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Why Concrete Reasoning Is the Foundation for Learning

Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.

logical and concrete problem solver

Sean Blackburn is a fact-checker and researcher with experience in sociology and field research.

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Forms of Reasoning

What is concrete reasoning and what are some examples? How does this differ from abstract reasoning?

There are two basic forms of reasoning: concrete and abstract. Both are critically important for day to day life, but most people are better at one type of reasoning than the other. Children with learning disabilities may find it more difficult than typical children to reason through a problem to find a solution.

Abstract vs. Concrete Reasoning

Abstract reasoning involves thinking about and managing ideas and concepts. Abstract concepts can be surprisingly important for day to day life. For example, these very important skills require abstract reasoning:  

Concrete reasoning involves the ability to analyze information and solve problems on a literal ("concrete") level. We use concrete reasoning when we think through and solve hands-on problems. Concrete reasoning tasks involve skills such as:  

Examples of Concrete Reasoning

When a child is able to solve a jigsaw puzzle he is exercising concrete reasoning. Other examples include:

The Importance of Concrete Reasoning

Concrete reasoning is important because it is the basis of all knowledge. Students need a firm understanding of basic educational concepts and problem-solving. This enables them to learn new ideas. It helps with later learning because it gives students the ability to link new ideas to previously learned ideas. This promotes the stronger long-term memory of concepts.

Concrete reasoning is also the basic tool for navigating the world. With concrete reasoning, we can anticipate outcomes ("If I step in front of that bicycle at this moment, chances are it will hit me."). We can also solve technical problems that arise on a daily basis (fitting foods into a grocery bag, planning a route to your next destination, using an umbrella when it rains).  

Concrete reasoning provides the solid foundation upon which abstract reasoning can be built. If there are problems with concrete reasoning, development of abstract reasoning will likewise be a problem.

The childhood years without a learning disability are a progression through a solid grasp of concrete reasoning which adds in abstract reasoning as a child gets older (often around age 12.) 

How Concrete Reasoning Is Measured

Concrete reasoning is typically measured in a full assessment of intellectual ability, or IQ. Most extended intelligence tests assess several types of problem-solving abilities, including concrete reasoning. Most brief intelligence tests do not.

Methods for Helping Children With Concrete Reasoning

Students with difficulty in concrete reasoning may benefit from a number of methods and materials including:

Developing concrete reasoning can be played as much as work. Since this type of reasoning involves finding solutions to everyday types of problems, the world can be an instructor and tutor. If your child is struggling with concrete reasoning, her home life can be as important as any of the therapies above in improving her skills.

If you are feeling overwhelmed as a parent, keep in mind how many children gain many of these concrete reasoning skills: by having fun.

Borghi AM, Barca L, Binkofski F, Tummolini L. Varieties of abstract concepts: development, use and representation in the brain .  Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci . 2018;373(1752):20170121. doi:10.1098/rstb.2017.0121

Susac A, Bubic A, Vrbanc A, Planinic M. Development of abstract mathematical reasoning: the case of algebra .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2014;8:679. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00679

Davis T, Goldwater M, Giron J. From Concrete Examples to Abstract Relations: The Rostrolateral Prefrontal Cortex Integrates Novel Examples into Relational Categories . Cereb Cortex. 2017;27(4):2652-2670. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhw099

By Ann Logsdon Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities. 

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Concrete Thinking: Building Block, Stumbling Block, or Both?

logical and concrete problem solver

Picture this: a noisy middle-school classroom in which a teacher has just given the instruction, “Everybody hop up and change seats with your neighbor.”

Most of the students stand, move to another spot, and sit back down. But one kid is actually hopping. He’s actually going to take his neighbor’s chair. That kid might be the class clown, but he also might be a concrete thinker. He’s taking the teacher’s instructions literally.

Concrete thinking is reasoning that’s based on what you can see, hear, feel, and experience in the here and now. It’s sometimes called literal thinking, because it’s reasoning that focuses on physical objects, immediate experiences, and exact interpretations.

Concrete vs. abstract thinking

Concrete thinking is sometimes described in terms of its opposite: abstract thinking. This is the ability to consider concepts, make generalizations, and think philosophically.

Concrete thinking is a necessary first step in understanding abstract ideas. First, we observe and consider what our experiences are telling us, and then we can generalize.

Concrete thinking at different stages of life

Early childhood.

All people experience concrete thinking. According to noted psychologist Jean Piaget , babies and young children go through predictable stages of cognitive development during which they gradually move from concrete to abstract thinking.

From their earliest moments, babies are constantly observing their environments, learning primarily through their five senses.

As they grow, they learn that they can interact with objects and people, getting predictable results: Shake the rattle and a noise happens. Toss the spoon to the floor, and someone picks it up.

At this early developmental stage — from birth through about age 2 — babies and toddlers think in terms of what they can observe.

Babies lack object permanence — the idea that an object continues to exist even if we can’t see or hear it. If the ball drops behind the couch, to an infant or toddler, it is gone .

As children mature, they begin to think symbolically. A hand signal represents the idea of “more” or “milk.” They learn to express their desires with words, which are audible symbols of thought.

Gradually, from the age of 2 to 7, they begin to develop the ability to reason and predict.

Elementary school years

From around the age of 7 until approximately age 11, children still rely heavily on concrete thinking, but their ability to understand why others act the way they do expands. Child psychologists think this stage is the beginning of abstract thinking.

From age 12 into adolescence, children gradually develop the capacity to analyze, extrapolate, generalize, and empathize.

Adolescence and adulthood

As we mature, we gain experience. We’re increasingly able to generalize about the things we’ve seen and heard. We use our concrete personal experiences and observations to form hypotheses, to predict, to consider alternatives, and to plan.

It’s at this stage that most people become skilled at inferring what other people will think and feel in a given situation.

Conditions that can prevent or delay abstract thinking

Some conditions can cause delays in the development of abstract thinking. People with these conditions may rely heavily on concrete thinking, limiting their ability to think abstractly and perhaps affecting the way they socialize. Some of these conditions include:

Some studies have found that certain forms of abstract thinking — the ones related to understanding metaphors and other kinds of figurative language — may be more difficult in students with Klinefelter syndrome, certain intellectual disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders.

These studies didn’t find or imply that intelligence was lower, just that these particular abstract reasoning skills were a challenge.

Risks of too much concrete thinking

People whose thinking is very concrete may find some situations or tasks harder as a result. These might include:

How to communicate with a concrete thinker If someone in your life has a condition that makes them prone to concrete thinking, you can communicate more effectively with these tips: Avoid idioms, metaphors, and analogies. A person who thinks concretely, for example, might not understand expressions like “the ball is in your court” or “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Be as specific as possible. It’s better to say, “This must be finished by 5 p.m. on Wednesday” than to say, “I need this as soon as possible.” Use photographs or illustrations. These literal objects may help you explain. Limit jokes and sarcasm. These forms of communicating can be hard to explain because they often rely on abstract ideas and plays on words. Anticipate differences in the ability to compare, categorize, and contrast. A concrete thinker might group things in concrete ways: When looking at photos of a wheelbarrow, a rake, and a hoe, a concrete thinker might point to a shared characteristic instead of describing the general function, “They all have wooden handles,” rather than, “You can use them all in the garden.”

The benefits of concrete thinking

Researchers have found that training people to think concretely can actually help in some situations.

For example, one study showed that first responders and others whose jobs involve repeated exposure to trauma have fewer intrusive memories when they’re trained to use concrete thinking during traumatic events.

During a trauma, your ability to cope may be enhanced if you’ve been trained to think through what’s actually happening, to examine the concrete causes, and to repeat the steps you need to take to resolve the problem or get out of danger.

