Thursday, October 10, 2013

Let them Solve Problems

For some reason, we adults feel we should come to the rescue of young children and solve problems for them.  Whatever the reason, whether we don't trust them, we don't want to listen to the tantrum that may follow, or we don't have time for them to struggle and work towards a solution, we are taking away a grand opportunity for authentic learning. I firmly believe that Children NEED opportunities to solve problems:

The problem:  Trillian walked too far with the pulley bucket....and now, the "pull" side is waaaaay up high, stuck.

Trillian is the one who caused the problem (aha!  Cause and effect), so he is the one with the responsibility to solve it.  He immediately gathered the tools he needed:  a chair and the grabbers.  He then told me his plan.

One of the CLEAR EXPECTATIONS that forms the structure of my program is that my littles must tell me their plan if they are going to be standing on a chair, or using a tool to solve a problem.  Having the clear expectation of needing a plan gives children a chance to explore logical thinking.  It gives them a chance to have foresight and to put their actions into words.  It offers a time for independent thinking and builds one confidence in sharing their thoughts.
Look at that focus.  Trillian is motivated because this is his problem, it is his plan.  He is also learning how to coordinate his body.
Let's face it.  Failing is a fact of life.  Why are we so afraid to let children let them struggle?  Having time to practice these things in a loving environment gives him the tools to handle such situations when struggles cross their path.  Moments like this also offer practice in self-regulation.  I know many littles (and adults too) who will break down into a tantrum whenever they are faced with a challenge.  BUT, once they experience the success that can come from perseverance they will begin to strengthen their ability to control themselves and learn to try.

Giving children opportunities to fail and struggle also gives them opportunities to ask for what they need, and that includes asking for help.  I know adults who do not know how to ask for help.  Admittedly, I struggle with conceding that I need help.  Setting up the structure of your environment in such a way that children know the CLEAR EXPECTATION that they must try before asking for help, lets them know you believe in them, that YES THEY CAN accomplish difficult tasks.
After  SEVERAL tries,  Trillian finally accepted the fact that he was not going to be able to solve this problem on his own.  He needed help.  He swallowed his pride, and asked his buddy, Caleb for help.  Why did he chose his buddy Caleb?  Because he was taller then him.  Trillian predicted that since Caleb was taller, he would be successful.

Giving children opportunities to solve problems, also gives them the opportunity to be compassionate and helpful.  It feels good to know you helped someone.

Caleb was SO close....he was trying so hard he was actually getting hot!  It was very hard for him to finally admit that he wasn't going to be successful either, and so he too, swallowed his pride, and asked for help.

The third and final (sorry if I ruined the suspense for you :) ) helper was Jack. Jack was the chosen one because he was OLDER then Caleb.  The thought process that occurred during this problem solving session was simply amazing. The children had gathered their thinking hats, used their smarts and deducted that AGE must matter when it comes to reaching very high.

Jack hopped up on the chair and was successful in a matter of a few short minutes.  He was seasoned at balancing on the chair, and controlling the grabbers.  He knew how to recognize danger and how to use caution (as you may have noticed all of my littles in this scenario did).  The important thing to notice in the following picture is Trillian in the bottom right corner.  He still owns this problem.  He also owns the process of solving it.  It was, after all, he who caused the problem, he chose the technique to use to fix it, he gathered the tools needed, he devised the plan and shared it with me, he tried as if his life depended on it and he was the first to concede and ask for what he needed: help. 
Word quickly spreads in my program that there is a problem being solved.  See Lindsey and Evie?  They are ready to assist if needed.  I love the compassion and kindness of my crew.  I also love their ability to collaborate and work as a team.  This was truly a team effort.

 The key to relaxing your need for teacher-controlled learning, and letting the children in your program lead their own learning, to BE THE CURRICULUM is to be able to recognize the valuable learning in moments like these.  Let's dissect what all just occured (it's important to note that all of this learning took place in a matter of 5 minutes):

1)  Independent thinking  (Trillian thought of the technique to use all on his own)
2)  Logical thinking (coming up with the plan)
3)  Measurement (as Trillian sized up the problem and gathered the appropriate tools)
4)  Comparing and Contrasting (the children were sizing each other up, comparing their height to determine who would be able to be successful in solving the problem)
5) Number order (the conversation turned to age, and that the older the child, the more capable they would be in solving the problem, or so that was their theory)
6)  Predicting  (Trillian predicted his method would surely solve the problem.  Each child predicted they would be able to solve the problem.)
7)  Motor Skills (just look at the pictures.  Large AND small motor skills need to work together in order to accomplish this task.  There is a LOT going on as far as motor control and coordination are concerned)
8)  Visual Tracking (the grabbers are long and hard to control...they waved all around, the children had to follow the path of the grabber while keeping their eye on the target)
9)  Visual planning (visualizing the target, then planning what the arms have to do in order to move the grabber to where it is needed)
10)  Control (the children were in control of this entire situation. My participation included listening to the plan and taking pictures)
11)  Collaboration (this indeed was a team effort, ideas were shared and respected)
12)  Vocabulary (all the conversations regarding height, age, angle, directions, suggestions were rich with vocabulary)
13)  Self Regulation (it is hard to struggle and remain focused and calm....I know adults who are challenged with this)
14)  Empowerment (enough said...ALL of the above is empowering for a young child)

I dare say there isn't a curriculum in this world that can provide a moment like this that is so rich with learning in the time span of 5 minutes.  AUTHENTIC learning, that is overflowing with meaning  will STICK, it will be recalled again and again, it is the way young children were wired to learn.

I challenge you to step back.  Resist the urge to come to the rescue.  Give children the feeling of trust, the time, the opportunity to practice self control and the empowerment that comes with solving a problem.

Here are a just a few problem solving examples from my own program:
1) Opening packages (string cheese, fruit snacks, new markers, new anything...ANYTHING that is in a package, let them get it out)
2)  Clean up spilled milk. (even my littlest littles know how to clean up after themselves)
3)  Pick up the toys (this is a biggie for me.  The children are the ones who got everything out, they need to be the ones to pick it up)
4)  Dressing skills (as soon as possible, encourage independence in pulling up and down pants, putting coats on, shoes on etc.  These are all wonderful opportunities for teaching problem solving skills.  It is a problem if your pants get caught on your diaper..what do you need to do?)
5) Bumping a friend's tower over. (You bumped it, you own it.  Help the friend rebuild their tower.  Solve the problem you caused, included consoling your friend if they are sad)

Let the children solve problems, let them be the curriculum.  Play IS the "important stuff", it COUNTS!!!