Children are born problem solvers – from the very beginning. Think about those first steps or the moment your little one first rolls over or crawls – oftentimes those milestones are a result of your kiddo’s efforts to get something he or she wants.
We want to raise innovators – kids who become adults that tackle their lives head-on, making the world a better place.
Raising Problem Solvers
We can offer opportunities for our kids to participate in decision making and give them chances to solve real-world problems. It actually takes very little effort. Inspiring your kids to be innovative problem solvers is as simple as putting the right tools where they can find them.
Let Them Struggle
It often feels like it would be easier to just step in and do things for your kids – whether he is a toddler trying to open his snack cup or a young teen trying to fix an mistake he made putting together a model. Stepping in too quickly can send a message (intended or not) that you’re not confident in your kiddo’s abilities.
When kids are solving problems, it may not look the same as when you are solving them. We all work through things in our own way.
The other day, my oldest was working through the challenge that came with his latest Rumble Lab subscription. And he was excited because his last creation, the can crusher, was such a success that he gave it to his grandfather as a birthday present.
This time it wasn’t going so well.
He came upstairs and started fidgeting with some Transformers. It wasn’t working out for him, and he needed some distance from the project. Not because it wasn’t awesome – the projects that come with a Rumble Lab subscription are super cool, and he looks forward to them. Not because he couldn’t do it – he could, but something wasn’t working right. I decided to leave him alone, and I took the little kids outside to play.
An hour later he called us in to show us his successful crank slide pump. It turned out that he’d been working too quickly, and he’d missed an important part. He realized that he was going to have to take the whole thing apart and rebuild it. He needed some space from the project and time to fiddle with something else while his mind worked out the problem.
Acknowledge Their Efforts
When you let your children struggle to solve their own problems, it’s important to cultivate an accepting environment. They need to be able to express their ideas and to fail without the fear of ridicule or not being taken seriously.
When my son was puzzling through his challenge crate, I didn’t offer him platitudes, nor did I jump in and tell him how to fix it. I smiled at him, patted him on the back, and took the distracting littles out in the yard.
Know your kids and take a second to read them. I knew my son didn’t want words. But I also knew he needed support. If yours needs words, try, “Look at how hard you’re working. You can do this. Just move things around and try them in different places. Let me know if you need help.”
Create a Problem Solving Environment
Give your kiddos lots of opportunities to initiate and solve their own problems throughout the day. Encourage them to test possibilities and find different solutions. Create a special lab area where your kids – big and small – know they can experiment.
We have a big tub of loose parts and old electronics in the basement. Even if they only take things apart, my kids know they can dig into the box with their tools in hand. It’s empowering for them to know that they can create and do.
I also enjoy directing my kids’ problem solving from time to time. Stretching them in new directions can be just as empowering. It’s one of the reasons I’ve loved having the opportunity to work with Rumble Lab over the last few months. It’s easy to find engineering project ideas with a quick Internet search, but Rumble Lab not only sends a monthly challenge with all the parts – my son was surprisingly excited about the screwdriver (“of his very own”) that came with his last crate – but they also encourage kids to be innovative. Mid-month, kids attempt the challenge to try and win amazing prizes. One challenge was to make the can crusher design even better than it was already. Another challenge was to adapt the science behind the crank slide pump to invent something that would make the world a better place.
Related: Recognizing and Nurturing Giftedness
It’s like a one stop shop for all things STEM with a bit of innovative thinking thrown in. (And my readers can get 10% off their next crate by entering the code LIFELONGLEARNER at checkout.) My oldest is just getting ready to dive into our June crate now – it’s called Hack-a-Plane. He’s beyond thrilled.
Be a Problem Solver Yourself
Remember that you are your kids’ best teacher. They are watching you. Your children are looking to see how you handle it when you come up against something that is difficult or new.
Talk about problem solving. When challenges come up, talk them through with your kids. For little ones that can be as simple as saying, “I’d planned to pull out the paint for you, but we’re out of watercolor paper. What do you think we should do?” Then, listen to their ideas and try one of them if possible.
For teens, you can get them involved in big projects around the house. For Mother’s Day, my husband and thirteen-year-old built a deck on which to set up the gazebo they’d found for me. The original idea was to build a patio, but they found that it would be too expensive and difficult in the area we had available. They brainstormed different ideas and set out to buy deck building materials. My husband built the framework, and my son installed the floor with deck screws and a power tool.
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And it’s absolutely stunning.
Because he watched my husband solve problems, and they came up with the deck solution together, he’s feeling pretty empowered right now, and he’s ready to tackle whatever comes his way.
Model fluid thinking and a positive attitude, and then share processes for solving the problems of everyday life. And involve your kiddos by asking them to suggest their own solutions.
Emphasize problem solving vocabulary. When you talk to your kids, use words like problem, think, ideas, challenge, innovate, brainstorm, and solve. Your kids will start using them too.
Related: You’re Awesome | So Are Your Kids
Most importantly, though, be willing to make mistakes. Kids need to see adults they trust make and move on from their mistakes. Especially if your kids are a bit perfectionistic like mine can be. Let your kids see the mistakes you make, and then ask them to help you solve the resulting problems. They’ll learn that mistakes aren’t such a big deal after all, and that they’re actually a chance to learn.
Problem solving is about using two very important skills – the ability to think logically and the ability to think creatively. Cultivate these skills in your home by letting your kids struggle, acknowledging their efforts, creating a problem solving environment, and modeling those skills. You’ll have no trouble raising problem solvers.
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Thank you to Rumble Lab for sponsoring this conversation. I can’t wait to try our next crate — It’s really awesome!