getting started homeschooling, homeschooling

Encouraging Problem Solving in Our Children

In this world of fast food, video games and the Internet, researchers are finding a significant lack of problem solvers in the up-and-coming generation.

Why is that?

According to some research I recently read, it is thought to be because problem solving requires independent thinking, without a fast fix.

Children today are not often offered situations in which to develop these oh-so-necessary qualities in our fast paced, give-it-to-me-now society.

Yet critical thinking is relevant to most –if not all– employment opportunities. 

Our heater was replaced this last week, and the owner came out before hand to give us a bid. He told me that his employees would be installing the heater, because he (the owner) had returned to service calls.

None of his five employees had the ability to diagnose a problem in a heating system in order fix it. They were hard workers; they simply lacked the problem-solving skills.

So, how do we encourage this skill in a our children?

Give them something they have to figure out.

Not an assignment for school

Not an intellectual or theoretical problem.

The researchers had a suggestion:

Give them something to do with their hands, and let them at it.

This was fresh on my mind when the heater technicians began hauling their empty boxes back to their service truck.

There was one empty box that was large enough in which to fit a grown man.

“Hey, what do you do with those boxes?”

“We recycle them –do you want one?”


I sent my two boys at it with scissors and permanent markers.

Within an hour, they had a “Top Secret Military Base.” It has been a source of entertainment now for about three days.

I think the interest is waning, and now it’s taking up a fair amount of room in my living room. But, we will see how long it lasts.

I was pleasantly surprised as I watched my boys work. I could see the gears turning in their little brains as they worked on the problem solving… simple things like where to put a door and what to do with a permanent maker when you have lost the lid (you put it in a Ziploc bag until you locate the cap).

I guess Grandpa had it figured out back when I was a child. We lived near my grandparent’s house and were a nearly-permanent fixture in their home. I don’t think they minded much.

Grandpa would give us a hammer, a screwdriver, and some nails and push us in the general direction of the scrap wood pile.

I can recall turning a 12 inch-long 4×4 into a school bus complete with windows and doors, using only a screwdriver as a chisel.

Grandma’s house didn’t have any toys in the traditional sense, but we were never short on things to do.

If you asked Grandpa about it, he’d probably just say “At least it keeps ’em outta trouble.”

Today, giving a hammer and nails to an 7-year-old could raise some eyebrows!

I mean, they could get hurt.

Ahh, yes, but they could also learn something.

Did I get hurt?

Yes, probably the first few times I missed with the hammer.

But the hammer is a good schoolmaster: I didn’t miss for long!

Christmas morning my eldest will find a box of nails and a hammer among the treasures in his stocking.  

And, I think we have some scrap wood leftover from a recent project in the back yard.

This is life learning. Life-long skills. 


Sarah Forbes

(Edited from an article written December 2010 when my children were ages 4 and 7.)


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