What do you do with a Problem?

What do you do with a Problem?

A while back, we wondered how posing problems for the children to solve would reveal for us the children’s developing understanding of themselves and each other.  How could solving problems show us the kernels of empathy taking root?

Reading the story What do you do with a problem? we listened…

“You play with it!” -Luca
“(You) save it.” -Case
Keep it in your mind.” -Travers
Blow it out of your mind so it’s not there anymore!” -Rosalie
Solve it!” -Ian
“Blow it out.  Out of my mind!” -Travers
“I just shake my head to get it out.” -Wes
“I sweep it out of my head!” -Miles
“I sleep it out!  It’s out of my head!” -Caroline

You might remember, we began with trying to solve the problem of protecting a family of chipmunks we discovered at Owl Tree. Embracing this issue, we posed problems to the children plucked from experiences we witnessed happening in the studio.

Our next problem asked, 

You arrive to school and kids are playing.  You want to play too.  What do you do?

"Maybe...I would think maybe I would start playing first and then you would go wash your hands and then you could play some more." -Miles
"We play on the table. I'm gonna draw a kid sitting down in a chair and someone wants to play. And then someone wants to sit there and no ones there. They wanted to play. She wouldn't let her play. She then lets her play there." -Addie
"I walk over closer to them and I would say 'Can I play with you?'" -Ruthie

Another problem posed,

Three friends want to be together, but they pick a spot where there’s only room for two.  How could they solve this problem?

(framing the problem to label the children as his friends, Travers and Louis) "Argue! (How will arguing solve your problem?) I know who exactly wins. Travers and Louis...and I play somewhere else!" -Tait
"You could put a 3 (3rd) stool!" -Caroline
"First they're thinking and then they can go somewhere else. These are the people...This is the bench...These are the feathers...This is the stool." -Case

A common problem we witness is sharing.  So, next we asked…

Two children are happily playing in blocks.  You decide to play in blocks and there’s room, but the other two children are using all the animals.  You want some animals to play with too.  What are some different ways we could solve this problem?

Bringing this issue to the children, they were quick to catch on to this new routine.

“I know this problem!  Addie and I wanted the animals!” -Rosalie

"You could share the animals...You could ask if they could share and if they said, no, you could just play on your own with no animals." -Charlie N.
"This is the forest. These are the animals...Charlie and me were playing and they would just ask me, what are you doing? We're building a forest. We'd say yes and play." -Louis

After drawing our solutions to these problems, on Mondays we ask some of the children to share with the group just how they would solve it.  Our problem of sharing hit particularly close to home and a very animated discussion followed.

“If nobody’s there, I would just sneak up and take some.” -Louis
“I just sneaked up!  Sneaking and stealing is my best thing to do.” -Louis
“Sneaking and stealing to grab is my best idea too!” -Rosalie
“Not mine, I ask!” -Charlie N.
“It’s bad to sneak up and steal cause people get mad.” -Caroline
“Some people do.” -Ruthie
“Not always, Caroline.” -Miles
(DJ wonders aloud with Miles about when Louis did just such and got some of his animals…)
“No, I didn’t even see them.  But he told me.” -Miles
“You need to ask for animals.” -Wes
“If you have too many animals you don’t need to ask.” -Miles

“And some sneaking and stealing and then asking.  Or maybe just telling people you need some.” -Luca


Our problems are not always social in nature.  We have even created wonderings around solving a problem for our larger museum context.  Some thought has been percolating around just how we might offer a new way of creating signage for our park sculptures.  Signage that would emphasize the can do rather than simply don’t touch. With this in mind, we presented them with a photograph of Saul Melman’s Best of all Possible Worlds (the doors sculpture) and ask them to consider…

What could you do there?  How would you play?

"You can run in any direction." -Ian
"You could play Knock, Knock, Who's There." -Charlotte
"Just go through the cracks and the holes." -Travers

Problems have also bubbled up around our use of materials or tools.  Our recent work creating buildings has had us wrestling with a useful but sometimes frustrating material.

You want a piece of tape, but you try to get a piece and it keeps twisting and sticking to itself.  What can you do to make it work better?

"You take a twisted tape and you untwisted it like this." -Charlie S.
"You cut the piece of the wrinkly tape off. Cut a piece that is not wrinkled." -Julia

We realize that problem solving occurs in the everyday context of a child’s life.  We also know that problem solving is an essential skill for all of us.

Exploring how this developing skill relates to a young child’s development of empathy has been curious for us indeed.  Does posing these situations easily recognized by the children, allow them to make their learning together personal and meaningful?  We wonder…

Piaget states children understand only what they discover or invent themselves.