How problem solving skills can be effectively embedded in early learning today?

How to teach concepts to preschoolers

By Michael Hilkemeijer


In this 3 hour teaching resource workshop, I address the educational theories supporting problem solving activities for preschoolers with digital technologies. You can access it here as a stand-alone early childhood education resource or become a member of the ICT in Education Teacher Academy. Read on to learn more about it today.


3 hour teaching resources come with a certificate of completion and this early childhood education resource is aligned with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.


This article will help you to:

  • Determine what is problem solving in early childhood education?
  • The importance of problem solving in early childhood.
  • Identify examples of problem solving skills for preschoolers
  • Understand how problem solving skills develop.
  • Apply and adapt preschool problem solving activities with digital technology.


Later, there is further reading about:

  • Developing problem solving skills in students
  • Curriculum related problem solving activities for primary students.


Problem solving activities for preschoolers

Problem Solving in Child Learning and Development

The development of problem solving skills is an essential aspect of learning and development in early childhood education.


What is Problem Solving in ECE?

It is important to know exactly ‘what is problem solving in early childhood education?


It is about a young child being given the opportunity to think creatively, to think through possibilities, reasoning through potential pathways, and using logic to address complex problems or questions.


The experience that young children will gain from safe problem-solving situations will help produce future citizens who will be aware of the importance of information management in the public’s sphere, reliable and adequate information that will facilitate sound discussion.


The integration of ICT in early childhood education has the potential to enhance educational opportunities for young children as it can be applied in a developmentally appropriate manner to encourage purposeful and exploratory play such as problem-solving in a play-centred and responsive early learning environment.


I will delve into this further later.



Why are Problem Solving skills needed?

It would be difficult for adults to learn and develop problem solving skills. While you may be able to improve a skill at any age, the majority of learning occurs during early learning.


Early childhood education is the best time for a child to learn to problem solve in manner that is fun to them. The benefits that they will receive will last for a lifetime.


The importance of problem solving in early childhood learning also lies in the fact that one crucial aspect of problem solving is being able to identify a problem at its early stage so that you can prevent it from escalating into something more serious.


Additionally, when a child builds the foundation for problem-solving skills through establishing relationships, active exploration, and social interaction they are playing a vital role in developing their cognitive capabilities. This, in turn, encourages young children to be more creative as it allows them to view situations from different perspectives.


Another reason why problem solving is important is because not all the problems are the same and so they all require a different solution, and each has an associated function and purpose.


Children face two different categories of problems: physical and social.


Physical problems include situations that could be do with getting food when they are hungry whereas social problems involve conflicts with friends or siblings. It could also involve understanding how to respond if one of your parents is upset. Through understanding these different types of problems or conflicts children begin to understand which type of problem-solving will work best depending on the context.


In the end, this entire process of problem solving in early childhood education exercises their imaginations, creativity, and critical thinking and logic in order to address a difficult situation.


In the following sections, I will discuss how integrating digital technology in early childhood education can help your children thrive with problem solving strategies.



Digital technology in early childhood education

What are Problem Solving skills?

These are the skills that every child needs to survive in this world. When integrating digital technology in early childhood education many of the following examples of problem solving skills for preschoolers can be enhanced and supported. They include:

  • Lateral thinking – nurtures a child’s ability to break free from rigid thought patterns to challenge assumptions, and to consider multiple perspectives.
  • Creativity – this is about discovering the new and making new connections. Children know best when they are being creative. In the end, creativity is about process and when it relates to digital technology it is not a question about how much technology you use but of using the technology you choose skilfully and imaginatively.
  • Analytical thinking -
  • Decision-making
  • Initiative
  • Logical reasoning
  • Persistence
  • Communication skills
  • Negotiation skills


To narrow it down a bit more you could say the five problem solving skills in preschool are:

  • The ability to define a problem – many people try to solve a problem before taking the time to understand the problem. Those who can’t solve problems end up wasting their time and effort and even get frustrated. That is why it is critical to help develop problem solving skills in preschoolers.
  • The ability to evaluate possible solutions – the next step is to evaluate each solution to your problem which is why it is important to make a list of possible solutions.
  • The ability to select the best solution – the next step is to select the best solution which will give you confident to solve the problem at hand.
  • The ability to implement the solution – children will need to put in some effort to plan if the solution is to work. If the solution is not implemented properly, the problem will likely persist.


