Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Neighborhood Navigations - Build It: Problem Solving Skills

Build It, along with the six other DCM neighborhoods, provides children with multiple opportunities to practice creating, imagining, experimenting and exploring—all components of play. These components nurture children’s investigations of “cause and effect” and afford important opportunities for trial and error problem-solving. However, it is adult interaction that can build a child’s confidence in his or her problem-solving, and often that can be more important than skill (Thornton, Children Solving Problems, 1995).

Problem-solving skills help us determine goals and plan how to achieve them. Open-ended play experiences provide children with multiple opportunities to experiment, explore and manipulate objects and materials in different ways as they work towards a specific goal.

Imagine a toddler attempting to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Through trial and error, he may search for alternative means of achieving his goal. If he has had previous experience with this toy, he might know to try a different hole right away or may remember to look for the hole that is similar to the shape of the peg. However, a younger toddler or one with less experience might become frustrated or hand the hammer to an adult as if to say, “Show me what to do.”

Similarly, problem-solving skills can also affect a child’s ability to relate to his or her peers.

A child might want to help his peers build a tower but is unsure of how to join the group. Depending on previous experience, he might try a few different ways to engage with his peers before finding success. (He may bring over more blocks, verbally ask to join or he may even knock over the tower they are building.) A younger or less-experienced child may look to an adult for reassurance or encouragement before taking these steps.

A child’s motivation to continue problem-solving often comes from his success and the adult’s encouragement and reinforcement of the accomplishment. A great way to build a child’s confidence and encourage and reinforce problem-solving is to ask open-ended questions such as:

-What would happen if you tried…?
-What else could you do with the...?
-What are some other ways you can do that?

In the Build It neighborhood and its three main interactive exhibits: Moser Construction House, Build It Big and Toddler Tool Area, children have multiple opportunities to experiment and investigate cause and effect, and practice problem-solving skills. Find more ways to support children’s play throughout the museum by clicking here.

Stay Tuned!
Our next post will focus specifically on the Moser Construction House and Toddler Tool Area exhibits. We will discuss how to follow a child’s lead and provide appropriate support as he builds, creates and develops a better understanding of concepts related to math, science and the arts.

Don’t Forget:
The new Math Connections neighborhood is here! On March 10, 2008 we celebrated the re-opening of this neighborhood. Please join us in exploring the new exhibits and the many unique opportunities they provide children to connect to math concepts.

Just for Grown-Ups: Looking at Children With New Eyes
Thanks to all that joined us for this workshop presented by Jennifer Rosinia, Occupational Therapist and Child Development Specialist. We look forward to having Jennifer back and hearing “part two” of this workshop.


  1. Hello. I'm Tim from the Childrens Museum in Easton, MA and I have my own blog at I was just dropping a line to a fellow children's museum blogger. Your entries and parenting advice are great. I have a question, though: is their one author, several, dozens? Thanks

  2. Hi Tim!

    Thanks for the compliment and the question! As Parent Support Coordinator, one of my responsibilities is to work collaboratively with members of our Department of Exhibits and Programs to create, then post the DCM blog posts for parents, caregivers, teachers, and museum professionals. Our team, including the Director of Exhibits and Programs and Early Childhood Specialist, work together to brainstorm ideas, write and review content.

  3. Thank you for your response! It seems blogs are becoming more popular for Childrens Museums. I received a call from a museum in Atlanta thinking about doing one.

  4. After pioneering the field with the DCM blog, it is exciting to see others joining in the fun!

    If you haven’t seen these articles already, you might find these recent pieces interesting:

    “Children’s Museums and Web 2.0”

    “Institutional Blogs: Different Voices, Different Values”

    Both of these articles provide lots of information regarding children’s museum’s and other’s use of technology to deliver information to the field and visitors.