Day 17: Problem Solving

by | Adapt & Modify Activities

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We encounter and solve problems on a daily basis – several times a day.  In school, children are provided with fabricated scenarios to solve, and yet, life is full of problems!

You will be able to find plenty of worksheets on Pinterest with the promise of helping your child learn to solve problems accurately.  However, your child may find word problems quite baffling since they involve the use of numbers, operations, and words.  These three elements stack up to be an enormous task that no pretty worksheet can solve.

This post gives you 4 basic tips to help your disabled child become a better problem solver.



Problem Solving screenshot

Problem solving worksheets found on Pinterest. Don’t be fooled by them. Your child is using higher-level thinking skills as he solves real life problems each and every day.

Why problem solving may be a challenge for children with special needs

  • In order to solve word problems, children must have strong reading comprehension skills – which is often a struggle for children with learning disabilities.
  • Children with attention difficulties may lose their focus as they read through a word problem.
  • Children with cognitive delays may not be reading yet; therefore, problem solving with word-related problems becomes a highly improbable task.

Problem Solving

Suggestions for problem solving

  • Let your child solve life’s problems.  As a parent of a disabled child, you may have the tendency to want to do things for your child.  You hate to see him struggle, and your first inclination is to reach out and solve the problem for him.  Problem solving begins before your child is school aged and expected to sit and think through make-belief problems.

In play alone, children are constantly asked to solve a problem.  Does that shape fit into that hole?  Why doesn’t this ball fit into that basket as easily as the smaller one did?  How do I get this doll to cry?  Your child has many difficulties to sift through in one day, and these experiences help him build a stronger sense of the world and a stronger ability to solve problems.

Some of my son’s everyday problems include figuring out how to back up his legs so that he can shut the door properly, how to shift his body weight so that he can turn the walker in the direction he wants it to go, and how to position his fingers so that he can flip the pages of the book.  None of these have to do with numbers, but each of these are significant problem solving skills that he has to figure out on his own.  I’m tempted many times to move the walker, or flip the pages of the book myself. But, with my teacher hat on, I know that I need to back off, give him time, and let him do his thing.

Become conscious of where you’re interfering, take a step back, and watch your child figure it out on his own.

  • Provide mathematical scenarios for your child to solve.  Throughout your day, draw attention to math-related problems your child can solve.  For example, while counting the number of napkins needed to set the table, ask your child how many more he would need if we invited his cousin to dinner?  Two cousins?  Incorporate problem solving while in the kitchen, while coloring, while painting, while outdoors, etc.  Don’t leave a stone unturned as there are opportunities for number-related problems for your child to solve in everything that he does.
  • Your child does not need to know his basic facts before tackling a problem.  Since problems are everywhere for your child to unravel (as I demonstrated above), there is no need to worry about basic facts being memorized first – or to even be able to write numbers.  Your child will learn to solve problems by solving problems.
  • Provide reallife manipulatives. You don’t need to go out to purchase counting rods (although you can) to have your child engage in problem solving.  Use the tools he needs to solve that exact problem.  If he’s dividing a set of stones at the park, the stones are the manipulatives.  If he’s counting napkins, those are his manipulatives.

The beauty of homeschooling is that you can give your child the time he needs to explore and learn.  It’s also easier to allow life’s problems to be solved as they arise.  When your child is ready, you can begin teaching the symbolic equations that go along with the problems your child is solving.  Just get the foundational piece in place first.

Where does your child struggle with problem solving?

Since the levels of difficulty with problem solving are vast, it would be impossible for me to write about them in one blog post.  If you’d like more specific tips geared to your child’s needs, I’d love to help you sort through them.   


More Resources

Continue reading my essays, activities, and case studies for supporting the education of disabled/chronically ill and neurodivergent children.