Monday, October 1, 2012

Empower Children! Encourage Problem Solving

Encouraging children to solve problems teaches them to be responsible for their actions, both the good, and the not so good.  It also teaches us PATIENCE, as it takes quite a lot of self regulation to not step in and help a child solve a problem!

Last week, Erik spilt his milk during lunch.  Here is the conversation that followed the incident:

Jack:  "Uh oh.  Looks like you have a problem Erik"
Gavin:  "How are you going to solve that problem Erik?"
Ethan:  "Better get what you need."

Erik stood up, without saying a word and walked to the counter to get what he needed (paper towel).  Unfortunately the paper towel was just a bit out of his reach.

Erik:  "Um...Nita?  I could use a little help here."
Me:  "Sure Erik, I can help you."

I handed Erik the roll of paper towel.  He tore off a couple of pieces and began solving his problem.  When he was finished, he sat back down to enjoy the rest of his meal, a look of complete, 100% satisfaction and pride written boldly across his face.

Encouraging children to take ownership of their "whoopsies" and fixing the problem that said "whoopsy" might cause fosters responsibility and pride.

Not all problems stem from a whoopsy though.  Some problems just naturally exist in the environment and need to be solved on a daily basis.  Take our fort light for example.  When we built our home, I purposely put that light switch up out of the reach of little hands to avoid the temptation of turning the fort light on/off/on/off/on.....etc. In the end, I am so glad I put the fort light up high as it gives my crew a daily problem to solve!   If they want to play in the fort, they have to figure out how to turn on the light.

Just today, 2 year old Trillian came trudging across the room, dragging this chair behind him.  I quietly observed him, waiting to see what his plan was before I told him to put the chair away (thank goodness I have worked on the skill of observation and understanding.  I always try to first take time to understand the situation before I over-react)

When he stopped by the car bucket to retrieve a piece of track, I had a pretty good idea what he was planning.  I was also very impressed.  He has been in my program for just one month, and in that short amount of time has learned that solving problems is encouraged and welcomed here.

He pulled up the chair right underneath the fort light switch, climbed up onto the chair, and reached as far as his two year old growth would allow him!

Avery, observing along side of me, watched patiently as Trillian reached, and reached some more, giving up was not an option for this little monkey.

Avery finally stepped in and said "Come on Trillian, I will help you!  When you need help, just ask for it."  (I beamed at this moment, as it is a line I say many times during the day.  I loved seeing Avery supply Trillian with not only help, but nurturing as well!)
Turn the light on, take 2.....and ACTION! 

Armed with a much better tool, Trillian returned to his chair to attempt to solve the problem once again.  Watching him manipulate this much longer piece of track was hilarious!  I so wish I would have grabbed the video camera instead!

Trillian was determined to accomplish his task and to feel the sense of pride he has been watching everyone else enjoy.  He used all his strength to control the longer tool in order to turn on the light, but still no success.

Again, Avery was watching and trying her darndest to not just step in and do it for him.  I was very impressed with her self control, as she is a little mother hen, and loves nothing more then doing things for Trillian (putting on his shoes, his coat etc.)
Finally, Avery and I could stand it no more!  She looked at me and I nodded in approval.  No words needed to be spoken as we both knew what we were thinking.  "Yes, please help this poor, determined child!"

So teamwork finished the job, problem solved, task accomplished and HUGE pride was felt by all involved!!
Step back and take a look at your program.  Are children encouraged to solve problems?  Are they encouraged to ask for what they need? 
 It takes some time and consistency to foster an environment that encourages learning through problem solving, learning through mistakes and learning through taking responsbility.
Here are some key words that need to be used consistently in order to inspire an environment full of independent problem solvers. 
1)  "It looks like you have a problem that needs to be solved."
I say this anytime a child spills anything, bumps another child's tower, tattles that someone has taken a toy away...anything that creates a problem.  Giving the ownership of the problem to that child makes them responsible for finding a solution.  In the case of another child being mean to them, I like to empower the child with the right words to say back to someone.  Words like "I had that toy and I would like it back please.", or "I do not like it when you hit me.  Please do not do it again!!!"  Standing up for oneself is empowering and solving the problem is, DOUBLE PRIDE!!
2)  "How are you going to solve this problem?" or "Do you have a plan?"
This gives children a chance to develope a plan of action.   Concrete thinking, imagination and creativity are needed to organize a plan in one's mind.  This question also causes the child to slow down, take time to think and analyze the situation.  All very "use your smarts" kind of things!

Asking a child about their plan also gives them a chance to express themselves with words.  Putting thoughts and actions into words fosters vocabulary and encourages a child to share his ideas.
3)  "Remember to ask for what you need."
I like to remind children that I am here for them, but they need to let me know with words.   The tools that they need, and assistance is but a simple request away.  Ask for what you need!
Finally, make sure to acknowledge problem solving with encouraging and pride-filled words.  A lot of little moments during our day are really problem solving if you just take a second to think about it.  Simply, a child letting you know that the toilet paper is all out in the bathroom is solving a problem.  Capture those moments with an encouraging and thankful word or two! 
 Empower children!