How a Child Develops Problem-Solving Skills

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When a small child is given a task that needs to be solved, for example, to get an object that is not within its reach, it usually behaves like a member of a higher animal species. This means that it uses the so-called trial and error method. It does not think about the essence of the problem or mentally visualize the most successful way to solve it. A small child immediately tries to solve a problem by randomly applying various methods, so more or less by chance, it comes across one that allows it to really solve the problem. At the same time, the child does not use much experience, makes mistakes, behaves in a stereotypical way, and reacts automatically.

In the course of development, the child already creates certain assumptions about how it could successfully master a task, tests them in practice, and rejects those that have turned out to be wrong. Later, it analyzes the situation it finds itself in more and more, it understands the relations between the various elements of the problem, in their essence. Then it no longer repeats previous mistakes, applies more and more successful methods, and increasingly uses previous experience. The more intelligent the child, the faster it progresses in solving problems. When it has reached a sufficient level of intelligence, e.g., the average older school-age child becomes able to perceive the essence of the problem before attempting to solve it. It then immediately solves it in the right way, without trial and error, based on the “idea” of the right solution. The more complex the task, the longer the child has to think in order to gain insight into its essence.

The ability to learn progresses along with the development of the nervous system. Because at the beginning of life the child’s brain progresses rapidly in achieving new functional capabilities, and later this development slows down, so does the child’s ability to learn in early childhood grows sharply, and later more slowly. Not only the underdeveloped nervous system but also the lack of motives that encourage older children to learn, make it difficult for a small child to learn. It does not even have enough experience to follow the learning of the new, applying it in the process of adapting to situations that were previously unknown to him. In early childhood, there is also a lack of richness of words and other symbols that can be used to solve various new situations.

Although the ability to learn increases with age, there is an increasing resistance to learning in older children. This is because the older child is no longer as obedient as the younger one. Its naivety decreases, it is more critical of its environment, its individuality becomes more and more pronounced, the circle of its interests, needs and habits expands, so the child increasingly chooses what it will learn and accept it as its own. In early childhood, everything new and unknown is relatively passively received. The older the child, the more it should be encouraged by various motivations to receive new knowledge and develop new habits. When at the end of early childhood the nervous system is fully mature for learning, there is no longer a significant difference between children and adults in the development of this function. The differences observed, however, can be attributed to different experiences and motivations, but not to different learning mechanisms. It is understandable that a person learns this faster and easier the more experience he has and the more skilled he is at using speech, reading and writing, not to mention the role of intelligence in the process. Motivation is paramount for successful learning. Therefore, the task of the educator is that in the proper upbringing of the child to:

  • Apply the correct teaching method
  • Teach the child the correct learning technique
  • Develop healthy motivations for learning