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December 11, 2007

Solving problems, before and during breakfast

Recently, during Reading Workshop, my students proved to me how easy it is for four year olds to think "outside the box." While that expression has worn thin with overuse, it still represents an important skill: the ability to look at problems from a variety of perspectives and, thus, solve them more quickly and efficiently. If children really are our future, as the song claims, then thinking outside the box is a crucial skill to foster while they are young.

Our lesson was about problems and solutions in our current genre of nursery rhymes. I pre-selected the nursery rhyme Little Miss Muffet to use for this lesson because it had a clear problem and it was from our genre. I began by explaining what a problem was:

Me: Remember when we had a fire drill last month and the fire alarm wouldn't turn off afterwards? That was a problem; we had to wait outside for a long time. What was our solution to that problem, does anybody remember?

Cesar (after raising his hand): "The principal said we should pretend the alarm turned off and come back inside... but it was loud!" (Cesar covers his ears with his hands and rolls his eyes for effect.)

The students nod in agreement and begin to share some other examples of real world problems they have encountered in their daily lives.

Yesenia: "My big brother eats breakfast too slow and makes me late."

Jesus: "My baby brother cries a lot, it's loud."

Next, we discussed some real world solutions to their problems.

Peyton (to Yesenia): "You should eat breakfast at school because the teachers in the cafeteria won't let you be late."

Francisco: "Maybe Jesus' baby brother wants his mommy to get him a new diaper, that's what my little brother does when he wants a new diaper."

Of course, this drew all sorts of giggles from the audience.

We then read the nursery rhyme Little Miss Muffet together as a class and we identified Miss Muffet's problem: she was scared of spiders. The solutions my students thought of were much better than any that had occurred to me. I assumed they would say something along the lines of "Miss Muffet should move away from the tree so the spider won't sit down next to her," but I got much more than that...

Rebekah: "Miss Muffet should catch the spider and put it in a box and then it can be her pet and they will be friends forever and she won't be scared of spiders anymore." (Did I miss this movie?)

Paola: "Miss Muffet needs to eat her breakfast inside where she won't see so many spiders!" (Now that's genius!)

Ricardo: "Step on it!" (Why didn't I think of that?)

I was so awed by their answers that I asked them what they thought about problems and solutions in other nursery rhymes. Here are some of the ideas they came up with:

Humpty Dumpty:

  • Use tape to tape Humpty together again.
  • Use glue to glue Humpty together again.
  • Use bubble gum to stick Humpty together again.
  • Humpty should be more careful so he won't fall.
  • Humpty should wear thick clothes like football players so he won't break.

Jack and Jill:

  • Don't go up the hill in the morning when the grass is wet.
  • Wear the shoes with the sharp things (cleats) on the bottoms so they won't fall.
  • Go somewhere else to get their water.

Hickory Dickory Dock:

  • The mouse should wear ear plugs.

I feel confident that our future is in good hands with this group!


Thank you for bringing up the importance of approaches to learning. I have put up a post inspired by your post. Thanks for the inspiration!

It's so good to see new posts on this blog. Thanks for helping me see the solutions today.

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