How to Help Your Children Develop Problem Solving Skills

How to Help Your Children Develop Problem Solving Skills

Put Your Critical Thinking Cap On

“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.” – Roger Lewin Ph.D., British anthropologist and science writer

Kids are inundated with information on a daily basis. So how do they learn to distinguish facts from opinion, fiction and falsehoods?

Teaching kids to think critically is the solution. Good critical thinking skills are necessary to assess information and form logical conclusions. Here are a few ways to help your child develop problem-solving skills and foster critical thinking.


Ask your child questions

When your kid comments on or asks a question about a situation, turn it into an opportunity. Rather than immediately providing a definitive response, ask your child open-ended questions that require thought. For example, respond with, “What would you do to solve this problem?” or “I’d like to hear what you think.”

Once your child answers, ask him or her (in a non-judgemental tone) to defend their answer. “Can you tell me why you think that?” or “What led you to this conclusion?” This provides your child the opportunity to consider how they arrived at their response. The idea is for your child to discover faulty thinking and connect the dots to logical thinking.

Whether or not your kid’s thinking is correct or logical, offer praise for their effort to think the answer through. Then if your child’s reasoning is faulty, gently explain what you believe and why to correct false assumptions or misconceptions.

Use play to foster critical thinking

Play provides lots of learning opportunities. Encourage your kids to strategize when they play games. Have them think through their next move and also consider what their opponent might do. Building with legos or blocks provides another opportunity. Have your child consider how placing one piece will affect the placement of others and, ultimately, the look or functionality of the structure.

Take advantage of everyday tasks

Real-life opportunities to problem solve are an excellent way to hone kids’ critical thinking skills. When your child does chores, let your kid do it their way a few times to try to figure out an efficient way to conquer the task.

If your kid hasn’t figured it out after multiple tries, ask if your child can think of a faster or better way to do it. If necessary, you can offer a tip and ask how that might help.

Encourage outside-the-box thinking

Kids have the innate ability to think outside the box. This is known as divergent thinking. As we grow, however, thought becomes more convergent. A certain degree of convergent thinking is necessary, so we don’t give the same weight to all possibilities. But divergent thinking is still crucial to solving problems.

When a problem arises, ask your child to think of all the possible ways to solve it. Also, have your kid consider and weigh out the pros and cons of each solution to determine which is best.


The following kids’ books teach and demonstrate how to evaluate situations, examine beliefs, and understand the scientific method. Several of these books also contain activities to help kids hone their critical thinking skills.

  • Bringing UFOs Down to Earth” by Philip J. Klass. Grades 4 to 7.

In this fun book, kids learn fascinating facts about UFOs and how reports of sightings are investigated. Kids also learn about the rational and scientific explanations for UFO sightings and stories.

  • How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial” by Darryl Cunningham. Grades 7+.

Cunningham addresses eight hotly debated science topics, including details about research and current thought on each issue. Kids also discover how information is manipulated by people on all sides to suit their views. By the end of each topic, kids are armed to draw logical conclusions.

  • An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments” by Ali Almossawi. Grades 7+.

This beautifully illustrated, handy book introduces readers to multiple faulty arguments. These include ad hominem attacks, the straw man fallacy, slippery slope arguments and more. Throughout the book, the characters commit every possible error in reasoning, thereby providing readers clear examples of logic failures.

  • How Come? Every Kid’s Science Questions Explained” by Kathy Wollard and Debra Solomon. Grades 4 to 6.

Kids discover the answers to more than 200 mysteries and phenomena in this fun-filled book. They find out the secrets to why stones can skip across the water, whether they can stay drier in the rain by running or walking to shelter, among other fascinating facts.

  • Logic to the Rescue: Adventures in Reason” by Kris Langman. Grades 5 to 9.

In this sword-and-sorcery fantasy story, kids learn about logical fallacies. They also learn how to test a hypothesis and set up biology, chemistry and physics experiments.

Flat Earth? Round Earth?” by Theresa Martin.

When a school teacher passes out clay spheres to the class to decorate, one student crushes his sphere arguing the earth is flat. This leads to a trip to the principal’s office where the boy, unwilling to succumb to “common knowledge,” poses several arguments. Then the narrator takes on the challenge to prove the earth is round. Through this book, kids learn the value of questioning and not taking things at face value.

  • Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything” by David White Grades 4+.

In this interactive book, kids grapple with philosophical questions discussed and debated as far back as the ancient Greeks right on through today. “Philosophy for Kids” is filled with fun, exciting activities that teach philosophical concepts.

  • Horoscopes: Reality or Trickery?” by Kimberly Blaker. Grades 4 to 8.

In this book, kids discover the illusory tricks astrologers use to create horoscopes. Kids can do tests to determine the validity of astrology through seven fun activities and real-life experiments. Throughout the book, kids learn about the scientific process and how to make deductions as they sleuth for the truth.

  • How Do You Know It’s True? Discovering the Difference Between Science and Superstition” by Hy Ruchlis. Grades 7 to 10.

Ruchlis examines a variety of superstitions such as astrology and the unlucky number 13. In this book, kids discover the problem with the nature of superstition is that it’s unobservable. They also learn the dangers of magical thinking. By the end, readers walk away with a better understanding of how science works.

  • Sasquatches from Outer Space: Exploring the Weirdest Mysteries Ever” by Tim Yule. Grades 4 to 7.

Most kids are fascinated by the idea of Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs and astrology. This book explores these mysteries and others. It also offers hands-on experiments kids can do to determine whether there’s any truth to these tales.

  • Nibbling on Einstein’s Brain: The Good, the Bad and the Bogus in Science” by Diane Swanson and Francis Blake. Grades 3 to 7.

In this book, kids learn how to tell the difference between good and faulty science. The author encourages critical thinking through a combination of fascinating fictitious scenarios and real-world examples. “Nibbling on Einstein’s Brain” includes fun activities that help kids develop critical thinking skills.

  • The Magic Detectives: Join Them in Solving Strange Mysteries” by Joe Nickell. Grades 4 to 6.

Each of the 30 short stories of paranormal investigations in this book offers clues to help kids uncover the mystery. At the end of each story, kids can flip the book upside down to read the ‘magic detectives’ conclusions. Stories cover such paranormal claims as haunted stairways, the mummy’s curse, poltergeists and more.


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