Support Problem Solving With Constructive Play

Children have an amazing ability to solve problems using loose parts. Building a bridge using buckets and a plank, putting together simple puzzles or building a tower out of building blocks are just some examples of activities children can perform to develop their problem-solving skills and put their minds together to construct something greater than the sum of its parts. However, constructive play relies on more than just a set of components. In this blog post we discuss the best approach to constructive play which can ensure children are engaged in problem solving enough to produce a solution. 


The role of a teacher in constructive play is project manager, environment designer and scaffolder. It’s not as simple as dumping a bucket of nuts and bolts in front of children and saying, ‘build me something.’ Early childhood educators must provide guidance, suggestions and, most importantly, time to ensure that the purpose of constructive play is evident to children and that the activity is enjoyable and the problem solvable. Sure, not every component has to be mapped out and given a role, but some thought does have to be given to the activity so that it captures the attention of young students. 


When solutions children propose don’t work, it’s important that teachers do not solve the problem for them. A few suggestions should put kids on the right track to creating a solution in good time. Ask why students think their initial solution didn’t work and give them plenty of time to think about alternatives that may be more effective. Children will happily experiment until they build something wonderful; this process may require some prompting, however. 


Provide a wide variety of materials for children to use in constructive play. Wide shapes, narrow shapes, round shapes, square shapes, big objects and little objects should all be provided in a clean environment with enough space to try several solutions. Components should be safe to handle and if they tessellate or fit together without too much effort then power to you. 


It’s also important to provide plenty of time for children to solve the problem you have posed during their constructive play. When children are given plenty of time to play, they engage in what’s called ‘complex play’: where they begin to develop more-formulated ideas and use multiple steps to solve problems. 40-45 minutes is usually enough to engage successfully in constructive play. 


Allowing children to fail is a crucial part of constructive play too. Rather than shoot down ideas you know won’t work, allow them to manifest failure (assuming this is safe, of course) so that children can learn why their ideas were unsuccessful and work towards a better solution.  


Finally, instead of giving answers or suggestions, ask children why their ideas didn’t work. This forces them to use critical thinking and develop their understanding of the world. 

At Robyn Taylor Early Childhood Centre, we incorporate a range of strategies to help children feel comfortable learning constructive play. If you would like to learn more about our problem solving activities, book a tour of our education centre or enrol your child, please use our contact page to reach out to us or call on 02 9705 8309.