Building Problem Solving Skills for Kids
Problem solving is one of the key foundational aspects of math. At its core, math isn’t about numbers – it’s about solving problems! Naturally, kids with strong problem solving skills have an easier time in math class.
Problem solving comes naturally to some students, but not for others. However, there are things we as teachers can do to help build strong problem solving skills in our students. If this is something you think would benefit your students, here are a few ideas for carrying this out.
Problem Solving Skills for Kids Activities
Each of the following activities are helpful for building students’ problem solving kids, and can be easily implemented into the classroom!
Daily Math Warm-Ups
A quick problem solving activity each morning can really help develop students’ critical thinking skills! Here are a few examples of math warm-ups you can use:
Which One Doesn’t Belong?
In this activity, students are presented with multiple options and must figure out which one doesn’t belong with the group, and why. This game is especially beneficial if there are multiple correct answers!
In the example above, there are several correct answers. C is the only shape that isn’t a quadrilateral. D is the only shape that has no right angles. A could also be correct, since it is the only shape that has no acute angles. So many possibilities!
Setting up an Estimation Station in your classroom is a great way to get students thinking critically. Fill a clear container with small objects, and have students estimate the number inside. As they guess, gradually give them clues to help them figure out the number.
For example, a clue you might give could be “It is an even number.” Allow students to guess again, then give them the next clue. “The number in the tens place is 7.” Continue giving clues like this until students figure it out! This activity helps develop students’ deductive reasoning skills.
The Missing Number Challenge
The Missing Number Challenge, as I like to call it, is another great problem solving activity. In this activity, entire math problems are shown, completely solved. However, some numbers are removed or covered up.
Students then must then figure out the missing numbers by using the numbers they do know. This is exercise in problem solving skills for kids.
Brainteasers and Puzzles
Brainteasers and puzzles are also a great way to help students develop problem solving skills! These types of exercises are specifically designed to stretch your students’ thinking.
My Weekly Math Puzzle Packs are a great option for the lower elementary math classroom. Each weekly pack comes with 5 puzzles: a crossword for math vocabulary, a number sentence search, a math logic puzzle (GREAT for problem solving!), emoji crack-the-code math, and a math maze.
Greg Tang’s Tangy Tuesday puzzle packs are another great option. Brainteasers and puzzles make great math centers, homework, extra credit, or early finisher activities!
STEM challenges are another great activity that help build problem solving skills! STEM design challenges always solve a problem, and problems are often run into during the design process.
Presenting students with a problem and asking them to come up with a solution is a great way to build problem solving skills. STEM challenges are so fun for students, and easy to implement! When I taught third grade, I used to do a STEM challenge almost every Friday.
For tips on implementing STEM challenges in your class, click here.