After a trauma, thinking concretely about these same things has been shown to help people build resilience and lessen the number of intrusive memories.

In a 2011 study , people with depression were asked to think about a recent upsetting event. Researchers instructed the study participants to break down the event into concrete details and consider how those details influenced the outcome.

Participants who used this concrete thinking strategy had reduced depression symptoms afterward. Researchers concluded that training in concrete thinking helped to counteract the depressive tendency to ruminate, worry, and come to unhealthy, inaccurate conclusions.

Exercises to improve your concrete thinking

If you believe more concrete thinking could help you ruminate and worry less, talk to a therapist about exercises you could do to strengthen your concrete thinking abilities.

Your therapist may work with you to develop a step-by-step process for looking at the warning signs, sensory details, decisions, and specific actions that took place during a negative event.

By analyzing the concrete details, you can discover opportunities to change the outcome of future events. When faced with similar circumstances, you can activate the concrete thinking process to better handle the event.

Concrete thinking can:

Concrete thinking may also:

The bottom line

Concrete thinking is a kind of reasoning that relies heavily on what we observe in the physical world around us. It’s sometimes called literal thinking.

Young children thinking concretely, but as they mature, they usually develop the ability to think more abstractly.

Thinking concretely is one of the hallmarks of autism spectrum disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, brain injuries, and some intellectual disabilities.

People whose thinking is solely concrete may have some difficulties in social situations, but concrete reasoning does have some benefits. It may actually help some people cope with depression and trauma.

Last medically reviewed on August 30, 2019

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Chapter 5: Middle and Late Childhood

Concrete operational thought.

From ages 7 to 11, children are in what Piaget referred to as the Concrete Operational Stage of cognitive development (Crain, 2005). This involves mastering the use of logic in concrete ways. The word concrete refers to that which is tangible; that which can be seen, touched, or experienced directly. The concrete operational child is able to make use of logical principles in solving problems involving the physical world. For example, the child can understand principles of cause and effect, size, and distance.

The child can use logic to solve problems tied to their own direct experience, but has trouble solving hypothetical problems or considering more abstract problems. The child uses Inductive  Reasoning, which is a logical process in which multiple premises believed to be true are combined to obtain a specific conclusion . For example, a child has one friend who is rude, another friend who is also rude, and the same is true for a third friend. The child may conclude that friends are rude. We will see that this way of thinking tends to change during adolescence being replaced with deductive reasoning. We will now explore some of the major abilities that the concrete child exhibits.

logical and concrete problem solver

Figure 5.6 Children in the concrete operational stage understand how to classify organisms

Classification: As children’s experiences and vocabularies grow, they build schemata and are able to organize objects in many different ways . They also understand classification hierarchies and can arrange objects into a variety of classes and subclasses.

Identity: One feature of concrete operational thought is the understanding that objects have qualities that do not change even if the object is altered in some  way . For instance, mass of an object does not change by rearranging it. A piece of chalk is still chalk even when the piece is broken in two.

Reversibility: The child learns that some things that have been changed can be returned to their original state. Water can be frozen and then thawed to become liquid again. But eggs cannot be unscrambled. Arithmetic operations are reversible as well: 2 + 3 = 5 and 5 – 3 = 2 Many of these cognitive skills are incorporated into the school’s curriculum through mathematical problems and in worksheets about which situations are reversible or irreversible.

Conservation: Remember the example in our last chapter of preoperational children thinking that a tall beaker filled with 8 ounces of water was “more” than a short, wide bowl filled with 8 ounces of water? Concrete operational children can understand the concept of conservation which means that changing one quality (in this example, height or water level) can be compensated for by changes in another quality (width). Consequently, there is the same amount of water in each container, although one is taller and narrower and the other is shorter and wider.

Decentration: Concrete operational children no longer focus on only one dimension of any object (such as the height of the glass) and instead consider the changes in other dimensions too (such as the width of the glass). This allows for conservation to occur.

Seriation: Arranging items along a quantitative dimension, such as length or weight, in a methodical way is now demonstrated by the concrete operational child. For example, they can methodically arrange a series of different-sized sticks in order by length, while younger children approach a similar task in a haphazard way. These new cognitive skills increase the child’s understanding of the physical world, however according to Piaget, they still cannot think in abstract ways. Additionally, they do not think in systematic scientific ways. For example, when asked which variables influence the period that a pendulum takes to complete its arc, and given weights they can attach to strings in order to do experiments, most children younger than 12 perform biased experiments from which no conclusions can be drawn (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958).

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Giving an Example of When You Used Logic To Solve a Problem

Updated February 3, 2023

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Interviewers often ask candidates to demonstrate their problem-solving skills in a professional context. If candidates can prepare an effective example of their logical abilities, they could increase their chances of progressing in the hiring process.

In this article, we explain why interviewers ask you to give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem, list the steps for how to answer this question and provide some example responses to review.

Why do employers ask you to provide an example of when you used logic to solve a problem?

Employers typically ask this question to better understand your critical thinking skills in the workplace, including how you might approach a project process or resolve an unexpected issue. Hiring managers often value employees who can use logic to determine the most optimal course of action for different situations. By providing a concrete example of your problem-solving skills, they can determine whether you might benefit a department and fit into a team structure.

How to answer a question about a time you used logic to solve a problem

Follow these steps to prepare an effective answer for this common interview question:

1. Reflect on your previous experiences

Spend some time reflecting on your professional and personal experiences to select a situation with a successful and quantifiable outcome. For instance, you might share an anecdote about a production process you altered that resulted in a revenue increase, or describe how you researched salaries in the job market to help you choose between two career paths. If you're an entry-level candidate, you can share an experience from an academic class, like a time you received a high grade on a challenging assignment. It may also be helpful to select an example with a step-by-step process.

2. Align your example to the job description

Review the job responsibilities listed in the original description to narrow your options, then give your experiences a context. It's important to connect your example to a job position's expectations, as this approach can help a hiring manager visualize you in the role. Consider selecting a few keywords from the job description to use in your response, as this approach can indicate your knowledge of a company's language and protocols, which may differ from general industry standards.

3. Research the company's values

3. use the star interview method.

The STAR interview method describes four steps you can use to structure an example using key storytelling techniques. It can help you construct a distinct beginning, middle and ending for your anecdote, giving it a logical flow and clarifying each step you took to solve a problem. The STAR method can help you form concise and specific responses, which many hiring managers value during an interview. It can also make your response more engaging and memorable, as people can often better recall a well-constructed story.

Here are the four steps of the STAR method:

Situation: First, discuss the context of your example. It's important to give enough key details about the specific problem you solved, so a hiring manager can better understand the circumstances and why you applied logic to the process.

Task: Explain the overall goal you strived toward in your example through a problem-solving process. For instance, your objective might involve increasing customer engagement during a sales event.

Action: Describe each part of your problem-solving process using illustrative details. Be mindful to focus on your own actions during an event, even if you worked in a team-based environment and used a colleague's input.

Result: At the end of your response, reveal how you solved the problem and accomplished your goal. Consider discussing the lessons you learned from this experience and how you might apply them to the job position.

4. Compose your answer

It's often helpful to compose your STAR response in a document you can study. Depending on your preference, you can either write full sentences or prepare an outline of key points to introduce. Consider the following strategies while writing your response:

Emphasize your enthusiasm for problem-solving. Hiring managers may appreciate a candidate who enjoys the problem-solving process, as this can indicate an ability to innovate new ideas and work independently.

Consider how a job position benefits the company. All positions play a different role in a company's day-to-day operations. It may be helpful to specify whether your actions helped a company achieve its goals.

