How Kids Problem Solve in New, Creative Ways (And Why You Should Encourage It)


Compared to adults, children are not yet able to concentrate as well, remember less and their attention span is relatively short. This is due to the stage of cognitive development. As a result - so far assumed - they have a disadvantage when solving tasks. However, a new study shows that the broader attentional focus can also prove to be an advantage: children are good at processing less relevant information and using it to spontaneously find new and creative strategies when solving tasks.

Adults, too, show spontaneous strategy changes when solving tasks, similar to so-called "aha-moments" that make solving a task easier. This research shows that while children perform significantly worse when solving tasks using traditional strategies, such as focused attention, they are just as likely as adults to master tasks using spontaneous strategy shifts.

Problem-Solving Flexibility

"Our results show that while children are often less focused and more easily distracted than adults, they are surprisingly flexible in discovering entirely new solutions," says psychologist and neuroscientist Nicolas Schuck, group leader of the Max Planck Research Group "NeuroCode" at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. "Especially considering their not fully developed ability to concentrate, these are important results for researching learning behavior in children," Schuck added.

Compared to the young adults, the children generally performed significantly worse in solving the task. They had more incorrect and premature answers. However, the proportion of children (27.5%) who discovered and used the helpful color strategy was very similar to that of the young adults (28.2%).

As long as children only used the initial strategies and rules available, which required concentration and persistence, they performed worse. However, just as many children as young adults discovered and used the color rule. Thus, although children performed worse in all areas of cognitive control, an almost equal proportion of them compared to the young adults were able to improve through an "aha moment", and thus gained a similar performance advantage as the adult group.

The "Aha Moment"

The newfound knowledge around the "aha moment" is an important finding of the study. "Our findings provide evidence that educators, parents, and teachers should be less insistent on rigid rules, and only teach the one concrete way to solve problems, but also value and encourage children's broader attentional focus. Our findings show: We can have more confidence in children's creative problem-solving strategies," says Anika Löwe of the NeuroCode team and co-author of the study. In the future, she says, there should be more research, in the field of cognitive developmental psychology, on creative processes rather than on lack of concentration in children.

StepUp Note

This research reminds us once again how important it is for children to learn to make useful decisions. In life and in learning, every movement we make is a sequence of decisions: when and where to move, how long to continue, and when to change. StepUp provides ongoing practice with decision-making about the letters, numbers, and handwriting movement patterns that we use for basic academic learning: reading decoding, math fact retrieval and fluent written letters. Children with fluent basic skills are more able to engage in learning and problem-solving because they are not distracted by questions about how to name or write some letters or numbers.



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Reposted from Max Plank Institute for Human Development

Note by Nancy W Rowe, M.S., CCC/A