Category: Guest Posts

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills

When it comes to the main things I want my girls to learn in their childhoods, problem solving skills would definitely be at the top of the list (along with kindness, respect, perseverance, and integrity).

In the past year, our family has gotten bolder with our outdoor adventures, but we still have plenty of room to grow. Today, I am excited to share this helpful guest post and freebie from Isaac and Stephanie Ashby at Tyee Outdoor Experience.  As Isaac explains on their blog, “As a child, adventure was my passion, and wilderness was my medium.” Read on to learn how we can present our children with opportunities for learning problem solving skills!

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills | critical thinking, problem solving activities for kids, fun challenges, free printable, child development, life skill

Me: Siri, why is my VCR not working?

Siri: Did you try throwing it away and going digital?

Maybe I’ll try Google.


Me: Google, why won’t my VCR work?

Google: Because you are stuck in the 80’s.  Try Netflix or Amazon.


Fine, I’ll ask Mom and Dad.


Me: Mom, I can’t get my VCR to work.  

Mom: Oh sweetheart, you’re using a VCR?  Why didn’t you tell us the world was crumbling around you?

Me: But Mom…

Mom: Don’t “but mom” me, I’m you mother.  I know you’re 40 years old but that doesn’t mean I can’t baby you.  Now are you hungry?  As soon as your father finishes outside, I will have him fix your VCR.

While this sequence of events is hilarious, it is becoming much more common.  Why?  Because kids growing up in this age have smartphones and easy internet access with a built-in answering service.  We rarely solve problems on their own anymore!  And there are a lot of problems electronic devices just cannot solve.

Not-so-little-known-fact: Problem solving is an essential skill that employers look for when hiring new employees.  It’s a disappearing art form these days!  

So how do parents teach their kids problem solving skills without merely looking it up on your favorite search engine?

You: Siri, how do I teach my kids problem solving skills?

Siri:  Keep reading this article.  Tyee Outdoor Experience is the best!


If you’ve made it this far, I assume you are interested in teaching your children how to solve problems…

Well, here… we… go…

The best way to learn problem solving skills is to practice.  

Practice, practice, practice!  If your kids encounter a problem, make them solve it without electronics.  And let them struggle with it.  Don’t swoop in like the helicopter parent and solve everything.  Make them work for it.

Because I run a perfect household and there are never problems for my kids to practice on (I’m sure you are all the same), here is a strategy to choose a problem and practice these skills.

Step 1: Choose a task or problem for the kids to solve. 

We recommend they do this outside to get them active, out in the fresh air and sunlight.  As well as a billion other reasons for going outside.

Open ended problems with a variety of solutions and make them fun!  Problem solving skills sounds very formal and dull but coming up with fun problems will go over much better.

Here are just a few open-ended, outdoor problems to get you started.  We have even 20 ideas in the Problem Solving Practice Guide printable.

  • Building a bridge that will hold your weight
  • Collecting rain water
  • Build an igloo with snow
  • Dig a hole without a shovel

Step 2: Print the problem solving skills worksheet found here.  

The worksheet is optional but I recommend using it the first couple of times to teach the kids an organized way to solve problems.  It also includes more outdoor example problems and tips.

Step 3: Introduce the task.  

Tell the kids the problem, the boundaries or limits (space, time, necessary conditions) and what they have to work with.  Like Iron Chef but not cooking.  Today’s ingredient is mud!

Step 4: Let them get to work!  

Try not to hover but provide supervision for safety.

As the kids work, resist the urge to give tips, hints, or help.  If they can’t figure it out for themselves, the problem is too hard.  They must learn to do it on their own.

If the task is too hard for them, don’t tell them the solution.  Put the task on hold and give them an easier task.

Step 5: When the kids find a solution, have them talk you through their thinking process.  

It’s important to understand what parts of the process they are good at and what parts they need work on.

Ok now you may be saying this is too easy or obvious but give it a try.  Sometimes we overlook the obvious so think of it as a good skills assessment.