Include any positive feedback. If a previous supervisor ever highlighted your logic skills and problem-solving efforts, you can reference this feedback in your example. For example, you might share how a manager responded to your project results.

Check in with the interviewer. Consider asking the hiring manager whether your response answered their question sufficiently. Including this line in your document may help you recall this follow-up strategy during the interview.

5. Practice your delivery

Consider practicing your response in a mirror or with a trusted peer before your interview date. It may be helpful to study presentation strategies through an online tutorial, as these methods can help you explain your logic steps both clearly and confidently in an unfamiliar environment.

Example answers

Here are sample responses to an interview question about a time you used logic to solve a problem:

Customer service example

In my previous retail job, many customers approached the register one day with questions about a new discount offer. When they tried to apply the code we emailed through the store's mobile application, the system failed to recognize it. To ensure the customers received the discount, I verified each individual entered the key using correct spelling and capitalizations. Then, I tested three different discount codes to confirm our system functioned correctly. The IT team used my findings to solve the issue quickly, resulting in messages of appreciation from customers who used the code afterward.

Health care example

As a nurse practitioner, I often use problem-solving techniques to diagnose my patients and provide the best possible treatment options. Last year, I had a patient who presented with cold symptoms and a stomachache. My team initially determined they had a stomach virus, but I decided to inquire more about their recent dietary habits.

I discovered the patient recently ate multiple meals at a new restaurant near their home. After researching the ingredients of each meal through the restaurant's website and conducting a rigorous testing procedure, I determined the patient had a mild walnut allergy. Four months later, they reported zero symptoms after eliminating this food from their diet.

Business example

Consider the following example response from a business perspective:

Two months ago, my department decided to reduce costs in our product supply chain. My supervisor instructed me to research and hire a new manufacturing company able to fulfill this request and maintain the same quality. Using market research and quantitative analysis, I determined the company might lose more revenue in the yearly report by hiring a new team. After conveying my findings to my supervisor, they instructed me to negotiate terms with our current partners. As a result, we decreased our manufacturing costs by 17% and the company's owner commended my efforts to find a logical solution.

Technology example

In my last position at a large corporation, I analyzed datasets on a day-to-day basis to research competitor strategies. During a high-traffic month, I noticed our significant competitors increased their monthly sales by 5%, which deviated from our current forecasts substantially. To create more accurate forecasts in the future, I determined we needed to adjust our competitor analytics model using both updated market research and key historical data. After testing each adjustment multiple times, I increased our forecast accuracy by 20%.

College graduate example

While completing my degree, I learned how to use logic to solve multiple issues, which can help me succeed in a job position. For instance, when designing my class schedule for my last semester, I realized I needed to finish four more courses to graduate on time. I also needed to finish my independent study requirement, which only offered half the typical credits of a college class. To solve this problem, I realized needed to either take an extra class or negotiate the terms of my independent study plan.

As my senior-year classes were rigorous and I often worked part-time during my usual study hours, I decided to forgo the extra class option and proposed a more in-depth independent study plan to qualify for extra course credit. My advisor approved my plan, and I graduated with high marks and honors at the end of the semester.

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What Is Abstract Thinking?

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

logical and concrete problem solver

MoMo Productions / Getty Images

Abstract Thinking Definition

Abstract thinking, also known as abstract reasoning, involves the ability to understand and think about complex concepts that, while real, are not tied to concrete experiences, objects, people, or situations.

Abstract thinking is considered a type of higher-order thinking, usually about ideas and principles that are often symbolic or hypothetical. This type of thinking is more complex than the type of thinking that is centered on memorizing and recalling information and facts.

Examples of Abstract Thinking

Examples of abstract concepts include ideas such as:

While these things are real, they aren't concrete, physical things that people can experience directly via their traditional senses.

You likely encounter examples of abstract thinking every day. Stand-up comedians use abstract thinking when they observe absurd or illogical behavior in our world and come up with theories as to why people act the way they do.

You use abstract thinking when you're in a philosophy class or when you're contemplating what would be the most ethical way to conduct your business. If you write a poem or an essay, you're also using abstract thinking.

With all of these examples, concepts that are theoretical and intangible are being translated into a joke, a decision, or a piece of art. (You'll notice that creativity and abstract thinking go hand in hand.)

Abstract Thinking vs. Concrete Thinking

One way of understanding abstract thinking is to compare it with concrete thinking. Concrete thinking, also called concrete reasoning, is tied to specific experiences or objects that can be observed directly.

Research suggests that concrete thinkers tend to focus more on the procedures involved in how a task should be performed, while abstract thinkers are more focused on the reasons why a task should be performed.

It is important to remember that you need both concrete and abstract thinking skills to solve problems in day-to-day life. In many cases, you utilize aspects of both types of thinking to come up with solutions.

Other Types of Thinking

Depending on the type of problem we face, we draw from a number of different styles of thinking, such as:

How Abstract Thinking Develops

While abstract thinking is an essential skill, it isn’t something that people are born with. Instead, this cognitive ability develops throughout the course of childhood as children gain new abilities, knowledge, and experiences.

The psychologist Jean Piaget described a theory of cognitive development that outlined this process from birth through adolescence and early adulthood. According to his theory, children go through four distinct stages of intellectual development:

This period of cognitive development when abstract thinking becomes more apparent typically begins around age 12. It is at this age that children become more skilled at thinking about things from the perspective of another person. They are also better able to mentally manipulate abstract ideas as well as notice patterns and relationships between these concepts.

Uses of Abstract Thinking

Abstract thinking is a skill that is essential for the ability to think critically and solve problems. This type of thinking is also related to what is known as fluid intelligence , or the ability to reason and solve problems in unique ways.

Fluid intelligence involves thinking abstractly about problems without relying solely on existing knowledge.

Abstract thinking is used in a number of ways in different aspects of your daily life. Some examples of times you might use this type of thinking:

Research also suggests that abstract thinking plays a role in the actions people take. Abstract thinkers have been found to be more likely to engage in risky behaviors, where concrete thinkers are more likely to avoid risks.

Impact of Abstract Thinking

People who have strong abstract thinking skills tend to score well on intelligence tests. Because this type of thinking is associated with creativity, abstract thinkers also tend to excel in areas that require creativity such as art, writing, and other areas that benefit from divergent thinking abilities.

Abstract thinking can have both positive and negative effects. It can be used as a tool to promote innovative problem-solving, but it can also lead to problems in some cases:

Conditions That Impact Abstract Thinking

The presence of learning disabilities and mental health conditions can affect abstract thinking abilities. Conditions that are linked to impaired abstract thinking skills include:

The natural aging process can also have an impact on abstract thinking skills. Research suggests that the thinking skills associated with fluid intelligence peak around the ages of 30 or 40 and begin to decline with age.

Tips for Reasoning Abstractly

While some psychologists believe that abstract thinking skills are a natural product of normal development, others suggest that these abilities are influenced by genetics, culture, and experiences. Some people may come by these skills naturally, but you can also strengthen these abilities with practice.

Some strategies that you might use to help improve your abstract thinking skills:

A Word From Verywell

Abstract thinking allows people to think about complex relationships, recognize patterns, solve problems, and utilize creativity. While some people tend to be naturally better at this type of reasoning, it is a skill that you can learn to utilize and strengthen with practice. 

It is important to remember that both concrete and abstract thinking are skills that you need to solve problems and function successfully. 

Gilead M, Liberman N, Maril A. From mind to matter: neural correlates of abstract and concrete mindsets . Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci . 2014;9(5):638-45. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst031

American Psychological Association. Creative thinking .

American Psychological Association. Convergent thinking .

American Psychological Association. Critical thinking .

