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Early Learning and Problem Solving Skills - A Perspective

As adults, we come across many problems in life. To think of something basic, let's go with, say, a tube light not working in the living room. How do we solve this problem? We may take this in a sequence of simple steps. First, we may check out the mains of the house, and see if any MCB has tripped. If it has, then we will try to lift it ourselves. That should hopefully solve the problem. If it doesn't we may try to identify some major appliance on the same circuit which may be giving us a problem and shut it down. If that works, then great, and if that doesn't then we will end up calling an electrician. Alternatively, if the MCB hasn't tripped, then we will try to move the tube light to see if it works, then check for blackening edges to see if the tube is too old to be used anymore, and if that is the case, then we will either buy a new light ourselves or once again, call the electrician.

Seems simple enough? At our age, it probably does, but looked at in such detail, it involved a thought process, which we have developed over time. 

This is one example of problem solving process which we face in our adult life. 

How do we link it with early learning though?

Problem solving in early learning refers to developing an independent thought process, by exposing children to simple activities, which at their age, requires them to think through and find a solution for something. Sounds complicated, but this can be achieved through a whole host of fun activities. These activities not only help develop an analytical approach to thinking, but you can also witness a crossover with right brain development, when they try to think of out of the box and holistic solutions to the problem presented before them.

Let me share a few activities/examples to illustrate the point. We have been using them extensively in our online preschool classes (pan-India), and have found out that kids can really develop amazing ways to solve a problem. At such a tender age, these help their thought process, without giving them stress.


Please visualize this activity. Your child has a piece of straw, a piece of clay, and some yellow dal. They have to put the dal through the straw, piece by piece, without it falling out the other end. You present your child with this problem, and ask them to think for a moment, and come up with a solution.

We did this activity in our online preschool sessions (India) for kids in the age group of 3+ to 4+, and they came up with the following two solutions :

1. fix the piece of clay at one end of the straw, then pass the dal through

2. keep the straw in a sleeping line position, and then pass the dal through

So while the children were using the left side of the brain to think logically and analytically, they were also using the right side of their brain to come up with some really creative solutions to the problem.


You set a basket of mixed socks in front of your size. You can take say 10 pairs of socks, and mix them all up. Your child has to sort them in pairs. For us, this is a simple activity. For the child, it is an activity which involves them thinking on how best they can find the correct pairs - they will look at the size, the colours and then the patterns on each of the socks to find the right pairs.

And if they feel creative enough, they may just decide that they would like one green and one yellow sock together to make it look more fancy, and who is to say that is a wrong approach :)

Some other examples of problem solving activities - finding the path through a basic maze, finding the odd one out in a set of objects - in our online preschool in India, we do these both using animated slides, which the children find a lot fun, as well as with physical objects (say one fork in 3 spoons) - and so many more. 

Activities like these help develop thinking process for the children, which is also an important life skill which they acquire as a consequence. Done right, these activities are only fun, and learning is a by product. Children experience, and think for themselves, and learn to take decisions. As they grow older, they learn to face any problems head on, instead of shying away from them.

The crucial aspect here is giving children the time to think for themselves. We prompt them only when they feel stuck, but when they are given time to first think, they also feel a great sense of achievement in solving these mini problems by themselves :)


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