Problem solving and critical thinking are among the most significant skills young children can learn. It is a complex intellectual process involving the coordination of a range of demanding and interrelated skills. They provide children with the foundations for decision-making, logical reasoning, categorising, analytical thinking, negotiation and creativity.


The skills that they will learn include:

  • Understanding and representing the problem (including identifying what kinds of information are relevant to its solution);
  • Gathering and organising relevant information;
  • Constructing and managing a plan of action, or a strategy;
  • Using various problem-solving tools;
  • Reasoning, hypothesis testing and decision making.

(Siraj-Blatchford & Whitebread, 2009, p. 69)


These are the key problem solving skills in preschoolers and you might find that problem solving might take place when:

  • Resolving a fight over the same toy.
  • Reaching a ball that’s stuck in a tree.
  • Forming a circle while holding hands.
  • Making a bridge to connect two block towers.
  • Tying or untying a shoe.
  • Making up rules for a new game.



It is imperative, therefore, that you provide young children with a caring environment that is rich in appropriately challenging activities that enables them to develop their problem-solving skills and higher order thinking skills.



Problem solving activities preschool


How to develop problem solving in Early Childhood Education?

The development of problem solving skills in early childhood education is crucial if these skills are to carry through a child’s life in an effective way that will enable them to make the right decisions for themselves and others.

It is important that as an early childhood practitioner that you follow these steps when problem solving with digital technology in early childhood education.


Building problem-solving skills is a foundational duty of parents and early childhood educators. Seven ways in which you can develop problem-solving skills in early childhood education include:

  1. Use everyday moments – when it comes to problem-solving in early childhood education there is no textbooks. Encourage problem-solving skills through ongoing interactions with children throughout the day and talk children through the thought process.
  2. Ask open-ended questions – asking questions is a powerful way to foster both problem-solving and creativity in young children. Promote more learning by allowing young children to think through the question.
  3. Centre emotions – problem-solving involves emotions and so by providing the words needed to convey those feelings, a child learns what that feeling feels like and can vocabulary in the future to solve a conflict
  4. Read books and tell stories – research has indicated that not having to deal with a problem that’s happening in the moment is a good way to practice problem-solving. As parents and early childhood educators, you can make your own social stories using pictures of the specific child and their environment. Social stories can be very helpful for children with anxiety about certain activities or routines, as well as with children with disabilities.
  5. Take advantage of natural curiosities and interests – another approach is in the discovery of something they are authentically interested in learning about.
  6. Model problem-solving – at this young age, preschoolers will learn a lot just by observing your behaviour as parents and early childhood teachers. Ensure that you allow time for mistakes, meltdowns and for celebration.
  7. Look to the child for the solution – as within any context, young children may find difficulties in some task or the problem situation itself, the use of the software, or the application of the software to the problem. Therefore, young children must find and overcome, difficulties for learning to occur.







Problem solving in early childhood education

Problem Solving and Playful uses of Digital Technology

Used effectively digital technology in early childhood education can help make an important contribution towards developing young children’s thinking as it can nourish their creativity, confidence as thinkers and learners, and support and enhance problem solving skills in early childhood education.


Digital technology can be applied in a developmentally appropriate manner to encourage purposeful exploratory way. However, if this is to occur then early childhood practitioners need to be well trained and skilled in the integration of digital technology in early childhood education.


When integrating digital technology in early childhood learning environments it is important to adhere to the guiding principles of DATEC (Developmentally Appropriate Technology in Early Childhood). One of these principles highlights the benefits of ICT for problem-solving development: ‘ICT must encourage collaboration’


Today, many of the practices that you apply to promote problem-solving and thinking critically resonate with aspects developed later in relation to computational thinking. Additional skills are learned through these approaches such as:

  • Tinkering.
  • Creating.
  • Debugging (fixing mistakes).
  • Persevering and;
  • Collaborating.