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills | critical thinking, problem solving activities for kids, fun challenges, free printable, child development, life skill

Strategies for tough problems and brain farts

In solving problems, we all hit those walls of “I don’t know how”, “I can’t do it”, [insert whining excuse of choice here].  Therefore, TA DA, we give you strategies to break out of those tough problems and brain fog.

1 – Work backwards.  This can seriously open up the mind to new ideas.


Me: Siri, how do I work backwards if I don’t have a solution to work backwards from?

Siri: Ask Google.  That question just fried my circuits.

To work backwards without a solution, clearly identify the conditions you want your eventual solution to fulfill.   Then think of how you can make these conditions happen.

2 – Brainstorm the WORST possible solutions to the problem, go through them, and see if any might be a good place to start or at least spark a new (and hopefully better) idea.

Example: Task is getting Frisbee off the roof without getting on the roof.

Worst solutions: Throw a piece of meat up and a vulture will come to knock it off, pay the Air Force to retrieve it, build a go-go gadget arm to grab it, convince it to come down with loving words, etc.  

See why we call them the worst solutions?  But maybe the gadget arm idea sparks another idea for some kind of reaching device.  You never know when inspiration will hit.

3 – Just start messing around and playing with available tools and supplies.  Touching and playing with stuff is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.

And there you have it!  Do you feel the little grey brain cells moving yet?  Problem solving skills are probably not at the top of your to-do list but they are a hidden gem and worth the time to help our kids develop.  Plus, it’s fun get out there and solve some problems together!

See you outside!

Teaching Kids Problem-Solving Skills | critical thinking, problem solving activities for kids, fun challenges, free printable, child development, life skill

Hey there! This is Isaac and Stephanie Ashby from Tyee Outdoor Experience and we get families OUTSIDE. Lessons, games, resources, and activities that pull you outside every day because you enjoy it, not because it is a box to check off on a list of things you “should be doing”. Throw out inconvenient, boring, or expensive. We know you’ve got this!

Three Ways to Set Up an Art Studio for Your Kids

Three Ways to Set Up an Art Studio for Your Kids

When it comes to parenting my girls, I want to ensure that they are able to follow their passions and pursue their interests–even when it’s something I’m not very knowledgeable about!  I am so thankful for a husband who can teach our girls about music and for a group of amazing women online who share their expert insights with the rest of us. Today, I am excited to share a guest post from Alana Chernecki of Brillante.    

Three Ways to Set Up an Art Studio for Your Kids | Rolling Prairie Readers

Did you know children have 100 languages?

Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to Early Childhood education, believed that children communicate in a myriad of ways – through painting, drawing, sculpture, singing, dancing, building, acting – long before they are ever able to read, write or even speak. How your children share their thinking tells you a lot about how they view the world. As parents, we need to offer our children many tools to communicate their understanding so that we can help extend and enrich their thinking.

Art is a language that is accessible to all. Children share their ideas in drawings and paintings long before they are able to write. But the “mess factor” often gets in the way of setting up enriching and enticing art experiences for kids. The art tools we offer children are just as important as the way they are presented and shared with kids, and just like everything else, children need to be taught how to use them responsibly.

Depending on your comfort level with art, and the space you have available to you, here are three options for promoting artistic literacy with your kids.

1. Portable, Accessible and No-Fuss

Boon Stash Storage Caddy

If you are just beginning to experiment with art for your kids, the Boon Stash Storage Caddy is an excellent solution. It is made of several compartments of varying sizes and depths to accommodate all kinds of art supplies. I love this caddy because it can be washed easily in the dishwasher. It is large enough to house most basic art supplies, and can be transported to any corner of your home. A great place to store: pencil crayons, markers, scissors, pastels, pencils, glue, beads, and yarn.

2. The Art Cart – The Roll-Away Solution

For those of you who are willing to experiment with a larger spectrum of art supplies, but want the option of tucking it away from eager hands, the roll-away art cart is for you. These art carts are widely available at IKEA, Costco and various craft stores. An art cart typically has 2-3 levels. Each level can have a different theme: Loose parts on one level (beads, stones, sticks, wire, buttons, pom poms, feathers); various papers on another level, and “wet” art supplies (paint, watercolours, brushes, clay/plasticine, glue…on the third level. Keep levels labelled with chalk labels for easy clean-up.

