As parents and teachers, it’s our responsibility to teach the children in our lives appropriate critical thinking and conflict resolution skills to help them develop and maintain relationships, excel in academics and extracurricular activities, and exercise proper self-regulation and anger management skills. If you’re looking for problem solving activities for kids, we’re sharing 11 of our favorites that can be used at home and in the classroom.
Why Is Problem Solving Important for Child Development?
As adults, we field all kinds of problems on a daily basis, many of which we resolve without much thought. We’re able to approach challenges rationally, come up with possible solutions, and weigh the pros and cons of each before we act. Of course, some problems are more complex than others, but for the most part, we’re able to work through each of them and try different strategies and techniques along the way until we come up with a solution that works. This is a natural process we’ve learned throughout the course of our lives, and in order for our children to learn appropriate problem solving skills as they grow, we need to teach them strategies and work with them as they apply these techniques to their lives.
When children aren’t equipped with appropriate problem solving skills, they tend to avoid situations and activities that feel challenging to them, which can have a huge impact on their ability to form and maintain relationships with their peers, excel in a school environment, and pursue interests and hobbies. The absence of critical thinking and conflict resolution skills can also lead to negative, and often impulsive behavior.
Teaching kids proper problem solving skills helps boost their self-esteem and self-confidence, helps them become more independent, and has a positive impact on their mental health.
6 Problem Solving Strategies for Kids
1) Take a deep breath
The first step in teaching problem solving skills to kids is to ensure they are calm. When our emotions are high, it’s much more challenging to see things rationally, making impulsive reactions more likely. Teach your child how to calm his or her body through mindful breathing so he or she has a go-to strategy to return to a state of calm when his or her emotions are high.
2) Verbalize the problem
Once your child is calm, ask him or her to verbalize the problem he or she is struggling with. Putting our thoughts into words can help us gain perspective and make it easier for us to search for solutions.
3) Brainstorm solutions
You can have your child do this verbally, or you can ask him or her to write them down, but the idea is to come up with as many solutions as possible, no matter how silly or far-fetched they may seem. A great idea is to set a timer (we LOVE our Time Timer as it visually shows the passage of time) and challenge your little one to strategize as many ideas as he or she can in that timeframe.
4) Evaluate each option
Work with your child to evaluate each idea he or she has come up with. Help him or her anticipate the pros and cons of each, and then identify which solution is the best.
Encourage your child to put his or her solution to practice to see if it works!
When it comes to enforcing problem solving strategies for kids, this one is often overlooked but it’s so important! Once your child has tested out a solution to his or her problems, it’s essential that you take the time to help him or her assess whether or not it was successful. What went wrong? What went right? Should he or she try another strategy?
11 Problem Solving Activities for Kids
If you want to help build your child’s social, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and anger management skills, these fun and effective problem solving activities are for you! We’ve included family games, team building activities, task cards, and other creative challenges for small groups that can be used both at home and in the classroom.
1) Problems in a Jar
Mosswood Connections is one of my favorite resources for kids activities, and I recently found this Problems in a Jar activity on their site. It’s designed to help kids learn how to define a problem, generate possible solutions, evaluate and select the best solution, and then implement the solution independently. It’s a great social skills activity to work through with your child at home.
If you’ve never played HedBanz, you’re in for a REAL treat. Not only is this game fun, the question and answer premise behind this game will also challenge your child’s critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills. This is definitely high on my list of the best problem solving activities for kids!
3) The Tower of Self Esteem
If you’re looking for team building activities for kids, this is a great ice breaker to consider. This game gets kids talking while also allowing them to see their own self-worth by identifying their own strengths. It’s also a great fine motor activity, and since it can be difficult and frustrating to stack the plastic cards into a tower, it’s one of my favorite problem solving activities for kids!
4) Team Scavenger Hunt
This will require a bit of upfront work on your part, but it’s a great way to get kids to work collaboratively and it can be extremely fun and engaging! Divide kids into teams of 4 or 5 and provide them with a set of clues to see who can work together to find all of the items the fastest. What I love most about scavenger hunts is that you can create subject-specific scavenger hunts to compliment lesson plans, holidays, etc. Teachers Pay Teachers has TONS of great ideas you can purchase for a small fee.
5) What Would You Do At School If…
If you’re looking for problem solving activities for kids you can do at home – or in therapy – this is another good one to consider. With 56 cards to choose from, this activity gets kids thinking of different scenarios and helps them strategize how they can make good choices at school.
6) Quirkle Board Game
If you’re looking for problem solving activities for kids you can enjoy as a family, I highly recommend Quirkle! It’s easy to play but definitely puts players’ problem solving skills to the test, and I love that it’s a game the whole family can enjoy!
7) Size of the Problem Activity Pack
Teachers Pay Teachers is one of my favorite resources for kids activities, and if you’re looking for problem solving activities for kids, this is a great option. The activities in this set help kids identify the size of their problems and the feelings they create, identify which reactions are/are not appropriate, and strategize possible solutions, making it a great way to engage in meaningful back-and-forth communication with your child while simultaneously teaching appropriate problem solving strategies.
8) Human Knot
This is another one of my favorite problem solving activities for kids as it requires no setup and can be done absolutely anywhere. It also doubles as a great team building activity and it’s super fun! Have a group of kids stand in a circle and ask everyone to raise their right arm before reaching forward to grab hands with someone opposite from them. Next, ask everyone to raise their left arms and do the same thing. Be sure no one is holding hands with someone standing directly next to him or her. The object of this activity is for the group to find a way to detangle themselves without letting go of anyone’s hands.
9) Osmo Genius Kit
While I like to find ways to get kids off their electronics, the Osmo system has really captured my heart. It teaches so many important concepts in a fun and creative way, and if you’re looking for independent problem solving activities for kids, the Tangram game is one of my absolute favorites!
10) Fingertip Hula Hoop
If you’re looking for activities that help kids learn how to work collaboratively to solve problems, this is a fun one to try. Create groups of about 6-8 kids, have them stand together in a circle with their arms raised above their heads, and then place a hula hoop on their finger tips. Using nothing but their fingertips, each team must work together to lower the hula hoop to the ground without dropping it.
11) Kids’ Daily Dilemmas in a Jar
I have heard nothing but positive things about these cards, but have been warned some of the topics are a bit mature. If you’re looking for problem solving activities for kids in middle school or high school, this is a great one to consider – just be careful to review the cards ahead of time so you can remove any you feel are inappropriate.
I hope this collection of problem solving activities for kids inspires you to find new and creative ways to develop your little one’s critical thinking and conflict resolution skills. Remember to keep your child calm, to verbalize and strategize together, to evaluate and reassess, and – more importantly – to keep things fun!
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