American Psychological Association. Divergent thinking .

Lermer E, Streicher B, Sachs R, Raue M, Frey D. The effect of abstract and concrete thinking on risk-taking behavior in women and men . SAGE Open . 2016;6(3):215824401666612. doi:10.1177/2158244016666127

Namkoong J-E, Henderson MD. Responding to causal uncertainty through abstract thinking . Curr Dir Psychol Sci . 2019;28(6):547-551. doi:10.1177/0963721419859346

White R, Wild J. "Why" or "How": the effect of concrete versus abstract processing on intrusive memories following analogue trauma . Behav Ther . 2016;47(3):404-415. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2016.02.004

Williams DL, Mazefsky CA, Walker JD, Minshew NJ, Goldstein G. Associations between conceptual reasoning, problem solving, and adaptive ability in high-functioning autism . J Autism Dev Disord . 2014 Nov;44(11):2908-20. doi: 10.1007/s10803-014-2190-y

Oh J, Chun JW, Joon Jo H, Kim E, Park HJ, Lee B, Kim JJ. The neural basis of a deficit in abstract thinking in patients with schizophrenia . Psychiatry Res . 2015;234(1):66-73. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2015.08.007

Hartshorne JK, Germine LT. When does cognitive functioning peak? The asynchronous rise and fall of different cognitive abilities across the life span . Psychol Sci. 2015;26(4):433-43. doi:10.1177/0956797614567339

By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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6 strategies to instill problem-solving skills in students.

Critical Thinking In Students: 6 Top Strategies

Why Developing Problem-Solving Skills Is Important

Problem-solving is defined as the ability to quickly solve any given problem with ease. This requires convergent and divergent thinking skills. Convergent thinking is a process aimed to deduce a concrete solution to a problem. And, the process of exploring all the possible solutions to analyze and generate creative ideas is called divergent thinking.

People with good problem-solving skills are indeed an asset to society. Problem-solving also plays a vital role in child development. These skillsets are much sought-after in this competitive world and are therefore imperative for general life and workplace success .

Problem-solving is an important 21st-century skill because it determines one’s personal development, employment prospects, and overall contribution to society.

6 Practical Ways To Foster Critical Thinking In Students

1. promote skill building through self-directed learning .

Research [1] proved that self-directed learning promotes critical thinking in students as it allows them to fully explore their creative and imaginative sides. It fosters the ability of independent thinking in students and eventually promotes a sense of self-actualization in them. Today, the principle of autonomous learning is applied in most visionary schooling platforms because it is the most credible way to inculcate this new-age skill in young learners.

This methodology perfectly suits middle and high school students because they enjoy the process of discovery learning and are capable of drawing conclusions in the light of facts.

As a parent, you need to be a facilitator in this process and understand the importance of problem-solving skills in kids. The simplest way to do this is to allow some independent thinking time after the instructional delivery and encourage multiple original ideas by promoting divergent thinking. All this fosters advanced reasoning abilities in students and promotes critical thinking for advanced problem-solving.

Top educators from great-quality accredited online schools make use of these strategies, along with several other eLearning skills , and guide the learners throughout the process of gathering, prioritizing, interpreting, and concluding information.

2. Encourage Brainstorming In A Non-Judgmental Environment

Problem-solving in child development is a game-changer for success later in life. So, try to create the right atmosphere for kids at home to nurture this core competency.

A non-judgmental environment is always free from negative criticism and sarcasm. Allow children to voice opinions freely and make sure there is enough positive reinforcement for all genuine attempts.

Individual brainstorming is the best to craft creative solutions for less complex issues because it allows individuals to break free from regular, conventional ideas while interacting in a more positive environment.

Support your kid for more and more lateral/parallel thinking and appreciate all out-of-box/innovative responses.

3. Strengthen The Components Of Problem-Solving 

Another way to foster problem-solving skills in learners is by strengthening the decision-making component of the problem-solving process. Decision-making skills are imperative to solve problems because they help to weigh the advantages and disadvantages before reaching a conclusion.

Encourage kids to make choices between possible alternatives and make this fun by trying out everyday basic choices like food, books, movies, sports, etc. Make sure you allow kids to take charge of these decisions and intervene with your logical and valid inputs. Remember that it is essential to understand the importance of problem-solving skills in kids. So, try to create enough such opportunities for young learners.

These practices will develop habits of analyzing situations from multiple dimensions and eventually, children will learn to research and preempt the repercussions of their individual choices.

4. Use The Best Techniques Of Some Researched Theories

Some great psychological theories can be easily applied in real-life situations. As a parent, you can foster these relevant problem-solving skills in the child by incorporating some components of popular theories.

Let me explain this through some examples:

Use the theory of "psychological distancing" [2] to disconnect children from their emotions while solving the problem. It will help them see the bigger picture of the issue by viewing it from a wider perspective. This strategy eliminates the chances of biases and selective understanding based on personal preferences and therefore, helps in viewing issues through multiple perspectives.

Another helpful strategy can be the "heuristic framework" [3], which can help foster advanced thinking abilities by breaking information into smaller and more comprehensive parts. With middle and high schoolers, you can try its component of backward planning effectively. This strategy can be mindfully implemented in any day-to-day situation, like planning for a get-together or estimating monthly expenses for budget planning. Encourage responses in a way that starts from the most distant challenges like month-end crunch/emergency funds, etc., and look for these solutions before planning the immediate requirements.

5. Be A Positive Role Model

As parents, we can also foster problem-solving skills through numerous informal interactions and behaviors. Our own approach toward solving problems largely influences our children's abilities because there is a powerful impact on the family atmosphere and parenting in the critical habit formation stages.

Look for opportunities to involve children in problematic situations and create some hypothetical ones if you do not have real ones. Involve children in discussions that need deep thinking; for example, preparations for extreme weather change or changing some business strategies (like hoarding raw material) to bring down the investments of a family business.

Be a structured and organized problem solver yourself and present your thoughts in the most logical and sequential manner. Support children's efforts throughout and share your input about their dilemmas. The importance of problem-solving skills in kids is evident. So, try to be an ideal role model for kids all the time.

6. Observe, Facilitate, And Share Feedback

Last but not least, be a guide and mentor for your students at all times. Observe them and be ready to intervene as and when it is required. Avoid interrupting and criticizing directly at any point in time because these competencies are best developed in a positive learning environment .

So, make sure you share enough positive feedback and facilitate this process throughout. However, do not give any direct answers to make the task easy for children. Instead, guide them through the pathway that can lead to possible and relevant solutions. Encourage multiple solutions and prejudice-free opinions and allow enough time for kids to derive conclusions. Re-explain the steps of the process (identifying, analyzing, solving, and reviewing, etc.) repeatedly, and motivate children for more and more divergent thinking.

Problem-solving skills are an asset for our kids in all stages of life. So, put your best foot forward and support your child in and out to acquire these 21st-century relevant skillsets for a tremendously successful and happy life ahead!


[1] Self-Directed Learning Strategy: A Tool for Promoting Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills among Social Studies Students

[2] Construal-Level Theory of Psychological Distance

[3] 7.3 Problem-Solving


Abstract thinking is a level of thinking about things that is removed from the facts of the “here and now”, and from specific examples of the things or concepts being thought about. Abstract thinkers are able to reflect on events and ideas, and on attributes and relationships separate from the objects that have those attributes or share those relationships. Thus, for example, a concrete thinker can think about this particular dog; a more abstract thinker can think about dogs in general. A concrete thinker can think about this dog on this rug ; a more abstract thinker can think about spatial relations , like “on”. A concrete thinker can see that this ball is big; a more abstract thinker can think about size in general. A concrete thinker can count three cookies; a more abstract thinker can think about numbers . A concrete thinker can recognize that John likes Betty; a more abstract thinker can reflect on emotions , like affection.

