Effective Practice Guides

Reasoning and Problem-Solving: Know

Goals for Infants and Toddlers

  • IT-C 6. Child learns to use a variety of strategies in solving problems.
  • IT-C 7. Child uses reasoning and planning ahead to solve problems.

Teaching Practices


Let children know that their problem-solving attempts and successes are valued.
Derek and Pedro, both 12 months old, crawl through a box tunnel during a group socialization session. Each boy has several turns, then Derek decides to crawl back inside the tunnel from the tunnel’s exit. But, Pedro is still in the box. He quickly crawls backwards and comes out the other side, followed by front-facing Derek. Pedro looks to his abuela, eyes opened wide. Home visitor Mrs. Torres prompts Pedro’s abuela, “Mira la expresión de Pedro. ¡Creo que se está preguntando qué acaba de suceder (Look at Pedro’s expression. I think he’s wondering what just happened!)!” Pedro’s abuela says, “Pedro, Derek te sorprendió. Pero, tuviste una buena idea para retroceder (Pedro, Derek surprised you. But, you had a good idea to go backward.).”

Make comments and ask questions that help children predict, explain, and reason about their world and the people in it.
Wendy, 32 months, is experimenting with a cardboard tube, small balls, and other objects. She holds the tube upright and pops a ball inside. She tips the tube a bit and out comes the ball. Next, she puts a plastic monkey inside. It fits in the opening but doesn’t come out the other end. Wendy looks inside the tube. Ms. Darcy asks, “What do you think happened to the monkey?” “Stuck,” says Wendy. “The monkey is stuck?” continues Ms. Darcy. “How can you get the monkey out?”


Offer new materials that offer challenges without causing frustration.
During a home visit, home visitor Ms. Barnes asks Ms. Esteban what new things her son, 10-month-old Leon, is doing. “Leon used to have a lot of fun banging on pots," explains Ms. Esteban, "but lately, he seems to have lost interest.” “That’s an important observation,” says Ms. Barnes. “How have you used what you learned?” “I gave him measuring cups to use instead and he really likes them. Yesterday, I saw him fit one inside another and then he added a third.”

Provide materials children need to be successful, like child-size tools or a magnifying glass with a large lens and a sturdy handle. 
The toddlers have been very interested in the insects they find on the playground, but they are having trouble seeing them up close. Ms. O’Meara suggests bringing magnifying glasses outside so they can investigate. She shows the children how to hold the magnifying glass by the handle and says, “Hold it above the roly-poly bug, then move it further away. What happens when you move the lens?” She reinforces her use of the tool to solve the problem by summarizing, “The magnifying glass helps us see very small objects up close!”


Give a child plenty of time to solve a problem independently before stepping in to offer suggestions.
Corey, 28 months old, has a spoon and a fork on his placemat. Lunch today is peas, macaroni and cheese, and applesauce. He digs his fork into the macaroni and lifts it to his mouth. Next, he uses the same strategy with the peas. All but one pea falls off the fork. He tries again with the same result. Now he uses his hand to place peas on the fork. This method is a little better, but the peas keep rolling off. Then he picks up the spoon and scoops up some peas. Ms. Jones, who has been watching, comments, “Good thinking, Corey. The spoon works well for eating peas.” 

Observe and recognize when a child is frustrated and needs adult assistance to solve a problem.
Zara, 14 months, is playing with the shape sorter box. She pops the round block in the round hole with ease, then does the same with the cube. Next, she picks up the octagon and places it next to the octagon slot, but can’t make it fit. She looks at it, tries a few more times, then tosses it aside. Ms. Chisolm, who has been watching Zara, decides to step in and help her. She says, “You tried so hard to get that octagon in. Can we do it together?”

Goals for Preschoolers

  • P-SCI 4. Child asks a question, gathers information, and makes predictions.
  • P-SCI 5. Child plans and conducts investigations and experiments.
  • P-SCI 6. Child analyzes results, draws conclusions, and communicates results.

Teaching Practices


Teach children how to use the scientific method to answer their own questions. 
The 4- and 5-year-olds have been creating ramps and pathways for the toy cars all week. Karla says, “Javier’s car always goes fastest. How can I make my car go as fast as his?” Ms. Thomas says, “You can use the scientific method to answer your question. You already observed how fast Javier’s car goes down the ramp and compared it to the speed of your car. Next, you asked a question, and now it is time for the hypothesis. Why do you think Javier’s car goes faster than yours? When you have your hypothesis, then you can plan and conduct an experiment to see if your hypothesis is correct.”

Comment and ask questions that encourage children’s thinking and learning. 
Outside on the playground, several 3-year-olds have become fascinated by their shadows. On cloudy days, they wonder where their shadows have gone and on sunny days are thrilled to see they are back. Mr. Kent says, “Try jumping up and down. What happens to your shadow?” The children try this and Norah says, “My shadow jumped, too.” Next, Mr. Kent suggests they wiggle their bodies to see what happens to their shadows.” Later, he says to his colleague, Ms. Anderson, “The children are very interested in their shadows. I think we should plan a study so they can learn more.”


Provide the materials needed to conduct investigations and experiments.
Teresa, age 4½, looks at an avocado pit rooting in water and asks, “Why do avocado pits have to go in water? Why can’t we just plant them in dirt?” Ms. Grant, her teacher, responds, “That is an interesting question. I wonder what would happen if you planted an avocado pit right in the dirt. Next time we eat an avocado, we can save the pit. You can plant it in our class garden and watch what happens.”

Provide the materials needed to document and communicate results to others.
At a morning meeting, Ms. Ferraro demonstrates how to use a to document findings. “I wanted to know what fruit the children prefer. This is called a T-chart because the lines on it look like a T. Here is a picture of a kiwi and here is a picture of a mango. After you taste each fruit, write your name under the fruit you like the best. Later, we can count the names to see which fruit is the class favorite. You might want to make your own T-charts. You’ll find paper and pencils in the science area.”


Accept a child’s thinking whether it is accurate or not while also scaffolding the child to a deeper or more accurate understanding.
While walking to the park after a rainy day, family child care provider, Ms. Baker, and the children see some big puddles on the grass. She asks, “Where do you think those puddles came from?” “I know,” answers 4½-year-old Vivienne. “They came from under the ground. The water just bubbles up.” “That’s an interesting idea, Vivienne,” responds Ms. Baker. “I can see why you would think that because some bodies of water, like ponds or lakes, are fed from water sources under the ground. Sometimes smaller pools of water, like these puddles, are formed for only a short amount of time, and are the result of so much rain coming from the sky that the ground can’t hold it all. Kind of like when you used a sponge yesterday to clean up the spilled water pitcher. Remember that your sponge would not hold all of that water? Once it was saturated, or filled up with water, it left a pool of water behind. The earth’s soil is the same way—it can’t always hold all of the water that a rainstorm produces.

Observe and build on a child’s reasoning and problem-solving skills.
During a group socialization session, preschooler Zane is playing at the water table with funnels, small pitchers, and a water wheel. He says to his mother, Ms. Shea, “If I pour the water right into the water wheel it turns really fast. If I pour it through the funnel, it doesn’t go as fast.” Ms. Warren, a home visitor, overhears Zane’s observation. She says to Ms. Shea, “Zane is a good observer. He’s learning a lot through water play. Your interest in his ideas is so important for building on what he knows.” His mother says, “I’m going to join him. Maybe we can figure out how fast and how slow he can make the water wheel turn.”

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 5, 2018