Given these skills, many of them can be developed in meaningful ways if you effectively integrate digital technology in early childhood education. Good activities for problem solving for preschoolers can be integrated with ICT in key learning areas such as mathematics, creative arts, and science.


Problem solving activities for preschool help children to recognise which information is important, given a wide range of choices. It will help them to plan and work under time pressure as well as being able to make mistakes in a safe environment.


The challenge then for you as the early childhood practitioner is to integrate technologies into your curriculum and planning to maximise the benefits of digital technology in early childhood education.


You need to plan problem solving strategies for preschoolers that involve the use of these developmentally appropriate technologies and develop a learning environment that facilitates and empowers children to make decisions and when it is appropriate to select and use technologies available to support and enhance their learning.



Metacognitive Learning and Problem solving with ICT in Early learning environments

The above problem solving skills for preschoolers are to do with the selection, implementation, monitoring, control and evaluation of ICT techniques and processes, and are metacognitive in nature.


This is the term given to individuals who have the knowledge and control of their own cognitive systems. In relation to integration of digital technology in early childhood education this concept includes both:

  1. the awareness that individuals have of their own knowledge of ICT techniques and processes, the opportunities and limitations offered by the possible use of those ICT techniques and processes, their beliefs about themselves as learners and the nature of ICT, and;
  2. their ability to regulate their own actions in the application of that knowledge.

(Kennewell, 2000, p.45)



‘Knowing what you know’ when problem-solving with digital technology in early childhood education is about the knowledge and beliefs that children may have about their own cognitive abilities in a situation, how well they are likely to perform in that situation, the ICT techniques and processes they might be able to use and the nature of the situation itself (Kennewell, 2000).


This is significant with your role in supporting the development of ICT capabilities in early learning environments as it builds on children’s skills, as they have to be able to make realistic assessments about what they can learn. Additionally, it supports their ability to solve problems as they are dependent on metacognitive knowledge, as “problem-solving calls for using efficiently what you know; if you don’t have a sense of what you know, you may find it difficult to be an efficient problem solver” (Schoenfeld, 1987, p. 190 in Kennewell, 2000, p. 47).


Problem solving in early childhood education is about developing decision-making skills and so the issue that you need to remember is that it is not whether children know and ICT technique or process, it is whether they know that they know and are thus able to decide to use it.


The other aspect of metacognition that will occur when you implement key preschool problem solving activities is determining how children feel about using ICT techniques or processes: do they feel positive about using an ICT process? If so, then they are more likely to choose to use it.


It is important to remember that just because children may have knowledge of processes and ICT techniques it does not mean that they will be successful in their application of ICT to problem situations. They must also choose to use that knowledge, to monitor progress being made, and to evaluate the solution gained.


The effective use of digital technology in early childhood education demands such higher order thinking skills as:

  • Recognising when the use of digital technology might be appropriate or effective.
  • Planning how ICT resources, ICT techniques and processes are to be used in a task.
  • Conjecturing, discussing and testing the strategies to be used.
  • Monitoring the progress of problem-solving activities.
  • Making and testing hypotheses.



Supporting ICT capability in ECE

Problem solving, therefore, is at the heart of developing ICT capability as an ICT capable child is not someone who merely has a secure knowledge and understanding of a wide range of ICT skills in key early learning activities but have the disposition to construct ICT solutions to problems which are appropriate to the context and are based on the knowledge of the opportunities and limitations offered by the digital technology available.


A child’s choice of an effective strategy for a problem is dependent on the knowledge that has been acquired and on their awareness of that knowledge and the realisation that its use would be appropriate.


These children must develop an awareness of the power and limitations of software and hardware systems together with a predilection to seek solutions to situations with digital technology in early childhood education.


Developing ICT capabilities in early learning environments in knowledge and understanding in ICT, therefore, takes a form that is different from progression in other subjects of the early learning curriculum, as it demands an authentic context and a far higher level of child autonomy and problem solving skills in early childhood education.



Problem solving preschool activities

What digital technology is best for Problem Solving?

As the availability of digital technology is different to everyone it is best to give you the expertise that you need in order to make the decisions.