Another example of concrete thinking in young children is a two or three year old who thinks that as long as he stays out of his bedroom, it will not be bed time. In this case, the abstract concept of time (bedtime) is understood in terms of the more concrete concept of place (bedroom). The abstract idea of bedtime comes to mean the concrete idea of being in my bedroom.

Another example that applies to two or three year olds is the following. One of the favorite Dr. Seuss books is Green Eggs and Ham, which ends with the narrator changing his mind from rejecting green eggs and ham under any circumstances to trying them and actually liking them. At a concrete level of understanding, the story is about a stubborn person changing his mind. At a more abstract level of understanding, it is about people in general being capable of modifying their thoughts and desires even when they are convinced that they cannot or do not want to do so. This more abstract level of understanding can be appreciated by two and three year old children only if the higher level of meaning comes out of a discussion of the book with a more mature adult. At older ages and higher levels of thinking, this same process of more mature thinkers facilitating higher levels of abstraction in less mature thinkers characterizes the process of teaching abstract thinking. For example, this is how great philosophers, like Socrates and Plato, taught their pupils how to think abstractly.

An example of concrete versus abstract thinking in adolescence is the following. A concrete thinking adolescent can recognize that a good strategy in football is to make maximal use of the team’s most talented players. An abstract thinking adolescent can recognize that this strategy in football is the same as using ones cognitive strengths in studying for an exam. In general, abstract thinkers are able to perceive analogies and relationships that others may not see and thereby understand higher levels of abstraction.

The term abstraction also applies to uses of language. Abstract language is said to include terms that refer to entities other than physical objects and events, for example, “justice” and “freedom” as opposed to terms that refer to actual physical things, like “chair” and “car”. Abstract language also includes indirect uses of language, such as metaphors and figures of speech. For example, a concrete thinker would interpret “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones” to refer literally to breakable panes of glass. An abstract thinker, in contrast, would understand that the figure of speech means that people who have faults of their own should not criticize others. One should be careful, however, not to equate metaphor with abstract. Metaphors that were well understood before the injury (e.g., “Go take a hike”) may be just as concrete and easy to understand as their literal equivalents (“Please leave”). Sometimes metaphors come to be so commonly used and easy to understand that we forget that they are metaphors, like “He’s a barrel of laughs.”

The terms concrete and abstract are also used to suggest how practical or impractical an idea might be. In this sense, concrete ideas are those that have relevance to action (e.g., a recipe is concrete because it states how to cook a dinner; a differential equation is abstract because it is not tied to action in this way). This connection to action offers teachers and parents a way to make abstract ideas more concrete (and therefore more understandable) by showing their relevance to action. For example, chemistry can be connected to cooking or medicine; mathematics can be connected to construction. These connections with practical activity help concrete thinkers understand and appreciate abstract concepts.

Abstraction is a relative concept, related to the age of the child. For a two year old, “the day after tomorrow” is a highly abstract concept. For a college student, the day after tomorrow is relatively concrete, as opposed to highly abstract ideas like Heisenberg’s Indeterminancy Principle. And of course there are many degrees of abstraction between these two extremes. A major component of intellectual development is this process of gradually moving from extremely concrete thinking to increasingly abstract thinking in an ever increasing array of content areas.

To some extent, concrete and abstract are domain specific For example, for a mathematician, concepts like exponent and equation are second nature and relatively concrete in their meaning. However, that same mathematician might find concepts like value as used in political economy to be quite abstract. The reverse might be true for a political economist. Familiarity with the content in a given domain or speciality area dictates to some extent what will be considered concrete (and therefore easy to understand) and what will be considered abstract (and therefore hard to understand).

The ability to think concretely and abstractly is also associated with the ability to transfer what is learned from one context to another. For example, a student who is a reasonably abstract thinker might learn the organization of an essay in English class and then transfer that learning to her writing in social studies class. In contrast, a concrete thinker might need to be specifically taught in both classes.


It is often said that individuals with TBI have difficulty with abstract levels of thinking. Frontal lobe injury is typically identified as the source of this difficulty. In students with brain injury, impaired abstract thinking is frequently associated with reduced foresight, judgment, insight, reasoning, creativity, problem solving, and mental flexibility.

Indeed, one popular theory of frontal lobe function maintains that many of the symptoms associated with injury to the frontal lobes can be grouped under the general heading “stimulus-bound”. In addition to the difficulties listed in the last paragraph, these individuals tend to be impulsive (directed in their actions by whatever is most salient in the here and now) and distractible (attending to events in the here and now, however irrelevant). They have difficulty with multi-step activities and in general have difficulty sustaining goal-directed activity. Within this theory, difficulties at the level of abstract thinking have the same underlying cause as impulsive behavior and difficulty modifying behavior as a result of experience.

There are other theories that account for difficulty with abstract thinking after TBI. However, most investigators agree that these difficulties are common and need to be attended to in rehabilitation and special education. Brain injury-related difficulties must, of course, be distinguished from normal developmental phenomena. In section 1 above, emphasis was placed on gradual development in childhood and adolescence from very concrete to increasingly abstract thinking. The concrete thinking of a child with brain injury may be developmentally normal, not a result of the injury.


Understanding the Problem As always, the first task for teachers and parents is to correctly understand the problem. The concrete thinking associated with brain injury can easily be misidentified as mental retardation or a general problem with learning. Students with abstract thinking problems might be reasonably effective learners and processors of information in select domains.

Having identified the difficulty with abstract thinking, parents and educators should become familiar with the compensations they can implement and procedures to gradually improve the student’s ability to think abstractly.

Environmental Compensations and Strategies Competent and Sensitive Communication Partners: Knowing that a student is a concrete thinker, communication partners, including teachers and parents, should adjust their language accordingly. They should either avoid the use of language that is at too high a level of abstraction, or link abstract language with its concrete equivalent. For example, in encouraging a student to study hard, a parent might say, “You’ve got to give it your best shot – study real hard.” “Give it your best shot” is a metaphor that might be too abstract; “study real hard” is a literal or concrete equivalent.

Using Concrete Meanings to Support Comprehension of Abstract Concepts: When learning to add and subtract, first graders commonly rely on their fingers or other physical objects to represent the abstract numbers. The children’s conceptual transition into the world of abstract numbers is supported by the representation of those numbers in physical things that can be seen, held, and moved. Similarly, concrete thinking high school students might be able to understand an abstract social arrangement, like the caste system in India, by comparing it to social cliques they are familiar with in their school. Discussing similarities and differences between that which is unfamiliar and distant (i.e., abstract) and that which is familiar and close to home (i.e., concrete) is a valuable way to help students grasp the abstract concept.

Facilitating the Development of Abstract Thinking There are no known “exercises” in abstract thinking that have the effect of turning a concrete thinker into an abstract thinker across domains of content. Sometimes practice with “brain teasers” or math and logic problems is suggested as a means to facilitate more abstract thinking. However, there is no evidence that practice of this sort enhances abstract thinking in a generalizable way. That is, a person can improve performance with brain teasers, math problems, and logic problems with no transfer to other domains of thinking. This failure of transfer is connected with the theme of “domain specificity” introduced earlier: a person can be a reasonably flexible and abstract thinker in one area (e.g., sports) and remain a concrete thinker in another area (e.g., literature). Therefore, attempts to facilitate increasingly abstract thinking should be made within all relevant academic areas (e.g., math, literature, science, social studies), without expecting that improvements in one area will yield improvements in another area. If possible, similar language and analogies should be used (e.g., by parents and teachers) across areas so as not to overwhelm students with too much information or too many comparisons. Schools should not expect that exercises in abstract thinking in a therapy context (e.g., a speech-language therapist using workbook exercises in abstract thinking) will transfer to other academic or social domains.

