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Problem solving: an exercise (1)
Teachers and children play card game

List the opportunities for thinking and problem solving that we can create in the process of baking
a cake.


Did you come up with any of the following:

  • Is there a recipe and where can I find it?
  • Where are the ingredients?
  • What do I do if I can't reach them?
  • Are there sufficient ingredients to make
    the cake?
  • What can I do if there's not?
  • Where are the cooking utensils?
  • What will I need for the job?
  • Where do I put the ingredients once I measure out how much I need?
  • What do I do if I put too much of one ingredient in the mix?
  • How much time do I need to make
    and bake?
  • How do I assess the time?
  • Who's going to turn the oven off?
  • Is there enough time to wash and tidy up?
  • What can I do if there's not?
  • What do I do with the cake once it's baked?
Problem solving: an exercise (2)

List the opportunities for thinking and problem solving that we can create in the process of playing a game.


Did you come up with any of the following:

  • How do we decide what game to play?
  • Do I know the rules?
  • Where are the resources for the game kept?
  • What do I do if one (or more) of the resources
    is missing?
  • How many players are needed?
  • What do we do if we have too few players?
  • What do we do if we have too many players?
  • Do we need to split into teams?
  • How do we decide who is on what team?
  • What if I need help?
  • Does anyone else need help and what can I do about it?
  • Do we have a big enough space for the game to be played?
  • If not, where can we go?
  • What time do we need to finish?
Approaches to teaching
Child cooking with teacher

How, then, can we reconcile these two approaches to make them work for the child? That is, provide them with security, routine, order and structure and at the same time build in elements of unpredictability and problem solving?


Problem solving and thinking always works best when pupils are motivated to find the solution themselves. It's important to give children lots of time and remember there's no such thing as failure; it's merely another opportunity to succeed.

The developmental approach

It's important for teachers, teaching assistants, parents and carers to remember that they can provide thinking and problem solving opportunities, as well as taking them away.


Teachers will be aware that the developmental approach tends to:

  • Adopt 'traditional good practice' for SLD/PMLD/CLDD teaching;
  • Teach to a curriculum;
  • Focus on a specific objective;
  • Teach one small step at a time with lots of opportunities for practice;
  • Use the same equipment to avoid confusion;
  • Utilise rote learning.

Unfortunately, this can also lead practitioners and children into the 'comfort trap'. Routine, order, structure and certainty are vital for effective learning to take place, but if always applied, learning will be neither maximised nor deep.