, these activities that teach executive functioning at the beach show how much thought and preparation goes into building a simple sand castles.

  • Children have to think about how much sand to use, how to keep it standing, how to prevent sand from getting into their eyes and how to create another one if the one they are building falls down.
  • They must create, plan ahead, problem solve when things get tough and communicate to adults and peers for help.

What other activities does your child do on a regular basis that requires all areas of the prefrontal cortex to activate?

2.When children become upset, their emotions become so overwhelming that they can’t think. In order to calm down and problem solve, they need to access a multi sensory way to help them remember how to do that.

Soothing Sammy gives children tactile and visual cues that remind them how to calm down and problem solve in a developmentally appropriate way. They can be reminded of this positive reinforcement with two words “Sammy Time!”

By reading the book about the sweet golden retriever, who understands that everyone feels upset sometimes, children are encouraged to use all of the sensory strategies to calm down. They can talk to Sammy about what is happening and think through their problem to create a solution.

Ashlie’s four year old daughter did just this. She reports: “When Molly was having some big emotions about coloring a picture and needed to calm down, she visited Sammy and returned with a solution to the problem she came up with all on her own (well with Sammy’s help).”

Click here for more information on the Soothing Sammy resources .

3.Problem solving requires us to remember what just happened, what is happening now and what do we want to happen next. A preschoolers brain tends to blend all three of these situations together, not able to communicate any of them until prompted by an adult. And as an adult, we are left “guessing” what our children are thinking about. Visual cues are a wonderful sensory communication tool to support both children and adults in the realm of solving problems.

Using tools like “First/Then” cards to support routine and common situations like transitions and completing tasks. Using visuals clearly communicates what needs to be done, especially if using pictures of real children doing these tasks.

A Final note about problem solving skills in preschool

Solving problems are hard for young children, even teenagers, as their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed yet. Using multisensory teaching tools to support brain development, practicing tasks that teach executive functioning skills and using developmentally appropriate tools to help children calm down, will help even the most frustrating moments become a bit less stressful for children and adults. 

As we learn to be more patient with children, understanding that the part of their brain needed to solve problems is just beginning to develop, repeating the same directions over and over again may not be so frustrating. Our children are doing the best they can. It’s up to us to provide them with experiences to help their brains grow and develop. 

problem solving examples for toddlers

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

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problem solving examples for toddlers

30 Problem Solving Scenarios for Speech Therapy Practice

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SEE ALSO: Houston We Have a Problem! Activities for Problem Solving

Problem solving scenarios.

  • Your friends came over to your house for a movie night. One of your friends brought another friend so there are more people than you planned for. You want to pass out the drinks but you only have five cans of soda and you need 6 for everyone to have one. What could you do?
  • After basketball practice you go back to the locker room with your team to shower and change. When you are done dressing, you can't find your shoes. What could you do?
  • You have been waiting all day for lunch to come because you are starving. Finally class gets over and you get to go to lunch. Except when you go to get to your lunch, it's not there. You probably left it at home. What could you do?
  • There is a guy in your class who is always mean to you. He always bumps you when he walks by and he calls you names. He knocks stuff out of your hands and makes you feel stupid. You don't think you can take it anymore. What could you do?
  • You really want to invite this new girl/guy to come to your birthday party, but you have never talked to them before. You are worried they will say no. What could you do?
  • You rode the bus to school today and on the way in people are pointing and laughing at you. You go in the bathroom and see that you have pink gum all over the back of your pants. What could you do?
  • You wake up and see that your alarm never went off. So you are starting your morning 15 minutes later than you planned. It is a really important day at school and you cannot be late. What could you do?
  • You are giving a group presentation in front of class and it's your turn to talk. All of the sudden you sneeze. You cover it with your hand, but now your hand is full of stuff you sneezed out. What could you do?
  • You are eating dinner at a fancy restaurant with your parents and their friends. You have a really messy dinner and accidentally flip a noodle into the lady's lap. They are busy talking and don't notice it. What could you do?
  • You are taking a test and there is no talking allowed. You are writing your answers on the paper and your pencil breaks. What could you do?
  • You are taking a test and the guy behind you asks you for help. He wants to know what you put for question number two. What could you do?
  • You are at a birthday party and you have waited in line for a long time for your turn to hit the pinata. It is finally going to be your turn and it looks like the next hit will break the pinata. But you suddenly have to go to the bathroom. What could you do?
  • You are hanging outside with your friend and she decides to pick your neighbor's flowers. She gives you the pretty handful of flowers and right then your neighbor opens the door. She asks you why you picked her flowers. What could you do?
  • You borrowed your sister's skates one day without asking and they broke while you were using them. What could you do?
  • You are eating at a friend's house and the mom piles your plate full of food. It looks really good and you want to eat it all but you can't because you just ate a snack. What could you do so you don't hurt her feelings?