An alternative to “exercises” (like brain teasers) is to consider how the great thinkers of the past successfully taught their students how to think more deeply and abstractly, and how parents of young children facilitate the development of their child’s thought processes. In the latter case, there is considerable evidence showing that parents who think out loud with their children in ways suggested by the following list facilitate their child’s cognitive development. That is, parents who think out loud with their children in these ways have children who, other things being equal, develop organized, deep, and abstract thinking more quickly than comparable children who do not spend time with adults who think out loud with them in these ways. Teachers can play the same thinking-out-loud role with students. In effect, adults are taking children on as “apprentices in thinking” as they think out loud with the children. As adults think out loud with children, they should routinely seek feedback from the student to ensure that the adult’s “out-loud thinking” is being understood and perhaps even triggering the student’s thought processes.

Specialists in cognitive development and intervention may be able to assist school staff in their attempts to facilitate development of abstract thinking in students with brain injury.

Written by Mark Ylvisaker, Ph.D. with the assistance of Mary Hibbard, Ph.D. and Timothy Feeney, Ph.D.

LEAR Net A program of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, and funded by the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

Copyright 2006, by The Brain Injury Association of New York State 10 Colvin Avenue, Albany, NY 12206 - Phone: (518) 459-7911 - Fax: (518) 482-5285

.Designed and Powered by Camelot Media Group .

Apply code CARE to start therapy with 30% off .

The development of concrete and abstract thinking patterns.

Iryna Horkovska

Thinking is cognitive activity when we consciously use our brains to make sense of the world around us and choose how to respond to it. We develop our ability to think at an early age, so we often take it for granted, but it’s a very complex process that makes us what we are.

Young children tend to think of their world in concrete ways, learning facts about objects they have encountered and their own experiences. But as they grow and mature , children develop abstract thinking patterns that allow them to see a bigger picture, think beyond just the “here and now,” and reflect on events and ideas.

Fully grown-up adults can adopt their styles of thinking according to the demands of the environment, depending on the situations and contexts, although some people may have difficulty with abstract thinking. So here, we’ll talk about the difference between abstract vs. concrete thinking and provide you with some tips on how to develop abstract reasoning skills.

What is abstract thinking ?

Abstract thinking can be defined as the ability to think about complex concepts and ideas without being tied to specific examples, experiences, situations, objects, and people. It is considered a type of high-order thinking because it’s more complicated than other styles of thinking that are centered around real-life facts and information based on data.

Abstract thinking allows us to absorb information from our senses, process it, and connect it to a wider world . As a result, abstract thinkers can reflect on events and ideas as well as attributes and relationships separate from the real-life objects that share those relationships or have those attributes.

Abstract thinking also allows us to exercise creativity, think critically, and solve problems in unique ways even if there isn’t enough existing knowledge. Examples of abstract thinking include using humor in conversations, being hopeful in tough situations , recognizing that the value of things is defined by what we place on them, etc.

We use abstract thinking in different aspects of our daily lives, for example, when we:

Abstract thinking vs. concrete thinking

Abstract thinking and concrete thinking are opposite approaches. Concrete thinking is closely connected to objects and experiences that we can observe directly . Concrete thinkers perceive things that are present physically around them through their senses (smell, sight, sound, taste, and touch) and interpret them as they are. Whatever can be seen, heard, smelt, or touched is analyzed at a superficial level, but concrete thinkers don’t generalize information to other meanings and situations and don’t establish further connections.

Abstract thinking goes deeper and allows us to make generalizations and classify objects and experiences . It’s a form of abstract reasoning when we don’t rely on concrete facts but instead use our imagination to think about something that isn’t immediately obvious or real. While concrete thinking focuses on the physical world and emphasizes facts, abstract thinking involves thinking about concepts in general terms rather than concrete details.

concrete thinking vs abstract thinking

How do we develop abstract thinking?

Abstract thinking isn’t something that we’re born with – abstract thinking skills are an important part of cognitive development in childhood . The Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget explained how children’s thinking abilities change as they get older and outlined this process from birth to early adulthood. He described four distinct stages of cognitive development:

Conditions that impact abstract thinking

Abstract thinking is a vital skill, but it can be challenging for some. So why can’t some people think abstractly? There are some disorders and mental health conditions that may limit abstract reasoning , including:

The natural aging process can also impact abstract thinking abilities, especially those associated with fluid intelligence, which can be defined as the ability to solve problems in unique ways. Research suggests that skills associated with fluid intelligence reach their peak around the ages of 30 or 40 and tend to decline as people reach later adulthood.

concrete thinking

People who think too concretely may find it difficult to understand how other people feel because they can’t accurately interpret such social signs as body language, facial expressions, words, tones of voice, and behaviors in a social context. Sometimes, concrete thinkers stick to literal interpretations of phrases and figurative expressions and use rigid behaviors, and which may cause conflicts with other people. Concrete thinkers may also have difficulties with problem-solving, imagination, and creating things.

How to communicate with a concrete thinker

If some people in your life have a condition that makes them prone to concrete thinking, you can use these tips to communicate with them more effectively:

Can abstract thinking not be helpful?

People with strong abstract thinking skills tend to score well on IQ tests and excel in areas that require creativity, such as art, writing , and other related areas. But you should remember that in some cases, the ability to make connections, predict, and imagine can lead to problems.

For example, a cognitive distortion known as catastrophizing, when people habitually imagine the worst possible potential outcomes, can cause feelings of fear and anxiety or worsen depression symptoms.

Research has also shown that abstract thinking is sometimes associated with rumination . This thinking style can occasionally become problematic for people with such mental health conditions as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The good news is that researchers have found it can be helpful to practice concrete thinking skills and use them to improve symptoms of depression because it can stop people from overgeneralizing. Training people to think concretely about traumatic experiences has been shown to help trauma survivors build resilience and decrease the number of intrusive memories.

How to improve abstract thinking skills

Abstract thinking is a skill that you can learn and improve through active practice. This can be done in a number of ways:

Bottom line

Abstract thinking and concrete thinking are two types of thought processes. Concrete thinking focuses on things that are real and tangible, while abstract thinking is a higher-level mode of thinking that involves processing theoretical concepts and allows us to make connections and see patterns. It’s important to remember that you need both concrete and abstract thinking skills to solve problems and maintain good mental health .

Iryna is a passionate content writer and life-long learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She has a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences and Special Education and is studying for a Master's degree in Psychology. Iryna uses her knowledge and writing skills to create well-researched articles that educate readers and empower them to take charge of their mental health and practice self-care.

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Empowered Parents

10 Simple Activities to Teach Your Preschooler Problem Solving

By: Author Tanja Mcilroy

Posted on Last updated: 7 Nov 2022

Categories Cognitive Development

logical and concrete problem solver

During the first years of a child’s life, an important set of cognitive skills known as problem-solving abilities are developed. These skills are used throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Find out what problem solving is, why it’s important and how you can develop these skills with 10 problem-solving games and activities.

What is Problem Solving in Early Childhood?

So, what exactly is problem solving? Quite simply, it refers to the process of finding a solution to a problem .

A person uses their own knowledge and experience, as well as the information at hand to try and reach a solution. Problem solving is therefore about the thought processes involved in finding a solution.

This could be as complex as an adult working out how to get out of a financial crisis or as simple as a child working out how two blocks fit together.

Problem Solving Skills for Kids

Problem-solving skills refer to the specific thinking skills a person uses when faced with a challenge. Some problems require the use of many skills, while others are simple and may only require one or two skills.

