Teaching Children Critical Thinking Skills: Active Problem Solving

problem solving child

Active problem solving requires the use of critical thinking skills.  You have to think up various solutions to an existing problem and then put those solutions into use. This is the kind of problem-solving skill your child will use most as she grows.  Today, we will focus on three active strategies: brainstorming, what if and step-by-step.


Brainstorming is basically sitting down and thinking about many possible solutions to a problem.  When you have exhausted ideas, you need to evaluate each idea and decide if it is practical.  Finally, you decide on the best solution and put it to the test.  Let’s get ready for a trip to the zoo.

Your daughter can’t make up her mind what to wear for her day to the zoo.  She wants to look nice, but it is a bit chilly outside and she will be doing a lot of walking.  You can work with pencil and paper, but this can also work by standing at the closet.  The first criteria for today’s outing is looking pretty.  As you go through the closet, comment on the various item and pick a combination of both dresses and pants and shirts.  You will want to keep the number of items small for younger children, maybe one of each item, but it can increase in size as they get older and better at the decision-making.  The weather is chilly, and a dress might cause her legs to get cold, so this eliminates the dresses you chose. Comment that we now have an outfit that meets the criteria of both pretty and warm.  Next, choose between sandals and sneakers, which is better for a lot of walking?

What If

You have decided to get a pet but can’t decide what kind would be best for your family.   Ask out loud, “What if we get a dog?” then proceed to list things like somebody will have to walk him, he will need to be trained, he will require a lot of attention. “What if we get a cat?”  She will need her litter box cleaned often, she needs to be taught what not to scratch, she will need to be brushed and played with.  “What if we get a fish?”  The fish bowl will need cleaned, we have to remember to feed it because it can’t remind us, it can’t be petted or played with.  For each item you mention, make a comment about who can do that task or why that might not be a good thing.   Your child will learn that sometimes choices have both good and bad elements and it is important to determine which has the most positive.


This method takes more time and planning.  You want a box that is too high to reach.  Comment on the problem and then ask yourself, out loud, what you need to do, which is find a way to make yourself taller.  Now, talk through the steps:

“I need to find something safe to stand on. Here is a stool.”

“I need to put the stool close to the closet so when I reach up, the shelf is near.”

“Now I can reach the box.  I have to be careful when I step off the stool.”

“I’ll set the box here until I put the stool away and close the closet door.”

Looking Ahead

Next time, we will discuss how to find opportunities for your child to practice problem-solving.  The more she practices, the easier it will become and the more successful she will be when actual problems arise.


Thomas Learning Centers provides NECPA accredited preschool and childcare at the most affordable rates in the Denver Metro Area.  Check us out at http://www.thomaslearningcenters.com , click on the offers below, drop in for a visit to get to know more about us. We’d love to meet you!

Call  877-938-1442 for general info

Lakewood 303-237-0917 or Westminster 303-427-8831


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