problem solving 61

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Teaching children to problem solve is an important part of early childhood education. Particularly with students from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is a skill that is underdeveloped due to low social interaction and lack of communication. Educators can provide classroom activities that give younger students the opportunity to practice good problem solving skills through both real-life situations and in dramatic play or make-believe activities.

Dramatic play in early childhood is associated with stronger emotional control and knowledge (Goldstein & Lerner, 2017). Although many kindergarten classrooms used to have dramatic play centers, many have given up on learning centers due to the higher academic expectations placed on younger children. This is unfortunate, since younger children gain knowledge about social interaction through pretend play in small groups. Playing make-believe usually involves children taking on the roles of characters and playing out various scenarios in order to think about social interactions and their meanings. Right and wrong behaviors might be discussed during these interactions, as well as the associated emotions (Goldstein & Lerner, 2018). In our country, early childhood education has shifted toward teaching students mathematics and reading “standards”, rather than giving them time to learn through play. One disadvantage to dramatic play is the time constraint that it places on the teacher’s already packed schedule, as it adds another expectation for daily activities that must be accomplished. Dramatic play also requires the teacher to prepare, and sometimes purchase, supplies and other items necessary for centers. Schools with little resources might not be able to fund such activities.

Another way to teach problem solving to younger children involves students participating in activities in their own communities. An example of such an activity would be a service-learning project. Students can work together to identify a problem or need in their own community and work together to find and accomplish a solution to the problem. Service-learning activities give students the chance to work together to problem solve, with students using their talents and skills to fulfill their own roles in the activity (Obenchain & Morris, 2015). Although service learning activities are beneficial for both students participating in them as well as the communities affected, they can be expensive and difficult to organize. Teachers must plan activities and assist with organization, since young children lack the ability to do so. In the end, though, the benefits to the emotional knowledge of students participating in such an activity are worth the work that must be put into the project.

After researching both types of activities, I believe both have their benefits. However, younger children probably benefit more from dramatic play than older students. Meanwhile, older students gain more from the experience of real-life projects and activities in their communities because they are more emotionally mature and able to understand activities that are taking place.


Goldstein, T.R. & Lerner, M.D. (2017). Dramatic pretend play games uniquely improve emotional control in young children. Developmental Science, 21(4), 1-13.

Obenchain, K.M. & Morris, R.V. (2015). 50 Social Studies Strategies for K-8 Classrooms. Boston: Pearson.

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