Problem solving in early childhood education with digital technology depends on whether the children are in control of the technology. This is a key aspect of ICT capability development and your choice of technology needs to take into account whether there is a high level of decision-making by the children in its use.


Examples of problem-solving activities in early childhood would include the integration of content-free software that would ensure that they would intellectually challenged.


Evaluating content-free software for the potential educational use will be important and the following questions need to be addressed:

  • What features does the software provide which might be used to extend children’s learning?
  • How easy are these features to use?
  • Will the children need to be instructed in their use before or during their use of the software?
  • What is the educational purpose underlying the child’s use of the software?

(Bennett, 1997, p. 21 as in Kennewell, 2000, p. 105).


Problem solving ICT resources are excellent for engaging young children in higher order thinking skills because instead of requiring the child to simply remember how to apply knowledge in contexts they require children to make connections or develop strategies.


Here are some examples.


Problem solving activities for preschoolers

Programmable toys

Programmable toys in early childhood education are a fantastic way to enhance preschool problem solving activities. They enhance learning outcomes and promote motivation, engagement and problem solving.


These types of digital technologies brings with them problem solving through programming and so it possible to truly appreciate the usefulness of heuristic approaches to a solution.


The vocabulary used in programming and the necessity to openly discuss the process of problem solving in early childhood education gives children an awareness of the process of problem solving.


Additionally, through this type of reflection by the young children they will gain strength to control the programmable object which are necessary in the selection between alternative routes to the solution, and in the reviewing of ICT resources necessary for problem solving.


This awareness has previously been discussed in another section of this article and is to do with metacognitive processes.


Programmable toys encourage open-ended learning and exploration along with problem solving. However, it is very important for you to remember the importance of the learning context coupled by you as the educator to provide effective interventions to promote motivation and to move learning forward.



Interactive Stories

Today, there is so much evidence that points to the strong features of this type of digital technology in early childhood education. Interactive stories, like computer games, have three features that make it ideal for problem solving activities for preschoolers.

  1. They are set within a powerful story context to engage the interests of young children and to inspire their imagination.
  2. Their most common feature is that they all come with alternatives and for the opportunity for young children to make decisions. Thus, making them intrinsically playful and puts them in full control of the digital technology.
  3. Computer games and interactive stories vividly illustrate to children, direct ways the nature of cause and effect.




Problem solving activities for preschool

Adventure Games

Computer adventure games can provide a playful experience for children to develop their confidence as learners and also opportunities for them to work. They focus on puzzle solving within a narrative framework and support children’s emergent skills as thinkers by allowing them to identify what is useful and what is not in solving a problem.


The best examples of problem solving with technology demand some level of engagement in logical thought and this therefore, provides sufficient cognitive challenges for young children to engage in episodes of sustained shared thinking.


According to Morgan and Siraj-Blatchford (2007, p. 5) sustained shared thinking is “an effective pedagogic interaction, where two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem.” Here is an example to approach SST when integrating digital technology in early childhood education:


  • Tuning in: listening carefully to what is being said, observing the child’s body language and what they are doing.
  • Showing genuine interest: giving their whole attention to the child, maintaining eye contact, affirming, smiling, nodding.
  • Respecting the children’s own decisions and choices by inviting children to elaborate: saying things like ‘I really want to know more about this’ and listening and engaging in the response.
  • Re-capping: ‘So you think that … ’
  • Offering the adult’s own experience: ‘I like to listen to music when I cook supper at home.’
  • Clarifying ideas: ‘Right, Wayne, so you think that if we emptied the paintpot into this image it will escape through the gap?’
  • Suggesting: ‘You might like to try doing it this way.’
  • Reminding: ‘Don’t forget that you said that the paint would spill out of the shape if there was a gap in the line.’ Using encouragement to further thinking: ‘You have really thought hard about where to put this door in the palace – where will you put the windows?’
  • Offering an alternative viewpoint: ‘What if the Big Bad Wolf was clever and he escaped because he could feel the heat of the fire coming up the chimney?’
  • Speculating: ‘What kind of house would you design to trick even the cleverest wolf?’
  • Reciprocating: ‘Thank goodness you saved your picture before the power went off Julie. I wasn’t so careful the other day and I lost all of the reports that I had typed!’
  • Asking open-ended questions: ‘What do you think?’
  • Modelling thinking: ‘I have to think hard about how to use this ICT technique.’
  • Using positive questioning: ‘I don’t know, what do you think.”