These are some examples of problem-solving skills for preschoolers , as listed by kent.ac.uk .

The Importance of Developing Problem-Solving Skills in Early Childhood

Problem solving is a skill that would be difficult to suddenly develop as an adult. While you can still improve a skill at any age, the majority of learning occurs during the early years.

Boy thinking about a problem

Preschool is the best time for a child to learn to problem solve in a fun way. The benefits of learning early will last a lifetime and the beauty of learning anything at a young age is that it is effortless .

It is like learning to play an instrument or picking up a new language – it’s just much easier and more natural at an early age.

Of all the many things preschoolers need to learn , what makes problem solving so important?

There aren’t many situations in life, at work or at school that don’t require some level of problem resolution.

Child’s play itself is filled with opportunity upon opportunity to solve all kinds of tricky situations and come up with solutions to challenges.

Problem Solving in Preschool

During the foundational years, children are constantly solving problems as they play .

Here are just a few examples of problem solving in early childhood :

The more creative play opportunities and challenges children are given, the more they get to exercise their problem-solving muscles.

During free play , there are non-stop experiences for this, and parents and teachers can also encourage specific problem-solving skills through guided activities .

Problem Solving for Older Children

During the grades, children experience problems in many forms, some of which may be related to their academic, social and emotional well-being at school. Problems may come in the form of dealing with life issues, such as:

Problems will also form a large part of academic life as teachers will be actively developing this skill through various activities, for example:

Children who have had practice during preschool will be a lot more capable when facing these challenges.

Solving Problems in Mathematics

Mathematics needs to be mentioned separately as although it is part of schooling, it is such a huge part and it depends heavily on a child’s ability to solve problems.

The entire subject of mathematics is based on solving problems. Whether you are adding 2 and 3, working out how many eggs will fit into each basket, or solving an algebraic expression, there is a problem in every question.

Mathematics is just a series of problems that need to be solved.

What we refer to as problem solving in Maths is usually answering word problems .

The reason many children find these so difficult to answer is that the question is presented as a problem through a story, rather than just numbers with symbols telling you what operation to use (addition, division, etc.)

This means a child is forced to think carefully, understand the problem and determine the best way to solve it.

These problems can involve various units (e.g. mass, capacity or currency) as well as fractions, decimals, equations and angles, to name a few. Problems tend to become more and more complex over the years.

My experience in the classroom has shown that many, many children struggle with solving word problems, from the early grades right into the senior years.

They struggle to analyze the question, understand it, determine what information they’ve been given, and what exactly they are required to solve.

The good news is that exposing a child to regular problem-solving activities and games in preschool can greatly help him to solve word problems later on in school.

If you need one good reason to do these kinds of activities, let it be for a smoother experience in mathematics – a subject so many children unnecessarily fear.

Problem Solving in the Workplace

Lady at work doing problem solving

Adults in the workplace seldom thrive without problem-solving skills. They are required to regularly solve problems .

As adults, employees are expected to independently deal with the frequent challenges, setbacks and problems that are a big part of every working environment.

Those who can face and solve their own problems will go further and cope better than those who seek constant help from others or cannot show initiative.

Some  career websites even refer to problem solving as a universal job skill. They also mention that many employees are not good at it. 

Again, although it may seem far removed, learning this skill at a young age will help a child cope right into adulthood and in the working world.

Pinterest image - 10 simple activities to teach problem solving.

How to Teach Children Problem-Solving Skills

If early childhood is the best time to grow these skills in your young children, then how does one go about teaching them to toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners?

Mom and child constructing

Problem solving can be taught in such a way that you expose your child to various opportunities where they will be faced with challenges.

You would not necessarily sit your 3-year-old down and tell or “teach” him all about fixing problems. Instead, you want to create opportunities for your child to grow this skill .

Using the brain to think and find solutions is a bit like working a muscle over time. Eventually, your muscle gets stronger and can handle more “ weight. ” Your child will learn to problem solve in two ways:

If you make a point of encouraging thinking through games and activities, your child will develop stronger skills than if you let it all happen incidentally.

Problem-Solving Strategies and Steps

If we take a look at the steps involved in solving a problem, we can see that there are many layers involved and different types of skills. Here are the problem-solving steps according to the University of Ken. 

Step 1: Identify the problem

Step 2: Define the problem

Step 3: Examine the options

Step 4: Act on a plan

Step 5: Look at the consequences

Therefore, activities at a preschool level need not present complicated high-level problems.

The most basic of activities can work on all these skills and make children competent solution finders.

How to Teach Problem Solving with Questions

The language you use around your child and your questioning technique will also greatly affect their understanding of a problem or challenge as merely something waiting for a solution to be found .

While your child is playing or when she comes to you with a problem, ask open-ended questions that will guide her in finding a potential answer independently. Use the steps listed above to formulate your questions.

Here are some examples of questions:

Resist the temptation to fix every one of your child’s problems, including conflict with friends or siblings. These are important opportunities for children to learn how to resolve things by negotiating, thinking and reasoning.

With time, your child will get used to seeing a problem, understanding it, weighing up the options, taking action and evaluating the consequences.

Problems will be seen as challenges to be faced logically and not “problems.”

This post contains affiliate links for educational products that I personally recommend. If you purchase through one of them, I earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Read the terms and conditions for more details.

10 Problem-Solving Activities for Preschoolers

Here are 10 simple, easy games and problem solving activities for kids at home or at school. Many of them are the kinds of activities children should have daily exposure to.

Puzzles are one of the best thinking activities out there. Each puzzle is basically one big set of muddled-up things to be sorted out and put back together again. Find out why puzzles are important for development .

Children should have regular exposure to puzzles. They are great for developing thinking skills.

logical and concrete problem solver

2. Memory games

Memory games will develop your child’s memory and attention to detail.

Get your own memory game cards by downloading the FREE set of printables at the end of the post.

Use pairs of matching pictures and turn them all face down, shuffled, on a table. Take turns choosing any two cards and turning them face up on the table. If you turn over a matching pair you keep the cards and if the pair doesn’t match, turn the cards back over until it is your turn to try again.

Encourage your child to concentrate and pay attention to where the pictures are and try to find a matching pair on each turn. 

3. Building with Construction Toys

Construction toys such as engineering blocks , a proper set of wooden blocks or Legos should be a daily staple in your home.

Everything your child builds is a challenge because it requires thinking about what to build and how to put the pieces together to get a design that works and is functional.

Leave your child to construct freely and occasionally set a challenge and ask him to build a specific structure, with conditions. For example:

Then watch your child wracking his brain until he finds a way to make his structure work.

4.  Activity Books

These activity books are really fun and develop a child’s ability to identify problems and search for information.

logical and concrete problem solver

5. Following Patterns

This simple activity can be played with a set of coloured blocks , shapes or counters.

Simply make a pattern with the blocks and ask your child to continue it. Vary the pattern by changing the colours, shapes or sizes.

This activity will train your child to analyse the given information, make sense of it, recognise the pattern and re-create it.

6. Story Time Questions

Get into the habit of asking questions during your daily story time that develop higher-order thinking skills . Instead of just reading and your child passively listening, ask questions throughout, concentrating on solving problems.

Here are some examples:

7. Board Games

Board games are an excellent way to develop problem-solving skills.

Start off with simple games like Ludo and Snakes and Ladders to teach the skill of following rules and moving in a logical sequence.

logical and concrete problem solver

Card games like Go Fish are also great for teaching young children to think ahead and solve problems.

8.  Tic-Tac-Toe

This is a perfect game to teach decision-making skills , thinking before acting and weighing up the possible consequences.

