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Children are Excellent at Solving Problems

I used to think that as a teacher (especially a Y6 teacher) I had to know everything, have an answer to every question, and be able to solve every problem. How wrong I was! A friend of mine gently told me that it was OK to say... "I don’t know, what do you think?"

I was worried that the children would see me as foolish when I couldn’t solve every problem, but I tried the above phrase and it was so liberating! It turns out that children are brilliant problem solvers. They have great ideas on fixing issues in the school - sometimes they have solutions for issues you didn’t know were problems in the first place...

I hadn’t even realised that the lunchtime arrangements at my school were causing so many problems until a small group of children explained issues such as queue jumping; plate clearing; meal choices and the use of large chairs by small children leaving nothing for the Y6 children to sit on. Despite being tempted to rush in and solve this with my own ideas, I let the children work it out for themselves. They were brilliant - after a few weeks of trying things out and setting up new systems, suddenly lunchtimes were calmer, more orderly and everyone was happier. 


This system can be used for so many different problems - how to keep the cloakroom tidy, how to share the football pitches at lunchtime, and how to ensure that everyone gets equal access to classroom resources.

What's more, their ideas are more likely to be successful because their ownership of the solution means that it’s more likely to stick and work long-term.

More recently, when I’m training teachers, I often suggest that teachers ask children to help solve the problem of transgender pupils feeling nervous about 'switching' toilets. In my experience, when I've asked children what might put a transgender pupil at ease, they almost always suggest that at least some toilets should be for anyone to use, regardless of their gender. The children usually see this as an easy solution and most schools can make this work with their facilities. What can seem like an insurmountable problem to adults, is just another challenge for the children to solve - they spend their days solving challenges, they’re good at it! 

You could also ask children how to solve the problem of gendered uniforms - would the children suggest that any item of uniform could be worn by anyone? What about Sports Day? - how would the children ensure that it’s fair for everyone? Would they take away gendered competition and come up with another way to compete fairly? Children are very good at considering fairness - they feel it strongly (don’t we all?) and are very good at working out how to make things fair for everyone.  

I’m so pleased I learned that I don’t have to provide solutions to every problem - when children solve their own problems they feel so good, they realise that they have power and they start to see themselves as active participants in their own lives - people who can make a difference in the world.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with asking your children to solve problems. Please comment below or join the discussion on our FB page.


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