The Problem with Maths: Promoting Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving is such an essential skill for children to learn, as it is relevant to so many areas of life. It is often taught within the context of mathematics, although I don’t believe that it should only be taught in that context. If you are a teacher or a parent, you may be wondering how you can help promote your children’s problem-solving skills. Below is a list of ideas that can help you get started.

Use Vocabulary Lists

I have talked about how much vocabulary matters when teaching grammar in a previous post, but what does vocabulary have to do with problem-solving, especially during mathematics? Well, one of the first steps in becoming confident with solving a problem is understanding the problem itself. The image below shows an example of a page of vocabulary words related to maths. Before showing children any maths problems, I would use this page to talk through each word, going through the relevant definitions. This helps them to better understand the problems, and hence feel more confident in finding solutions.

Relate it to Real Life Experiences

If you want your children to take an interest in problem-solving, then it helps to relate things to experiences they will have in the real world. Instead of giving them a conceptual scenario on a worksheet that requires them to solve a problem for a character who isn’t real, try asking them to help you solve a problem with a recipe. You could ask them to help you work out how much of each ingredient you will need for a batch of vanilla cupcakes if you want to double the recipe. Then, of course, you can try making the cupcakes with the adjusted measurements. Children will feel successful when they can see that their calculations were correct based on the way the cakes turned out! If you want to try this activity, I have a set of maths resources linked to two recipes that you can find here.

Set a Challenge

I’ve mentioned the use of reading challenges in a previous post, but setting challenges is a great strategy to use to build problem-solving skills in any subject area. Using open-ended questions, like the examples in the image below, allows children to work at their own pace and encourages them to persist with the task to find as many solutions as they can. You can find your own copy of the resource pictured, along with a selection of other maths challenges here.

Make It Interactive

Giving children the opportunity to solve problems through ‘hands on’ activities is a great way to keep them engaged. It also helps them to visualise the scenario. For older children, try letting them do a science experiment or deconstruct something to see how it works. For younger children, it can be as simple as asking them to work out how to equally share some objects amongst their teddies. Alternatively, you can use this ready-made printable version of the ‘bear and lollipop’ task.

Try Logic Puzzles

Logic puzzles are so valuable for developing problem-solving skills, but unfortunately, they don’t seem to be used in teaching very often. A logic puzzle involves using rational reasoning and deduction to figure out the most logical solution to a problem. In these simplified logic puzzles, for example, children are given a set of numbers and need to figure out where they would most logically fit into the story. These sorts of tasks work well as they allow children to start at any point and slowly work through to the end at their own pace. 

Go Digital

Do you know what activity involves a ton of problem-solving? Coding! Coding is a valuable skill to learn today in and of itself, but it can also help to encourage the development of problem-solving skills in general. Hour of Code is just one of the many websites now available to introduce children to coding, and from my experience kids are so engaged in these types of activities! 

Play Chess

Let’s say you’ve been working on problem-solving all day and it’s time for everyone to take a break. What should you do? Why not play chess? Chess is a complex problem-solving strategy challenge in the form of a game. So next time you have a games night – bring out the chess board and allow your children to keep those problem-solving skills strong. 

I hope these tips help you to solve the problem of how to teach problem-solving skills to your children! Use the links to buy your own copies of the resources I’ve referenced.

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9 responses to “The Problem with Maths: Promoting Problem-Solving Skills”

  1. Word Walls, Rotations & Literacy Challenges – Navigating Narrative Writing Part 2 – The Musings of Mrs T Avatar

    […] about how setting a learning challenge can be a helpful motivator for kids, whether in maths (read more in this previous post) or in English. I like to set holiday literacy challenges like this one to keep kids writing! If […]


  2. English Meets Maths – 5 Ways to Integrate English and Maths Lessons – The Musings of Mrs T Avatar

    […] Utilise student choice boards I’m an advocate for using student choice boards in the classroom – which is why I put together a free list of 50 activity ideas to use for student choice boards that you can access here. The great thing about choice boards is that you can easily combine more than one subject area in the one board and have students working through Maths and English tasks at the same time! If you’re looking for more information about student choice boards, take a look at this post on setting up choice boards for ELA assessment.I hope you enjoy trying out these activities with your students! If you’d like to read more of my tips on teaching English, then part 1 of my ‘Navigating Narrative Writing’ series is a great place to start. If you’d like more ideas for your Maths lessons, then take a look at this post on ‘Promoting Problem-Solving Skills’. […]


  3. thebrightestkidcom Avatar

    Problem solving is so important and it will become even more in the future! We can’t even imagine what kind of questions kids will face when they are adults and working.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Musings of Mrs T. Avatar

      Yes, I absolutely agree!


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    […] If you’re after more teaching ideas, then take a look at this post with ideas for promoting problem solving skills. […]


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    […] Looking for more ideas for your maths lessons? You can read my tips for promoting problem solving skills in this blog post. […]


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    […] Do you want some more learning activity ideas while you’re here? You can read about how to promote children’s problem-solving skills in this post. […]


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    […] Do you want some more maths teaching tips while you’re here? Then have a read of my post on promoting children’s problem solving skills.  […]


  8. 5 Fun Maths Problem-Solving Activities for Elementary Students – The Musings of Mrs T Avatar

    […] Do you want some more tips for teaching problem solving while you’re here? Then have a read through my post on Tips for Promoting Problem-Solving Skills. […]


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