Tic-tac-toe game

Use a Tic Tac Toe Board or d raw a simple table like the one above on paper or a chalkboard. Take turns to add a nought or a cross to the table and see who can make a row of three first.

Your child will probably catch on in no time and start thinking carefully before placing their symbol. This game can also be played with coloured counters or different objects.

9. Classifying and Grouping Activities

This activity can be done with a tin of buttons or beads or even by unpacking the dishwasher. The idea is to teach the skill of classifying and categorizing information by learning with physical objects. Here are some other ideas for categorizing:

Here are more button activities for kids .

10. Building a Maze

This activity is lots of fun and suitable for any age. It is also going to be way more fun than doing a maze in an activity book, especially for younger children.

Draw a big maze on the paving with sidewalk chalk . Make passages, including one or two that end in a dead-end. Teach your child to find her way out .

As your child gets better at figuring out a route and finding the way out, make the maze more complex and add more dead-end passages.

Get FREE access to Printable Puzzles, Stories, Activity Packs and more!

Join Empowered Parents + and you’ll receive a downloadable set of printable puzzles, games and short stories , as well as the Learning Through Play Activity Pack which includes an entire year of activities for 3 to 6-year-olds. Access is free forever.

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Friday 3rd of June 2022

hi maam , This Is Uma from India,Can i get this in pdf format or a book. Thank You

Tanja Mcilroy

Monday 6th of June 2022

Hi Uma, thanks for your message. These articles are not available in PDF, but you are welcome to copy and paste them from the website, as long as you add the reference: https://empoweredparents.co/problem-solving-activities-preschoolers/ Thanks for reading!

Wednesday 20th of May 2020

Very very useful content. Good work. Thank you.

Friday 22nd of May 2020

Thanks Ann.

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

Would like to download the free activity pack please.

Hi Kelly, Please download the activity pack on this page: www.empoweredparents.co


playing. learning. growing.

5 Logical Thinking Games for Preschoolers

Inside: 5 fun, logical thinking games for preschoolers .

If you’ve ever tried to reason with a three-year-old, you know that a child at this age is not a logical thinker. Young children are very concrete and literal in their thinking, and it is only as they approach school age that they begin to show a readiness for tasks that require more abstract thinking. However, preschoolers often make surprising connections as they go about the business of learning and making sense of the world, and there are some fun logical thinking games for engaging your preschooler’s brain in new ways of thinking!

What is Logical Thinking? Logical thinking involves reasoning and using what you know to draw conclusions. It requires an understanding of attributes, relationships, and sequence, and is not only important for formal learning; it is an essential life skill. According to Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making , learning to use higher-order thinking skills will positively impact your child’s success in many areas of life.

Looking for ideas for older children? Check out this collection of Brain Games and Logic Puzzles that get kids thinking.

Logical Thinking Games for Preschool

The five games below integrate logical thinking skills into play. As you introduce a new game, be sensitive to how engaged and interested your child is in the activity, and maintain a playful tone and demeanor. If your child isn’t quite ready for an activity, try it again in a few weeks or months.

1. Twin Towers For this game, you will need building blocks, coloured cubes, or Lego ® . Position your child across from you on the floor or at a table, and place a tall box or folder between you so that your child cannot see what you are building on your side.

Logical Thinking Games for Preschoolers

RELATED: Blocks and constructions sets are fabulous for developing logical thinking and problem solving skills. Check out our collection of 21 awesome building kits and sets for children of all ages.

2. Hide and Seek With a Twist Most preschoolers love the game Hide and Seek. In this version, your child hides a toy or stuffed animal somewhere in your house, and you ask questions about where it is hidden. Your child nods or shakes his head to indicate answers. Ask questions such as, “Is it hidden in a room someone sleeps in?” “Is it hidden where someone sits?” “Is it hidden near a wall?” This requires your child to think about each clue and consider whether it is TRUE or FALSE based on where the object is hidden.

Younger children will not always give you the correct responses, so keep track of the questions asked. When the object is found, avoid correcting any errors in clues, and instead review them out loud: “Oh, it WAS hidden where someone sits, but it WAS NOT hidden where someone sleeps!” Even if your child is not yet responding appropriately, you are using the vocabulary of logical thinking while you are having fun!

3. Line Up the Toys This game requires your child to think about both order and attributes. To play, you need four or five toys or small stuffed animals and, for extra fun, your smartphone. When your child isn’t looking, place the toys or animals in a line, as if they are lined up to go someplace. You can lay out papers as placeholders, even numbering them if you choose. Once the toys are in order, take a picture with your phone. Then move the toys back away from their positions.

5 Logical Thinking Games for Preschoolers

4. Double Side Shape & Colour Game This wooden puzzle does considerably more than reinforce the attributes of shape and colour. It requires the player to use the skills of sequencing, cause-and-effect, and deduction and has great versatility. It can be introduced as a one-player activity and, as your child is ready, played with two players. Also a hit with children beyond preschool age, this game reinforces all the skills of logical thinking in an entertaining way.

5. Little Red Riding Hood Game An award-winning game that includes a picture book and multi-level challenges, your preschooler will enjoy this one for many years. The goal is to make a path for Little Red Riding Hood so that she can get to Grandma’s house, and along with visual perception and spatial reasoning, the skills of planning and problem solving are practised and reinforced. Your child will use many thinking skills, and will enjoy the satisfaction of successfully achieving the goal!

Logical Thinking Games for Preschool and Kindergarten

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How Your Child Learns to Problem-Solve

In the course of your child's day, dozens of questions like these arise: "What's inside this box?" "How can I get into it?" "How far can I throw this ball?" "What will happen if I spill all of the crayons out of the box?" "I wonder if my teddy bear floats?" "How can I get these pieces of paper to stick to that piece of paper?" "Why does my block tower keep falling over?"

By asking these questions, your child is identifying and figuring out ways to solve them, and trying out her ideas. Every time she experiments with and investigates things in her world, such as how far water will squirt from a sprayer and what's inside a seedpod, for example, she is building her ability to solve problems. This is also true when she selects materials for building or when she learns to resolve an argument with a friend or sibling over a toy.

If we look at this process more closely, we discover that problem solving involves both creative and critical thinking. Both are necessary to figure out the solutions to problems of all kinds.

Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is the heart of problem solving. It is the ability to see a different way to do something, generate new ideas, and use materials in new ways. Central to creative thinking is the willingness to take risks, to experiment, and even to make a mistake. Part of creative thinking is "fluent" thinking, which is the ability to generate or brainstorm ideas. So ask your child "wide-open" questions! For instance, ask him to:

These are good examples of thinking problems that have many right answers. Research has shown that the ability to think fluently has a high correlation to school success later on. Another part of creative thinking is "flexible" thinking, which is the ability to see many possibilities or to view objects or situations in different ways. The next time your child pretends a pot is a hat or a spoon is a microphone or speculates on all the reasons that a child in a picture might feel sad, he is practicing his flexible thinking.

Critical Thinking

Critical, or logical, thinking is the ability to break an idea into its parts and analyze them. The math skills of sorting and classifying, comparing similarities and differences, are all parts of critical thinking. Whenever your child looks at, say, two glasses of juice and tries to figure out which one holds more, he is practicing this kind of thinking. To encourage it, ask your child:

Asking questions about things that don't seem to make sense is another way children think critically. Questions such as "Why do I have a shadow on the playground but not inside?" or "Why can't I see the wind?" are examples of critical thinking. You don't need to have one right answer, but do encourage your child to express his ideas. There's one other thing to remember about problem solving: It's fun! So make room for spontaneity and prepare yourself to be surprised and delighted as you discover your child's unique way of thinking.

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