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October 15, 2008

Creative Problem Solving

"I'm angry!" Stephen yelled and stormed out of the blocks center.
"No." Ana replied calmly as she rolled the toy fire truck back and forth on the floor.
"I want the fire truck!  I'm so angry!" Stephen yelled and stomped his feet.
Ana continued rolling the truck, and Stephen glared at her.
"Stephen," I intervened, "I can tell how mad you are because your arms are crossed and you're using a loud voice.  I'm proud that you used your words."
"But I want the fire truck!" Stephen yelled and tears started streaming down his face.

Learning how to identify and solve social problems can be challenging for young children.  In my classroom, we spend a great deal of time at the beginning of the year discussing, role playing, and practicing how you can identify and solve problems.  Students learn how to label and identify emotions in themselves and other people (e.g. "I know that you are frustrated because your eyes are scrunched and your body is tight."), which is the foundation of problem solving.  They then learn what they can do to solve problems: calm themselves down, use words to explain what happened, and generate possible solutions.

Today, Stephen demonstrated some tremendous progress in terms of social problem solving.  At the beginning of last year when Stephen was angry, he would kick, hit, scream, and cry.  He did not know how to label his own emotions, and he had trouble taking the perspective of other people.  In this anecdote, Stephen is clearly able to label his own feelings, and, while his response is not ideal, it does keep everybody safe.  I took this brief "teachable moment" as a time to use physical and verbal cues to discern his feelings, and reinforce all his hard work.

From there, we were able to transform Stephen's frustration into a literacy activity.  I knew Stephen needed to distance himself from the fire truck and engage with different materials, so I suggested that he write Ana a note to tell her how he was feeling.  Stephen got excited about this idea, and quickly sat down to write.  "How do you spell Ana?" he asked.  I showed him her name tag, and he copied it correctly.  We then thought about what he wanted to tell her, and he decided on, "Let me play with that all by myself." We counted the words in his sentence and I wrote one line on his paper to represent each word.  Then Stephen began sounding out the message. He ended up with, "L M P W d o b msAf," -- essentially wroting the beginning sound for each word in his message, plus some middle and ending sounds in "myself."  He signed his name at the bottom, and we reread the message together. 
Stephen walked back over to the blocks center and proudly reread his note to Ana.  He gave her the paper, and she handed him the truck. Both students were happy, and they each learned a great deal in the process!


This is awesome! I haven't used that form of writing (drawing the lines for each work) with my students in impromptu writing experiences and I really like how it worked for you. I will try to do that.

Thanks for commenting, Sarah! I find that doing scaffolded writing at those impromptu moments is often easier than doing it in whole or small groups because I can really focus on one child at a time. Let me know how it goes in your classroom!

I love how you described Steven's posture and identified the emotion first. I am impressed that Steven was able to identify the emotion he felt and what the problem was. You must have set up a great deal of learning opportunities in the area! Good for you. This is what I hope I can foster in my room this fall.

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