(Morgan & Siraj-Blatchford, 2007, p.17)



What do you need to avoid?

Problem solving activities for preschoolers need to avoid these three things:

  1. Action-type games which do not provide the opportunity for problem solving, creativity and collaboration
  2. Games which promote gender bias
  3. Games which contain excessive violence





problem solving activities preschool

About this ECE Resource

3 hour teaching resources are available as a member of the ICT in Education Teacher Academy and are suitable for early childhood professionals.


They come included with key educational theories such as what you have learned from this article and are embedded with preschool problem solving activities that can also be adapted and applied in other early childhood learning environments such as in kindergarten or early primary school.


Our activities for problem solving for preschoolers will support the development of ICT capability as it will facilitate metacognitive skills and knowledge.


To download your sample of our problem solving preschool activities with digital technology in early childhood education, click the image below now.


problem solving preschool activities



Moving Forward to Primary Education

When early childhood educators embed key problem solving strategies in their practice throughout the curriculum they are setting young children up to progress throughout the primary curriculum. This is especially important since the primary curriculum specifically focuses on the development of ICT capability.


In this section, I will discuss developing problem skills in students with the integration of ICT. ICT should never be viewed in isolation as it influences and is influenced by key skills such as working with others and problem solving.


The integration of ICT throughout the curriculum is supposed to encourage critical thinking, imagination and creativity, and problem solving. This is most likely to occur in the central part of the lesson as it is here which lends itself most readily to the integration of appropriate ICT.



Activities for Primary Students

What software is suitable for problem solving activities for primary students? This is a key issue that many primary teachers face.


Is it one that you are familiar with?


The availability of digital technologies is different for everyone and so while some teachers may work in an environment that can provide access to many it is best to always remember that it often the simplest of technologies that work best.


Each of the following technologies discussed below will help you to equip students with the capabilities in ICT with key problem solving activities for primary students.


Data-handling and Mathematics

Spreadsheets, whichever one you use, whether it may be MS Excel or something else can be used to generate arithmetic and geometric sequences rapidly. You could print these to use away from the computer. However, a range of problem solving activities can be supported this way. Here is one example.


Using a hundred square, colour in all the cells containing 7s. What do you notice? Now colour all those cells with numbers ending in 3. What do you notice?



Graphics software

If you have any kind of drawing and painting software this could be used for problem solving. However, as a primary teacher you need to be a confident user of primary graphics software in order to facilitate children’s learning. This does not mean that you have to know the answer to every technical question, but you do need to have a working knowledge of the software so that you can plan, support and assess appropriate activities.


You will need to have strategies in place to support the children in their discovery of the software, as well as to assist with problem solving.


When integrating ICT effectively in the primary curriculum you can use it present problems in different ways to primary students. For example, the combination of adding a video, text and websites can up new potential for presenting investigations. What about using the IWB to present a maths problem/investigation.



Problem solving strategies for preschoolers

Problem Solving with ICT in Early Childhood Education (Online Academy workshop)

In this 3 hour teaching resource for early childhood practitioners, you will learn how to support and enhance problem solving skills in early childhood learning environments with ICT by adapting and embedding plans in meaningful contexts that are supported by key theories that will ensure learning and development occurs.


  • Understand what is problem solving in early childhood education

  • Learn from examples of problem solving skills for preschoolers – a case study look at the EYLF.

  • Use digital technologies to investigate and problem solve.

  • Select and introduce appropriate tools, technologies and media and provide the skills, knowledge and techniques to enhance children’s learning.

  • Implement problem solving strategies for preschoolers

  • Provide opportunities for children to both construct and take apart materials as a strategy for learning.

  • Introduce questions and adopt active listening approaches to prompt problem solving and creative solutions.

  • Apply and adapt lesson plans and activities for problem solving for preschoolers.


This online workshop for ECE is aligned with the APST 2.6.2, 3.3.2 and 3.4.2 towards maintaining a Proficiency standard.