SEE ALSO:   The Best Free App for Speech Therapy

problem solving examples for toddlers

  • Your teacher was working at her desk.  You wanted to ask her a question, but she didn't see your hand raised. What should you do?
  • You started to do your work, but you weren't sure if you were doing it right. What should you do?
  • You were playing tether-ball and were the champion so far.  In the next game, you slightly touched the rope.  Only one student saw you touch the rope. What will you do?
  • The teacher is giving directions, but your friend sitting next to you keeps talking.  You can't hear the directions. What should you do?
  • You didn't do your homework.  Your teacher was upset with you. What should you do?
  • You finished eating and felt a burp coming. What are you going to do?
  • You were waiting to swing.  When it was your turn, another boy jumped in front of you and took the swing. What would you do?
  • You waited a long time, but your mom didn't come to pick you up after school. What should you do?
  • A bully threatened to beat you up after school. What should you do?
  • A boy on the playground keeps pushing you and making you mad. What would you do?
  • You were sitting in class doing your work and you hear the fire alarm. What should you do?
  • An adult you didn't know came on to the playground and asked if you would help look for his lost dog. What would you do?
  • You forgot your lunch at home. What would you do?
  • The person sitting behind you keeps tapping your chair with his foot. What should you do?
  • You finished your work early. What should you do?

This list of functional words was professionally selected to be the most useful for a child or adult who has difficulty with problem solving scenarios.

We encourage you to use this list when practicing at home.

Home practice will make progress toward meeting individual language goals much faster.

Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are only able to see students/clients 30-60 mins (or less) per week. This is not enough time or practice for someone to handle Problem solving scenarios.

Every day that your loved one goes without practice it becomes more difficult to help them. 

SEE ALSO:   The Best Books for Speech Therapy Practice

Speech therapy books for targeting multiple goals

We know life is busy , but if you're reading this you're probably someone who cares about helping their loved one as much as you can.

Practice 5-10 minutes whenever you can, but try to do it on a consistent basis (daily).

Please, please, please use this list to practice.

It will be a great benefit to you and your loved one's progress.

problem solving examples for toddlers

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    Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Student Strategies. These are strategies your students can use during independent work time to become creative problem solvers. 1. Go Step-By-Step Through The Problem-Solving Sequence. Post problem-solving anchor charts and references on your classroom wall or pin them to your Google Classroom - anything to make ...

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  18. How to encourage problem-solving skills in toddlers and young children

    Below are four ways you can encourage problem-solving skills in toddlers and young children on a daily basis. 1. Ask preschoolers questions as often as you can, so they learn thinking skills that lead to problem-solving. While young children are naturally curious about the world around them, you as a parent can deepen their curiosity by asking ...

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    Children will have to follow the clues and solve puzzles to find the ultimate prize. This activity encourages problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork. 7. Scavenger Hunt. Playing Scavenger Hunt can be a fun way for our kids to put their creative problem-solving skills to good use.

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    4. The Penny Drop Challenge. This activity was selected because it requires kids to think about physics and how different materials affect sound. To do this activity, you will need a penny ( or another coin), a cup, and various materials such as paper towels, cotton balls, etc.

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  23. 30 Problem Solving Scenarios for Kids & Teens

    We encourage you to use this list when practicing at home. Home practice will make progress toward meeting individual language goals much faster. Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are only able to see students/clients 30-60 mins (or less) per week. This is not enough time or practice for someone to handle Problem solving scenarios.