There are plenty of moments in our day when we have a problem to solve. We need to double a recipe for our family or special guests. The remote to the television stopped working. Our bookshelf could use a better organization system. There are many ways to practice problem solving at home by encouraging children to think critically about the world around them, and notice when there is a problem to solve.
In today’s blog post, we’ll examine tips for practicing problem solving at home. From traditional math word problems that come to life after school hours to challenges that require some brainstorming, kids of all ages can strengthen their problem-solving muscles as they come across even the most minor difficulties at home. The tips on this list are designed to offer inspiration as you pinpoint different ways to incorporate moments where children can tackle challenges in their everyday lives.
Let’s dive into four tips for practicing problem solving at home.
Embrace Teachable Moments
Something isn’t working. The dishwasher is making a funky sound. The wireless connection has dropped in your apartment. There are many moments throughout our week when a problem occurs. It might be big or small, but no matter the size, it requires our attention. These moments can certainly be full of frustration, but they also provide an opportunity to model problem solving for children. To make one of these moments “teachable,” you can bring your children into the conversation. You might say:
- Can you help me find a video tutorial that might help us solve this problem?
- I tried this [add your strategy], but it didn’t work. What do you think I should try next?
- Does this remind you of another problem we tried to solve together?
If your child isn’t yet quite up to the task of taking on a problem solo or is struggling to offer advice on what to do next, you can “think aloud.” A think aloud is essentially talking about your thought process out loud for them to hear. This helps them understand what someone does when a problem arises. For example, instead of stomping your feet (although that might happen sometimes), you can let them see how sometimes it takes a few different tries to solve a problem.
Look for a Problem
In addition to teachable moments, some problems arise that may not require immediate attention. Not every problem-solving situation is a time-sensitive response to a pressing issue. However, some larger projects in your home might require problem-solving skills. For example, you might have a bookshelf in great need of a new organizational system. This type of task might require your child to:
- Research different ways to organize a bookshelf
- Decide on a system that will work best for this situation
- Take action and start organizing the books
- Reflect on what is working and what isn’t working
These types of “project” problems may require multiple steps. Instead of a quick fix or an issue that requires immediate attention, you might find that these problem-solving opportunities are perfect for a long-term challenge for you and your child. For example, you might look for a problem to solve that takes a collaborative effort between a few family members.
Find Real World Connections
As you help your child tackle a math problem as they finish their homework, look for connections to potential problems around your home. For example, imagine your child is learning about percentages and working through challenging math problems when they sit down to complete their homework. You might present a problem to them like:
- There is a 30% chance of rain today. Is it worth carrying an umbrella?
- Our favorite pizza place has a buy-one-get-one 50% off coupon. How much will it cost to add an extra pizza to our order?
- The subway system just raised prices by 10% for the new year. How will this impact our family’s trip to the museum next month?
These types of questions can take a real-world spin on the type of math problem your children tackle at school. You don’t necessarily have to match a question like this to the current topics your child is studying during school hours, but asking them about their current unit of study or taking a look at their homework, might generate some ideas for you.
Share Solution Stories
The fourth and final tip on our list for practicing problem solving at home is sharing stories of how you or others found a solution to a challenging problem. Whether you are waiting to be called into a dentist appointment, sitting in traffic, or sharing a picnic blanket with your child, take advantage of a small moment to share a story related to a problem-solving endeavor. For example, you might share a story about:
- A time when you found a solution to a problem at work
- A moment when you failed at your first attempt to solve a problem
- An inventor who needed many attempts to create a new invention
If you’re not sure you have stories of your own to share, try sharing stories of an inventor who solved a problem and created a new invention. Alternatively, you might look at everyday household items and talk about the problems that each one of them solves. By sharing your own “solution stories,” your children can see how we are all problem solvers. And by sharing the stories of people who solved problems and shared their inventions with the world (from the toaster oven to the hairbrush), they can see the impact of problem solving both inside and outside of the classroom.
Problem solving is more than just solving math problems. It requires kids to think about how they interact with the world around them. They can transfer these skills into all aspects of their lives as they think about the potential solutions to a problem, try out different ideas, and preserve them throughout the process. If you have a favorite family problem-solving story, share it in the comments below!
About Dr. Monica Burns
Dr. Monica Burns, Ed.D. is a curriculum and educational technology consultant, and founder of ClassTechTips.com. She hosts the Easy EdTech Podcast and is author of EdTech Essentials: The Top Ten Technology Strategies for All Learning Environments.
Photo description: A child plays with blocks.