Image Source: Tinkerlab

3. The Art Shelf / Atelier

In Reggio-inspired schools, the Atelier is at the heart of the learning programme. The atelier {italian for “art studio”} offers all the art tools and media, accessible to children all of the time. Loose parts and art media are housed in glass jars – not only for aesthetic reasons, reflecting light and bringing in colour to the space – but also for practicality sake. When media are stored in transparent jars, children are able to “read” the media, and make independent choices about what materials to use to share their ideas. Whether you use shelves (like these IKEA EKBY shelves),

storage units (like this IKEA KALLAX unit)

or a wall storage device (like this IKEA GRUNDTAL set), the idea is that the art supplies have a permanent place in your child’s play space. In this way, children can help themselves freely without the nuisance of always having to ask an adult for help (and permission), which can inhibit creativity.

Examples of media that can be stored in jars:

  • paint brushes
  • paint
  • stones, sticks
  • beads, wire
  • feathers
  • Pom poms
  • watercolours
  • stamps
  • scissors
  • crayons, markers, pastels
  • popsicle sticks

How to teach your child to use art media responsibly:

When introducing your child to a new medium, have them use their senses to discover (“get to know”) the new tool. For example, with clay, have them smell it, have them stand on it with bare feet, have them roll it between their fingers, even taste it! Slowly start to introduce and model strategies or ways to use the new medium. “Here is how you can roll it long, like a snake.”

Teaching your child to access (and clean up!) is imperative. Have them practice, practice, practice taking out, and putting away – start with the easiest (crayons and markers), and move toward the more challenging (paint!) Simple things like: “This is how we put a marker cap back on so it doesn’t dry out – Listen for the Click!” and moving towards: here are paper towels, and a jar for water so that you can help yourself, and clean up easily when you’re done (with paint).

Over time, your children will improve these processes, and art-making will not feel as daunting as it once did. Your child will learn new ways communicate their understanding visually, and will probably surprise you with their artistic sensibilities. Honour their work by framing it, and sharing it on a gallery wall in your home.

Three Ways to Set Up an Art Studio for Your Kids | guest post from Alana Chernecki of Brillante

Alana Chernecki straddles the line between education and design. As a retired teacher and mom of three, she discovered early on the importance of creating a learning environment that was both stimulating and calm, clean and colourful, engaging and organized. Her company Brillante is an intersection of motherhood, education and design. As an Educational Consultant, she works with families and educators to design, style and curate spaces for kids and teens to inspire learning and creativity.

Teaching Kids to Clean *with FREEBIE*

Teaching Kids to Clean *with FREEBIE*

Teaching Kids to Clean | FREE Master Cleaning List

It was 74 degrees this week.

In February.

In Iowa.

Now, I’m guessing when I say, “February in Iowa,” this is what you might picture:

And you would be right. Because that is a picture of our yard exactly one year ago today.

But today, we all wore shorts and tank tops and rode our bikes to the park, where my five-year-old proudly exclaimed, “I’m sweaty!” Yes, you are.

And then when we got home, it was time to put the bikes back away in preparation for the 30-degree, snow-is-possible forecast for next week. But first, we had to trip over the sled…and the winter coats…and the snow boots…and rain boots…and possibly 97 mittens that were scattered all over the floor of the garage. (Because when you come in from the snowy yard, you want to get to the fireplace as quickly as possible!)

My eight-year-old and I had a loud conversation in Walmart last month. “Why we can’t we do more crafts at home?” she asked.

“Because I’m not a craft mom,” I replied. “I’m a bike-riding, take-you-to-the-library, let-you-play-in-the-mud mom.” (It takes all kinds of moms, am I right?)

And when it comes to the areas of our home like the winter-ravaged garage, I’m a everyone-pitch-in-and-put-something-away mom. We took ten minutes this afternoon and put everything back where it’s supposed to be. My type-A daughter got out the push broom and our other daughter threw away all the trash. (Hint: don’t keep a brand-new box of bandages in the passenger door next t0 a five-year-old’s car seat. Otherwise, there will be a lot of empty bandage wrappers all over the floorboard. You’re welcome.) 

