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Foundation: Problem Solving

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
The developing ability to engage in a purposeful effort to reach a goal or figure out how something works
8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, children use simple actions to try to solve problems involving objects, their bodies, or other people.

At around 18 months of age, children use a number of ways to solve problems: physically trying out possible solutions before finding one that works; using objects as tools; watching someone else solve the problem and then applying the same solution; or gesturing or vocalizing to someone else for help.

At around 36 months of age, children solve some problems without having to physically try out every possible solution and may ask for help when needed. (By 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 308)

For example, the child may:

  • Shake, bang, and squeeze toys repeatedly to make the sounds happen again and again. (5.5–8 mos.; Parks 2004, 58; by 12 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 243)

  • Reach for a ball as it rolls away. (5.5–8 mos.; Parks 2004, 64)

  • Vocalize to get the infant care teacher’s attention. (6.5–8 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Pull the string on a toy to make it come closer. (8 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 21)

  • Focus on a desired toy that is just out of reach while repeatedly reaching for it. (5–9 mos.; Parks 2004, 49)

  • Turn the bottle over to get the nipple in his mouth.

  • Lift up a scarf to search for a toy that is hidden underneath. (By 8 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 244)

For example, the child may:

  • Pull the string of a pull toy to get it closer even when the toy gets momentarily stuck on something. (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 38)

  • Use the handle of a toy broom to dislodge a ball under the bookshelf. (8–18 mos.; Lally and others 1995, 78–79)

  • Bring a small stool over to reach a toy on top of a shelf, having observed the infant care teacher do it. (8–18 mos.; Lally and others 1995, 78–79)

  • Look at a plate of crackers that is out of reach and then at the infant care teacher, and communicate “more.” (Scaled score of 10 for 16:16–17:15 mos.; Bayley 2006; 14–20 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Hand the infant care teacher a puzzle piece that the child is having trouble with.

For example, the child may:

  • Ignore the stick that is much too short to reach a desired object and choose a stick that looks as if it may be long enough.

  • Stack only the cubes with holes in them on the stacking post, ignoring the cube-shaped blocks without holes that got mixed into the bin. (18–36 mos.; Lally and others 1995, 78–79)

  • Place the triangle piece into the puzzle without first needing to try it in the round or square hole. (By 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 306)

  • Ask the infant care teacher for help with the lid of a jar of paint. (36 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 75)

  • Ask a peer to help move the train tracks over so that the child can build a block tower on the floor. (36 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 75)

  • Ask or gesture for the infant care teacher to help tie the child’s shoelace. (36 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 75)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Explore toys with hands and mouth. (3–6 mos.; Parks 2004, 10)

  • Reach for a second toy when already holding on to one toy. (5–6.5 mos.; Parks 2004, 49)

  • Hold a toy up to look at it while exploring it with the hands. (Scaled score of 9 for 5:16–6:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 55)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Crawl over a pile of soft blocks to get to the big red ball. (8–11 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Figure out how toys work by repeating the same actions over and over again. (9–12 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003)

  • Pull the blanket in order to obtain the toy that is lying out of reach on top of the blanket. (8–10 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Crawl around the legs of a chair to get to the ball that rolled behind it. (9–12 mos.; Parks 2004, 50; 18 mos.; Lally and others 1995, 78–79)

  • Keep turning an object around to find the side that makes it work, such as the reflective side of a mirror or the open side of a nesting cup. (9–12 mos.; Parks 2004, 65)

  • Try to hold on to two toys with one hand while reaching for a third desired toy, even if not successful. (Scaled score of 9 for 10:16–11:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 58)

  • Unscrew the lid of a plastic jar to get items out of it. (Scaled score of 10 for 14:16–15:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 62)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Use a stick to dig in the sandbox when unable to find a shovel. (17–24 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Use a tool to solve a problem, such as using the toy broom to get a car out from under the couch, using a wooden puzzle base as a tray to carry all the puzzle pieces to another place, or using the toy shopping cart to pick up the wooden blocks and move them to the shelf to be put away. (17–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 52)

  • Move to the door and try to turn the knob after a parent leaves for work in the morning. (21–23 mos.; Parks 2004, 53)

  • Imitate a problem-solving method that the child has observed someone else do before. (Scaled score of 10 for 20:16–21:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 66)

  • Tug on shoelaces in order to untie them.

  • Complete a puzzle with three separate cut-out pieces, such as a circle, square, and triangle, even though the child may try to put the triangle into the square hole before fitting it in the triangle opening. (Scaled score of 10 for 19:16–20:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 66)

Next Foundation: Imitation

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Questions:   Early Education and Support Division | | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Friday, May 17, 2019
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