8 Engaging Problem Solving Activities For Toddlers

Learning to problem solve is an important life skill that is learned through years of practice and patience. These 8 problem solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers are proven ways to help give your child a head start with this skill.

We can not always be there to help our little ones solve their problems. We CAN, however, provide them with the right tools and resources to help them learn to solve problems independently.

What is Problem Solving?

Problem solving is essentially the process of finding a solution to a problem. To successfully problem solve, children first have to analyze the problem in detail, think about it critically, figure out what needs to be done, brainstorm different strategies to remediate the issue, and then evaluate if the solution was successful.

For children, this can be a very complex and difficult process simply because of their lack of experience.

Since we draw on our knowledge and experience when faced with obstacles, it is important we expose our children to activities that will help give them both the knowledge and experience they need to help face these challenges.

construction play as a problem solving activity for toddlers

Why Problem-Solving is Important for Young Children

Learning to problem solve is incredibly important during early childhood. Not only does it play a major role in a child’s cognitive development, but it is also a critical component of their academic success and ability to maintain healthy relationships.

When children can effectively solve a problem, it drastically improves their self-esteem and self-confidence. This is especially important when it comes to academics.

Children who can not effectively problem solve tend to get frustrated easily and they may begin showing signs of avoidant behaviors. This can cause children to feel incompetent in school and with relationships which can ultimately lead them to falling behind academically.

Luckily, children learn at an incredible rate, especially during those first couple of years. As you expose your child to different problem-solving activities they will gain the confidence needed to face any challenge they may encounter.

Problem Solving Skills in Early Childhood

Problem-solving skills require the cognitive capabilities to think through a problem and take appropriate action. Some problems may need a simple fix while others may require the use of many of these skills.

Examples of Problem Solving Skills:

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Analytical thinking (being able to break a complex problem down into more manageable parts)
  • Communication
  • Creativity and innovative
  • Critical thinking
  • Decision making
  • Initiative
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Negotiation
  • Resilience

How to Teach Problem Solving Skills (+ Strategies)

The best way to teach this skill is to expose your child to various activities that will require a bit of critical thinking and problem-solving.

The problem solving activities for toddlers listed below is a great place to start!

While this skill can be learned during free play, children will develop even stronger problem-solving skills if you encourage this type of thinking and reasoning during certain activities.

Strategies For Parents, Caregivers, or Teachers:

1. Model problem solving by talking out loud in front of your child

Since children lack the experience, they may find it difficult to problem solve. Try modeling this skill when you run into daily problems.

For example: ”I ran out of sugar to make my coffee sweet. Since I do not have any more sugar, what can I put in my coffee to make it sweet? I will put some honey because honey is naturally very sweet!”.

2. Ask open-ended questions

When children approach you with a problem, try asking open-ended questions to help them solve the issue on their own.

Here are some example questions:

  • Why did your blocks fall over? What can we do next time to make it stronger?
  • What other games you can play with your ball?
  • What are some other things can you use to make the fort bigger?

Sometimes children just need a little push to help them find creative solutions.

3. Avoid fixing every problem for your child

One of the best things you can do for your child is to avoid fixing every problem for them.

Whether it is a toy-related issue, a difficult math equation, or a social conflict with a friend or sibling. Try to encourage your child to solve some of these issues with as much independence as possible.

8 Problem Solving Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Here are 8 simple problem solving activities for toddlers and preschoolers. While these activities may seem to be very simple and basic, do not let that fool you. Learning through play is the best way to ”teach” our children the skill of problem solving.

1. Puzzles

Puzzles are a great activity to encourage skills like trial and error, persistence, and patience. Each new puzzle presents a new set of challenges that the children have to work through.

When children are around 2 years of age you can start with plastic or wooden shape sorters. As they get older and their skills develop, you can give them more complex puzzles to complete like 9 or 12-piece puzzle sets.

2. Sorting Activities

This activity is so simple because you can sort anything including toys, clothes, and even fruits and veggies.

Children learn to compare, contrast, and classify based on what they are observing. This helps with logical thinking, analytical thinking, and it gives children a sense of order. This type of systematic thinking is very helpful for problem solving because it teaches children to perform tasks in a structured manner, much like the steps to solve a problem.

3. Board Games

Board games are a great problem solving activity for toddlers and preschoolers! I love that it can be interactive with young children and adults!

When children are younger, it is best to start with simple games like Zimboos. This is a stacking game that requires children to analyze, critically think, and collaborate with others to make sure the pyramid stays balanced.

As children get older you can advance to more complex games like Quirkle. This game includes a puzzle-like component that allows children to develop their spatial recognition, planning, and problem solving skills. 

construction play as a problem solving activity for toddlers

4. Construction Play

Construction play using mega blocks, wooden blocks, or even train track sets is an amazing way to help support your child’s brain and cognitive development.

Everything from planning what they want to build to figuring out what to do when certain pieces don’t fit together helps children learn the foundational skills for problem solving.

These are the types of toys I would encourage all parents to have readily available for their children.

5. Story Time Questions

There are so many amazing benefits of reading to your child and it is one of the best listening activities for kids!

As you read to your child, try making it an engaging experience. You can start by asking them open-ended questions to really help them think through certain problems and scenarios.

Here are some examples of the types of problem-solving questions that can be asked during a read-aloud:

  • What healthy foods should the caterpillar have eaten to not get a stomach ache?
  • The Duck and Penguin don’t like each other, what can do they to work it out and become friends?
  • If you lost your shoe, how would you try and find it?
  • If your kite got stuck in the tree, how would you try and get it down?

6. Fort Building

I remember always building forts as a child and constantly running into problems. The blankets were always too small, or I couldn’t get them to stay in place!

This is why it is such a great activity for problem-solving! Children have to plan, make decisions, analyze, evaluate, and solve problems. The best part is that most kids will persevere through despite all these challenges because the end result is so much fun!

7. Simple House Chores

If there is one thing I have learned since becoming a mom is that kids love to help! I really enjoy involving my toddler when I am doing work around the house.

To encourage practice with problem-solving, ask your child questions so they can think of solutions to your problems. If your child is still young, this is a great opportunity to model problem solving by simply talking out loud.

Here are some examples:

  • These clothes are really dirty, what should we do?
  • How can we make our clean-up time faster?
  • There are so many toys on the floor, how can we sort and organize them?

8. Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are an incredible learning activity for kids. Since kids learn best through play, it is important to make learning an enjoyable experience for them.

I love scavenger hunts because of how many different skills are involved. Children have to use their observational skills, critical thinking skills, and imagination to solve the problem and complete the tasks.

These are also very customizable. You can use words, pictures, or even descriptions depending on your child’s skill level.

I hope can incorporate some of these problem solving activities for toddlers into your daily routine to help your child become a master problem solver!

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