That’s why I am so thankful for my “homemakerish” guru, Kendra Hennessy, who has shared some great tips for teaching our kids to clean. Because in this house, we all work together to make a mess, and we all work together to clean it up. Ready for some wisdom from Kendra? Let’s go!

(Be sure to read down to the end to get your freebie from Kendra: a master house cleaning list to make creating chore charts and cleaning schedules easier.)

*     *     *      *     *

The house is a mess and your kids are to blame. I mean, you certainly aren’t the one leaving dirty socks on the ground and smushing Cheerios into the carpet. You aren’t hoarding glasses half full of water on your nightstand and leaving a trail of Hot Wheels from the hallway to the kitchen. No, that would be your kids. But still, who is the one doing the bulk of the cleaning? I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t the Cheerio smusher.

Set a good example.

This should go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway. Setting a good example for cleaning is just as important as every other habit we hope our kids will pick up on. This doesn’t just mean cleaning up your own mess (which let’s be honest, you are probably doing anyway) but this also means NOT cleaning up their mess. When you set the tone that they are responsible for cleaning and contributing by allowing them to do it, you set the example that you won’t be the house maid for them.

Make it a game.

Kids love games. Actually, so do adults. When you make it a game, it’s fun and when it’s fun, they’ll want to do it. See who can clean up the fastest, who can do the most chores in a set amount of time, who can collect the most trash, who can collect the most clutter. If you only have one child, let them compete with you, or with themselves. Turn on some music and make cleaning into a party.

Set a timer.

I don’t know why, but my 4 year old LOVES timers. He loves to be timed, whether he is cleaning, taking a bath, getting dressed, watching TV. He loves when I set my phone timer and update him on how much time he has left. This also works for older kids. Timers give us boundaries and make us feel like an end will eventually come. There is nothing like starting a task and having absolutely no end in sight. When chores appear endless, they are a real drag.

Avoid making chores a punishment if you can.

Chores should be a part of living in a home with a family, as a community, not used as a punishment. While I am not a parenting coach and would never be so bold as to tell parents how to discipline their kids, I do know that when cleaning is a punishment, it becomes that much more difficult for kids to enjoy and contribute to the household. Instead, introduce chores and cleaning as a way that your kids can be super helpful and responsible. By nature, kids love to help. We are usually the ones who squash that by doing it all for them (been there, done that.)

Teach them, show them and then show them again and again.

Have you ever tried to teach a preschooler to tie his shoes? Oye to the vay. It is a process and he needs to be shown over and over again before he will finally get it. The same is true for cleaning tasks and chores. It took weeks for my daughter to learn how to use the washing machine. I showed her multiple times, then let her do it, then showed her again. It can be exhausting and frustrating and you’ll probably want to pull a “Oh just let me do it!” but try to resist that temptation. Showing them how to do it will empower them to do it right.

Praise them.

Who doesn’t like to be told they are doing a stellar job? I know I do! I even love when my son says “Mommy, you made my oatmeal so good.” I mean, it feels great. Kids do better when they know they are appreciated.

In the end, getting your kids (and yourself) over the reluctance to chores takes time. The earlier you begin, the better, but even if you have teenagers at home groaning over the fact that they have to clean their dishes, you can implement many of these strategies and give yourself a break in the process.

*     *     *     *     *

Kendra Hennessy is a coach and home management strategist, and the founder of Mother like a Boss, where she helps busy modern moms become homemakerish. Her mission is to redefine homemaking in the 21st century and make the difficult parts of running your home smoother through systems, routines and mindset shifts. She lives in upstate NY with her husband Adam and their two spunky offspring, Ava and Everett. Kendra is a Girl Scout co-leader, a podcast and audiobook junkie and a coffee lover. She loves helping moms gain confidence in their homes so they can spend less time stressing and more time enjoying their awesome lives.

Get your FREE Master Cleaning List from Kendra!

Teaching Kids to Clean with simple tips from Kendra Hennessy