Help Me Help Myself


Children who are allowed time to think  for themselves, learn to have faith in their own problem solving abilities.

The bulk of this year, and most years at this age group, we will focus a lot on problem solving, critical thinking, and really building a child’s trust in their own abilities. It was, for a really long time, my favorite part of teaching and why I have been drawn to this age group. I am now reminded of how incredible this journey can be to watch unfold. 


L was coloring with a small blue piece of chalk. She switched to yellow, but decided she didn’t like the way the long piece of chalk felt in her hand and wanted it to be smaller.

L: I want small chalk. Make this smaller. 

Me: You like the smaller chalk better, and want that chalk to be made small.

L: Yes, you do it.

Me: You want me to do it for you. Do you have any ideas of how you could make the chalk smaller?

L: I don’t know. It’s too big. Maybe I could do this (moves hand in sawing motion).

Me: You think you could saw it in half. Using your hand?

L: Yeah. I can try. *Tries running her hand quickly back and forth on the chalk* It didn’t work. I know, I can try….

L trails off, starting to try different ways of making the chalk smaller. Finally she picks up another big piece of chalk and bangs it in the middle of the first piece of chalk. It breaks in half!

L: I did it! I banged the chalk and it broke in half.

Me: You solved your problem on your own!

As other children started to arrive, L would tell them, “I can show you how to break the chalk and make it small.” She was so proud, and I noticed the rest of the day she was more willing to try and solve a problem on her own before asking for teacher assistance.


Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. – Roger Lewin

While setting up provocations in the morning I have been strategically planning for possible problem solving. For instance instead of putting out an entire basket of tape and an abundance of scissors, placing 2-3 rolls of tape and 3 or 4 scissors. This allows for a possible conflict to occur that isn’t super personal to the children, that they can work out in a safe environment. It opens up dialogue between children and adults about taking turns, sharing (and that sharing is not required), and problem solving . It also allows me to observe children and see where they all are developmentally so I know how to best support them.


R wanted to use the tape to make a bridge from one wall to another. He had already done so twice, but both times it was too low and getting knocked down by peers. He handed the tape to me and said, “You have to do it – make it taller.”

I handed the tape back to R and replied, “You want the tape to be taller. If it is too tall for you to teach, maybe you have to find a way to make yourself taller.”

R ran to find a block and brought it back exclaiming with the biggest smile on his face, “I can stand on this and I will be taller and the bridge will be taller!”


R, M, and J all worked in one spot – each making their own type of bridge with tape. They had different ideas of what they should look like, how high they should be, and how long they should be up before getting cut in half. For a good hour they worked together, talking through their ideas, sharing their opinions, compromising, and helping each other accomplish their goals. R told M about using a block to be taller; M told J how to place the tape roll on the easel to hold it in place. Finally I was no longer needed and was able to stand back and observe. 


Meanwhile, P and K were using tape to create a door on our house. L and N stood outside, immediately assuming the door was being made solely to keep them out. N walked over to me and claimed it just was not fair and they HAD to be allowed in. I asked them if they had talked to P and K about the door and they told me they had not. L said to N, “Come, let’s go talk to them.” Once they asked about the door, K said, “You can come in, just crawl under the tape and don’t knock it down.”


This time of the year facilitating conflicts is in intricate dance, one in which the steps always change and you have to stay on your toes and be ready for a swift step in a different direction. I don’t think there is ever an easy or go-to way to know when and how to pull back on being an active facilitator. It is more complicated than simply staying out of problems and leaving room for them to solve them on their own, or always being there to help them through each step of a problem. It is a long, detailed, complicated journey that I am excited to  go on once again.

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